Ever since “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” everyone is either disrupting or being disrupted. There are disruption consultants, disruption conferences, and disruption seminars. This fall, the University of Southern California is opening a new program: “The degree is in disruption,” the university announced. “Disrupt or be disrupted,” the venture capitalist Josh Linkner warns in a new book, “The Road to Reinvention,” in which he argues that “fickle consumer trends, friction-free markets, and political unrest,” along with “dizzying speed, exponential complexity, and mind-numbing technology advances,” mean that the time has come to panic as you’ve never panicked before. Larry Downes and Paul Nunes, who blog for Forbes, insist that we have entered a new and even scarier stage: “big bang disruption.” “This isn’t disruptive innovation,” they warn. “It’s devastating innovation.”
Things you own or use that are now considered to be the product of disruptive innovation include your smartphone and many of its apps, which have disrupted businesses from travel agencies and record stores to mapmaking and taxi dispatch. Much more disruption, we are told, lies ahead. Christensen has co-written books urging disruptive innovation in higher education (“The Innovative University”), public schools (“Disrupting Class”), and health care (“The Innovator’s Prescription”). His acolytes and imitators, including no small number of hucksters, have called for the disruption of more or less everything else. If the company you work for has a chief innovation officer, it’s because of the long arm of “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” If your city’s public-school district has adopted an Innovation Agenda, which has disrupted the education of every kid in the city, you live in the shadow of “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” If you saw the episode of the HBO sitcom “Silicon Valley” in which the characters attend a conference called TechCrunch Disrupt 2014 (which is a real thing), and a guy from the stage, a Paul Rudd look-alike, shouts, “Let me hear it, disss-ruppttt!,” you have heard the voice of Clay Christensen, echoing across the valley.
A pack of attacking startups sounds something like a pack of ravenous hyenas, but, generally, the rhetoric of disruption—a language of panic, fear, asymmetry, and disorder—calls on the rhetoric of another kind of conflict, in which an upstart refuses to play by the established rules of engagement, and blows things up. Don’t think of Toyota taking on Detroit. Startups are ruthless and leaderless and unrestrained, and they seem so tiny and powerless, until you realize, but only after it’s too late, that they’re devastatingly dangerous: Bang! Ka-boom! Think of it this way: the Times is a nation-state; BuzzFeed is stateless. Disruptive innovation is competitive strategy for an age seized by terror.
Disruptive innovation is a theory about why businesses fail. It’s not more than that. It doesn’t explain change. It’s not a law of nature. It’s an artifact of history, an idea, forged in time; it’s the manufacture of a moment of upsetting and edgy uncertainty. Transfixed by change, it’s blind to continuity. It makes a very poor prophet.
The upstarts who work at startups don’t often stay at any one place for very long. (Three out of four startups fail. More than nine out of ten never earn a return.) They work a year here, a few months there—zany hours everywhere. They wear jeans and sneakers and ride scooters and share offices and sprawl on couches like Great Danes. Their coffee machines look like dollhouse-size factories.
They are told that they should be reckless and ruthless. Their investors, if they’re like Josh Linkner, tell them that the world is a terrifying place, moving at a devastating pace. “Today I run a venture capital firm and back the next generation of innovators who are, as I was throughout my earlier career, dead-focused on eating your lunch,” Linkner writes. His job appears to be to convince a generation of people who want to do good and do well to learn, instead, remorselessness. Forget rules, obligations, your conscience, loyalty, a sense of the commonweal. If you start a business and it succeeds, Linkner advises, sell it and take the cash. Don’t look back. Never pause. Disrupt or be disrupted.
But they do pause and they do look back, and they wonder. Meanwhile, they tweet, they post, they tumble in and out of love, they ponder. They send one another sly messages, touching the screens of sleek, soundless machines with a worshipful tenderness. They swap novels: David Foster Wallace, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Zadie Smith. “Steppenwolf” is still available in print, five dollars cheaper as an e-book. He’s a wolf, he’s a man. The rest is unreadable. So, as ever, is the future.
