Saturday, May 30, 2020

Disrupting Our Lives With The Business Of Technology

            Over the weekends, I frequently attend an entrepreneurs’ group, basically a mutual support and education group for people starting or running their own businesses.  And lately, I have been thinking about the many different reasons people do start their own businesses.  All entrepreneurs, on one level, start their businesses, because they like to be their own bosses.  But what else motivates them to start or run their particular businesses, selling their particular products and services when they do?

            Location can be a particularly good motivating factor.  An entrepreneur can see a certain kind of business in one location and can sense that it would be a good kind of business to open in another location that he knows of, a location that is frequently close to his house.  On the other hand, sometimes one wants to open a business close to other similar businesses to get the overflow effect.  Think of all the Chinese restaurants that cluster together in Chinatowns, the Greek restaurants grouped together in Greektowns, the Italian restaurants that come together in Little Italys or the Korean restaurants that are close to each other in Koreatowns.  By coming together to create a neighborhood with ambiance, everybody benefits.  Rather than be competitive and disruptive, in the case of an ethnic restaurant neighborhood, restaurants can create a collective grounding with one another.  This collective grounding principle also holds in tourist areas with souvenir shops and stalls and in farmer’s markets.

            Then there are the businesses that are built on the notion of being marginally different from the businesses around them.  This is where people try to create a slightly different aesthetic experience: different designs in clothing, different variations in houseware designs, different variations in flavors of ice cream or other foods.  An entrepreneur creating such a new business is trying to generate a certain amount of competition with other businesses, but not necessarily to the point of replacing the other businesses.  Such an entrepreneur is certainly interested in creating a new defined discrete identity with the new aesthetic experience, but always within the grounding of the larger established economic category.

            And then there are those businesses that are based on new technological improvements of pre-existing items.  Supposedly, the Japanese are very good at creating such improvements for the automobiles they build, which is a major reason for why they seem to last forever.  Here the desire to create a more unique defined discrete entity out of the product or service being built is more apparent and the desire to stand apart from the grounded economic category of automobiles is more pronounced.  There has been an attempt by the Japanese to shake up the automobile market and to a great extent they have succeeded.

            Over the years, there have been businesses whose purposes have been not to shake up the marketplace, but to simply replace a pre-existing product.  Using cars again, when Henry Ford first brought his car on the market, it was in competition with the horse and buggy, the latter being a vehicle that the care ultimately replaced.  In creating a new kind of vehicle, Henry Ford created a vehicle that became a source of great profits.  Ultimately, for entrepreneurs, the more ways that they can separate their products and services from those of the past, the more potentially lucrative they probably will be.

            Finally, there are those businesses that come out with products that have no equivalent in the past.  A good example of this is the computer.  The computer is completely unlike anything that has existed before it.  It creates a complex world that becomes for many a superior substitute for the external world.

            These different entrepreneurial strategies represent, on one level, increasingly strong attempts by entrepreneurs to separate themselves from their peers in the marketplace and to leave an impact in their societies.  As the flowing blendable continual organic grounding for these entrepreneurs disappears in their communities and in their living environments, entrepreneurs feel a greater and greater need to leave an impact with their imprints in order to pull out of the numbness that they feel in order to feel alive.  And this desire to come out with products and services that shake up, replace and even create entirely new categories of products and services generates a particular problem.  Products and services are created with little regard to the long term secondary effects they may have.  An extreme case of this, even though the product was created by a government, was nuclear energy.  Furthermore, just like there can be problems with drug interactions, so there can be problems with technological interactions.  What it does to people to be surrounded by different kinds of screens all day.  As a result, we have all kinds of disruption from shake-ups, replacements and creations out of nowhere leading to all kinds of overstimulation, all kinds of tension pockets, all kinds of growing stress trying to adopt to new forms of technology that are making their appearance at an accelerating rate.  All kinds of attempts to become like human robots in order to accommodate themselves to their enveloping technology.  Or attempts to simply withdraw from an external world filled with screens and other kinds of technology into the psychological quarantine of numbness.

            The life of an entrepreneur can seem very exciting, adventurous and romantic.  Which is all fine except when it leads to the sensory distortion that is hurting so many people’s lives today.  One person’s adventure can in today’s world be another person’s deterioration or even destruction.

(c) 2020 Laurence Mesirow

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