Us software developers have a simple worldview. Systems work or they don’t; good replaces bad; people act rationally. All too often we forget to look at our work In context.
Accidents happen: cars crash and phones get dropped in the sink. Bad people do bad things: people write viruses that steal bank details. And as systems grow in size and complexity they fail in new and interesting ways.
Look at AirBnb: a seemly wonderful solution to an old problem. At first glance it looks like a disruption in a rotten old market: the one sewn up by landlords and letting agents.
Why not let people contact landlords directly? Why not create a marketplace where producers and consumers can let and rent freely, without oversight or hindrance?
We’ll, of course, because we’ve just shifted the problem. The glistening, smartphone-enabled marketplace of the 21st century slowly fills with spam. Unscrupulous landlords move away from university notice boards and onto internet message boards. And the one protection buyers had – the accreditation and regulation of landlords and agents – no longer exists. We pushed it away whilst we were busy disrupting.
Well done us.
Uber has delighted the rich, busy denizens of big cities for a year now. No more rude taxi drivers – now we can rate them! No more safety worries at night – we see a picture of our driver before he arrives (Presumably those of a murderous bent make it clear somehow, I don’t know).
But what about the guy who saved for years to get his medallion? Or the guy who studied for years to get The Knowledge? Shouldn’t we… I don’t know, look after those guys? Shouldn’t the market reward that kind of hard work?
Maybe not, but consider this – as we disrupt old, heavily regulated markets, it often becomes apparent why the regulation existed in the first place.
Consider the claims that uber drivers, also able to see pictures of their prospective fares, have been caught cancelling trips with black clients.
Tesla in New Jersey has just been allowed to start selling their cars direct to consumers. For a year, the local dealerships had raised merry hell, claiming that removing the middleman – albeit a weedy, greasy, and toothy middleman – would have a disastrous effect on the local car-buying economy.
On what grounds? Surely car dealers have a worse reputation than lawyers and tobacco marketers! They claimed that their knowledge of the auto industry helped their clients get the best car for the money.
So ok, sometimes disruption is a good thing.