On his death in 1727, pioneering physicist Isaac Newton left behind a trove of manuscripts that he had shared with almost no one during his lifetime. The long-unpublished papers—containing some 10m words, or the equivalent of roughly a hundred novels—have tantalised scholars ever since. Newton famously left little published evidence of how he made his scientific discoveries. Could these private writings hold the key to understanding his genius?
The papers were in such a jumble that the whole lot—scientific and non-scientific—was sent to Cambridge where a committee was set up to catalogue and sort them. Headed by the co-discoverer of the planet Neptune, John Couch Adams, and Newton’s successor as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, George Gabriel Stokes, that committee failed spectacularly to engage with the key feature of Newton’s great archive: its alchemical and theological dimension.
This was not for lack of time, or through simple ignorance. The committee took 16 years to complete its task, during which time both Stokes and Adams in their own ways grappled with the papers. Stokes was famously prolix, disorganised and dilatory. The result was that he very nearly lost the precious Newton manuscripts amid the chaos of his study, which he’d crammed with as many tables as he could “with narrow passages between, through which to squeeze if you could.” The tables were piled with papers more than a foot high (Stokes’s wife sometimes removed “clothes-baskets full of unnecessary material” when he was out of the house). Little wonder that Stokes kept the Newton material for “so long that there was some anxiety as to whether they had been overlooked.”
Adams, meanwhile, had his own weaknesses as an editor. Famously averse to writing (he did his most important calculations in his head), Adams was a perfectionist. The Newton material with which he grappled was scientific, not religious or alchemical, and Adams gave it the full measure of his attention. The process took years, as he managed to unravel the “enigmas” that the great man had scattered across “stray papers, without any clue to the source from which they derived,” as Adams’s friend recounted. For any other man, such a feat would have been impossible, but Adams’s “mind bore naturally a great resemblance to Newton’s in many marked respects.”
In the 1870s, Isaac Newton’s private papers were turned over to a committee of Cambridge professors and chaos ensued.
This is a blog post that’s incredibly confusing and painful for me to write.
Yesterday morning, Josh forwarded me a tweet that said:
TIL: Max Temkin, co-creator of Cards Against Humanity, raped a friend of my friend while attending Goucher College. I don’t support CAH.
We assumed this was someone making a tasteless joke, and I replied to tell him that it wasn’t funny. But after some more digging, I found a Facebook post from a girl I knew in college accusing me of sexually assaulting her, and urging people to boycott Cards Against Humanity.
This is totally, patently false. I have never sexually assaulted anyone, or previously been accused of any kind of assault.
I had a really brief relationship with this girl in college; her dorm room was next to mine, and after a few evenings staying up talking all night, we made out. We spent a few nights in each others’ rooms, but we never had sex and neither of us pressured the other into doing anything we weren’t comfortable with. After a few nights, I broke things off in the cowardly way that 19-year-old guys do, and I just stopped returning her calls and texts. I can imagine she was hurt by this, I know that I would be hurt if someone broke up with me that way.
I haven’t spoken to this girl in nearly ten years. If she felt I did something wrong in our relationship, she never confronted me about it or brought the issue to the school.
But yesterday, as near as I can tell, she saw a newspaper article about me in the Baltimore Sun, and made a Facebook post attacking me and Cards Against Humanity:
Several people that I went to school with have posted a Baltimore Sun article from 2012 about the success of Cards Against Humanity, a popular indie party game created by a Goucher alum.
That is my rapist.
Having his face pop up on my news feed unexpectedly in any context has the capacity to ruin my day. Seeing him praised in the press is giving me a panic attack.
He should not be held as a good example of the excellence that Goucher grads have, can and will continue to achieve.
Her more recent posts have called for a boycott of my work, and she (or her friends) started a Twitter account to tweet at celebrities and organizations that I work with calling me a rapist.
Part of rape culture that hurts everyone is that it makes it difficult to talk about what is and is not consent, and makes it incredibly scary for people to speak up when their boundaries are crossed. It is entirely possible she read something completely different than I did into an awkward college hookup. If any part of that was traumatic for her, I am sincerely sorry, and I wish we would have had a chance to address it privately. I’ve sent her an email and a Facebook message and given her my contact information, but so far I haven’t heard back (but she did edit her post to remove my name).
