Disruptive Innovation: Breaking News in 1981


I will give the closing keynote a the Adult Student Recruiting and Retention Conference next week in Madison. While the talk this year is new, those who were there last year might remember this video.

I like videos that show early stage technological innovation.  This 1981 KRON news clip is one of my favorites because in 2 minutes and 17 seconds it captures the essence of disruptive change.  The visionaries were right about the big picture (that people could one day receive all their news over the computer) but they underestimate the how disruptive the technology will be (“we will not make much money but we will not lose much either”).  You can almost hear a slight tone of sarcasm in the newscaster’s voice as she wraps the story by describing the cost of the internet.

“Of the 2000-3000 computer owners in the Bay area…”

Many technology enthusiasts were likely predicting the end of the papers as we knew them even in 1981. They were right, of course, but not for almost 30 years. Many elements had to be in place before the technology had a systemic impact. Beyond just access to low cost internet and the need to have computers in millions of homes, new modes of publishing, blogging, citizen reporting, and an information sharing ecosystem had to have time to develop.

Tough changes

When disruptive change happens, it takes a relatively long time. When that change results in a pink slip for your position, however, it can seem like it happened overnight.  Evidence of the disruption that has hit the news industry is now in the (electronic) news almost every week.  New Orleans recently became the largest U.S. city to lose daily newspaper service. It took many years for disruptive change to play out and, while this video might seem quaint in 2012, it makes me wonder what changes are happening in our own higher education backyards that will seem obvious in 2042.

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