Even Chinese Communists Understand the Fundamental “Law of Disruption”

by on September 8, 2011 · 4 comments

I’ve reviewed many tech policy books here over the years, but have only found myself in agreement with a couple of titles. One of my favorites is “The Laws of Disruption” by fellow TLF co-blogger Larry Downes.  [My short review is here]  Larry does a terrific job documenting the technological forces (or “laws” as he calls them) that our reshaping the modern economy.

The fundamental law of disruption he identifies is: “Technology changes exponentially, but social, economic, and legal systems change incrementally.” Downes says this law is “a simple but unavoidable principle of modern life” and that it will have profound implications for the way businesses, government, and culture evolve going forward. “As the gap between the old world and the new gets wider,” he argues, “conflicts between social, economic, political, and legal systems” will intensify and “nothing can stop the chaos that will follow.”  He’s exactly right and I’ll be elaborating on that “law” in more detail in a new paper with Jerry Brito as well as in my next book, which I’m finishing up currently.

Anyway, with Larry’s “law” in mind, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when I was reading this Reuter‘s summary of a recent editorial from the People’s Daily, the main newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party. The commentary lambasted the Internet, social networking technologies, and online culture. It contained this gem of quote that proves the Chinese government has a firm grasp of the Law of Disruption: “We have failed to take into sufficient account just how much the Internet is a double-edged sword, and have a problem of allowing technology to advance while administration and regulation lag.”

So, the Chinese certainly get it. Regrettably, they are not about to stop trying to control the Internet, social networking platforms, or digital technology. In fact, the editorial also noted that, “Unless administration is vigorous, criminal forces, hostile forces, terrorist organizations and others could manipulate public sentiment by manufacturing bogus opinion on the Internet, damaging social stability and national security.” Ah yes, all the old “safety and security” bogeymen. If we don’t have control, the sky will fall! Lots of people think that these days, not just Chinese commies. That pessimistic Chicken Littlism is exactly what my next book aims to debunk.

Instead of living in a state of denial about the Law of Disruption or, worse yet, actively ignoring by seeking to slow or control technological change, we should instead be embracing it and finding ways to cope and adjust to the new realities of a world ubiquitous connectivity and information abundance. Progress depends on it.

  • Larry

    Thanks, Adam!  In fact the only language rights that were sold on LoD were to Mainland China, though I never saw the Chinese edition!

  • Jardinero1

    The principle that is attributed to Larry Downes should also be attributed to institutional economist Clarence Ayres in The Theory of Economic Progress, 1944.   Clarence Ayres also stated that technology tended to progress faster than institutional forces could keep up with. 

  • Jardinero1

    See here:


    Most of his work is out of print, but you can find used copies here and there.

  • Pingback: Innovation, Disruption and the Democratization of Digital Preservation | Agogified()

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