I spoke with my lawyer, and she thinks I have a clear case to sue this woman for libel and get a restraining order, but I have no desire to bully or harm her. Additionally, I’m not wild about the precedent that sets for other women to come forward in cases of actual sexual assault.
I have made a career on the incredible power of social media, and the radical new ability that we all have to say whatever we want to a mass audience. Today I can’t help but feel hurt by those same tools that I love.
There is no evidence for this story. I will never have a chance to defend myself. The structure of the modern internet is such that these things never reach resolution and never go away. This is just baseless gossip that will now haunt me for the rest of my life.
Here’s what’s going to happen moving forward:
A Manassas City teenager accused of “sexting” a video to his girlfriend is now facing a search warrant in which Manassas City police and Prince William County prosecutors want to take a photo of his erect penis, possibly forcing the teen to become erect by taking him to a hospital and giving him an injection, the teen’s lawyers said. A Prince William County judge allowed the 17-year-old to leave the area without the warrant being served or the pictures being taken — yet.
The teen is facing two felony charges, for possession of child pornography and manufacturing child pornography, which could lead not only to incarceration until he’s 21, but inclusion on the state sex offender data base for, possibly, the rest of his life. David Culver of NBC Washington first reported the story and interviewed the teen’s guardian, his aunt, who was shocked at the lengths Prince William authorities were willing to go to make a sexting case in juvenile court.
“The prosecutor’s job is to seek justice,” said the teen’s defense lawyer, Jessica Harbeson Foster. “What is just about this? How does this advance the interest of the Commonwealth? This is a 17-year-old who goes to school every day, plays football, has never been in trouble with the law before. Now he’s saddled with two felonies and the implication that he’s a sexual predator. I don’t mind trying the case. My goal is to stop the search warrant. I don’t want him to go through that. Taking him down to the hospital so he can get an erection in front of all those cops, that’s traumatizing.”
Carlos Flores Laboy, appointed the teen’s guardian ad litem in the case, said he thought it was just as illegal for the Manassas City police to create their own child pornography as to investigate the teen for it. “They’re using a statute that was designed to protect children from being exploited in a sexual manner,” Flores Laboy said, “to take a picture of this young man in a sexually explicit manner. The irony is incredible.” The guardian added, “As a parent myself, I was floored. It’s child abuse. We’re wasting thousands of dollars and resources and man hours on a sexting case. That’s what we’re doing.”
Foster said Detective Abbott told her that after obtaining photos of the teen’s erect penis he would “use special software to compare pictures of this penis to this penis. Who does this? It’s just crazy.”
Great law enforcement.
Like many peasants from the outskirts of Yanan, China, Ren Shouhua was born in a cave and lived there until he got a job in the city and moved into a concrete-block house.
His progression made sense as he strove to improve his life. But there’s a twist: The 46-year-old Ren plans to move back to a cave when he retires.
"It’s cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It’s quiet and safe," said Ren, a ruddy-faced man with salt-and-pepper hair who moved to the Shaanxi provincial capital, Xian, in his 20s. "When I get old, I’d like to go back to my roots."
More than 30 million Chinese people live in caves, many of them in Shaanxi province where the Loess plateau, with its distinctive cliffs of yellow, porous soil, makes digging easy and cave dwelling a reasonable option.
Each of the province’s caves, yaodong, in Chinese, typically has a long vaulted room dug into the side of a mountain with a semicircular entrance covered with rice paper or colorful quilts. People hang decorations on the walls, often a portrait of Mao Tse-tung or a photograph of a movie star torn out of a glossy magazine.
The better caves protrude from the mountain and are reinforced with brick masonry. Some are connected laterally so a family can have several chambers. Electricity and even running water can be brought in.
"Most aren’t so fancy, but I’ve seen some really beautiful caves: high ceilings and spacious with a nice yard out front where you can exercise and sit in the sun," said Ren, who works as a driver and is the son of a wheat and millet farmer.
In China, 30 million people live in caves. In the stone age, there were only 5 million people alive. So there are more cavemen alive now than in the stone age.