How life in the cloud is disrupting our most fundamental values

As more of modern life shifts online, away from the old world of bricks and mortar, our writer considers the fundamental change to modes of existence

Share
Related Topics

Sixteen years ago, Clayton Christensen laid out his theory of ‘disruption’ in the book The Innovator’s Dilemma. From steel mills to floppy disk drives, he saw innovation led by small players trying, failing, trying again and eventually creating products that superseded the market leaders. The book became a bible of Silicon Valley. Last month, in an interview with Wired, he proposed that, having changed the way we shop and communicate, the internet is moving into a new phase – disrupting essential industries like education and healthcare.

Christensen’s right, but he’s missing a far deeper change. It is the disruption of some of our most fundamental notions: value, ownership, and attachment to place. In the past fortnight, we’ve seen the price of Bitcoin (a new online-only ‘cryptocurrency’) skyrocket while gold – traditionally a safe investment in times of crisis – hit a 30-year low. In the workplace, more and more people are shunning office-based roles in place of bespoke careers, requiring only a Wi-fi connection. And an increasing number of our assets  – music, films, documents - are not just intangible but notionally are not even in our possession, existing instead "in the cloud".

The music industry is a prime victim of internet disruption. People now expect to pay close to nothing for content, and the old structures must adapt or implode. In response, many artists charge little for their music and make their money through expensive tour tickets; Prince gave away his 2007 album Planet Earth free in the Mail on Sunday and netted $18.8 million from 21 nights at the O2. This separation of ‘experiential’ from ownership is characteristic of the younger generation, known as ‘digital natives’. Marketers and forward-looking brands like Red Bull have been quick to capitalise on this, with an emphasis on sponsorship of gigs and extreme sports events.

Apple is in the docks with parents of digital natives, angry that their children have spent thousands on items in internet games – in one case £3,700 on digital gems. A highly cultivated avatar in these games can change hands for tens of thousands of dollars, while people have made millions selling digital goods, such as flowers and home furnishings, in MMO’s (Massively Multiplayer Online games). This may seem preposterous to many who grew up in a world of bricks, mortar, and solid investments, but for the natives this is serious – and very real - business.

A shifting sense of value could have contributed to the noughties seeing the first drop in home ownership and rise in rental of the last century. Property is the preserve of the pre-digital generation and the few that do find their way on to the ladder have their sense of ownership diluted by government-subsidised schemes and mortgages backed by parental equity. Meanwhile the internet has allowed us a more participatory relationship with property through couch surfing, air b’n’b and easy-to-access subletting.

And why tie yourself to one location, when your work doesn’t necessitate it? A series of articles in The Atlantic last year, looking at the US, compared the rise of the freelancer to the industrial revolution. The internet allows us to develop a range of skills and gives us a marketplace in which to monetize them. “We're no longer simply lawyers, or photographers, or writers.” It read. “Instead, we're part-time lawyers-cum-amateur photographers who write on the side.”

Every time you walk into a coffee shop full of caffeinated hipsters tapping away on Macs, you could well be looking at the future. Last year, Google opened Campus, a co-working space in Old Street, providing all the resources needed (ie. roof, internet connection, vending machines) to work online. With money pumping into ‘tech hubs’ across the UK, we’re sure to see more of the same. Where the States lead, we tend to follow; but when Google goes, we’re there.

Economics has always been a nebulous thing: a belief system rather than a science or even an art, based on notions of interest, loans, capital and deeper still on belief and trust. Much of this can be traced back to the advent of Protestantism and the removal of the sin of usury under Henry VIII, allowing money lending. Perhaps, decades from now, when the dust of this disruption has settled, we will look back and agree with Silicon Valley that The Innovator’s Dilemma was a book deserving of the highest possible reverence.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Community / Stakeholder Manager - Solar PV

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Senior Marketing Executive (B2B/B2C) - London

£32000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

C# .Net Developer

£23000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: C# .Net Develop re...

Electronics Design Engineer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: My client are l...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The daily catch-up: Joe on Vlad, banks of the Jordan and Blair's radicalism

John Rentoul
 

Believe me, I said, there’s nothing rural about this urban borough’s attempt at a country fair

John Walsh
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor