Regardless of your politics, one would be hard-pressed to describe the past year and our current situation as anything other than disruptive. We’re becoming accustomed to, and exhausted by, the frequency of the daily disturbances that now populate our lives.
In a column for the New York Times, “A Driver’s Suicide Reveals the Dark Side of the Gig Economy” Ginia Bellafante tells the story of Doug Schifter, a livery driver who killed himself in front of City Hall in Lower Manhattan.
Bellafante describes how Mr. Schifter had gone from a 40-hour work-week to working 100 hours a week just to survive. His credit card debt was climbing and he was unable to afford health insurance. The medallion, which taxi drivers are required to purchase in order to operate in New York City, was now depreciating in value. If you were a driver who had previously taken out a loan to pay for one, you found yourself further in debt.
In a Facebook post prior to his suicide, Mr. Schifter described how he hoped his death would draw attention to the plight of other drivers like him, facing the reality that in 2013 there were 47,000 for-hire vehicles in New York City, and that number now tops 100,000, with Uber accounting for over 66 percent those vehicles.
The article is well worth the read, as are the comments from readers. What does it mean to disrupt something? Who benefits? Who suffers? What is the role of government, if any, in helping to bridge the transition from the way a service was traditionally delivered to the emerging technology or to try and level the playing field? What if there was a real social safety net, including universal health care, in the United States? Would Mr. Schifter still be alive today if he didn’t have to be concerned about possible bankruptcy if he were to become sick? In some ways, this blog ties back to another blog, Meet George Jetson! Both speak to the need for training, education, and a deep dive into the ramifications of disruption.
In a related story, also in the Times, Andrew Yang, who hopes to be the 2020 presidential nominee of the Democratic Party, addresses the issue of disruption. Mr. Yang is a businessman, former tech executive, and founder of the non-profit organization Venture for America. He believes that one million truck drivers will soon be out of work as the result of self-driving vehicles, and the result will be the destabilization of society.
I talked with my dad, who was born in 1925, about disruption. He saw a lot of it during his time, but he told me that things felt very different then, compared to how they feel now. Previously, there was time to acclimate, to adjust, to embrace new technology. There was excitement, for the most part, and not dread. What changed, is the speed at which almost anyone can disrupt almost anything, in what feels like an instant. The effects of disruption are only going to become more pronounced over time, and we would be well-served to keep this conversation alive.