The Age of Disruption


"The pace of change today is frightening."

That's what they say. And we all agree. As we all feel it. The world is evolving and revolving so fast that it feels like it might tip off its axis.

"The world has never experienced a time of such change, progress and disruption."

True. Sort of. Well, not for about 500 years, at least.

Watching someone take a photo on their iPhone in the Medici chapel in Florence last month, I had a thought. I'm sure millions of other half-engaged and semi-competent people have had it before.

The Renaissance was similar in many ways to the age we're living through today. In fact, it was likely a time of greater revolution, in that the state of the world after was far more different from the state of the world before. That's not to say that this age - the age of disruption, let's call it - won't be more earth-shifting and shattering in time. But the changes we've seen in the last 50 years in technology haven't, to my mind, surpassed the change in architecture, maths, science, art and philosophy that took place during the 15th and 16th Centuries.

What is different is that change is accelerating. Advances in computing, cryptography, life sciences, AI and automation may change everything within a few years. But they haven't. Not yet.

These are some of the individuals who shaped the Renaissance:

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I mean, fuck me, that's an All-Star XI for all time.

Musk, Jobs, Bezos, Gates and Zuckerberg will not be forgotten. But in 500 years time, will we stand in line for hours and crane our necks in a dark Harvard dorm room to look at a dusty Facebook feed? Or will we be making sure that our children study The Everything Store? And what on earth will the earth think of Elon Musk? I have no idea, but likely the answers to these question are no, no and the mind boggles.

And that sums up our age. Change is happening so fast - and it is so hard to understand - that, when you're in it, you have little way of knowing how it's going to play out and be remembered in the years to come. Change doesn't happen over hundreds of years now. It happens in decades, if not years and months. This year, Musk sent a rocket to Mars. In the next 5 years, Musk may well put a person on Mars. That accomplishment will be remembered, you'd think, forever. It's like Columbus founding the New World. In fact, it's exactly the same. It's Musk finding us all a new world.

It's madness to compare today's greats to those of the past - the comparison is futile. However, we should also understand that this time it likely is different. This time, the level of change and disruption are not greater just yet but, crucially, change and disruption is exponentially accelerating like nothing we've ever seen before.

We're nowhere near the end of this 'age of disruption' yet. Who knows where we’ll be and how different our lives will be when we are.

Edward Playfair