Over the past few months I occasionally got into heated debate with different colleagues regarding whether cloud computing is a revolution or an evolution. Will it change our world, or is it going to be more of the same thing with different flavors?
Well, I must admit that I didn’t made up my mind yet. One of the ways to answer this question is by looking at similar trends in other industries.
I recently came across an interesting post by Clay Shirky, Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable, where he discuss the impact of the internet on the newspaper industry and specifically the idea behind paying for news in similar fashion that people pay for music. I brought some of his thoughts below where he describes human behavior when a disruptive idea is brought to a well established industry:
Revolutions create a curious inversion of perception. In ordinary times, people who do no more than describe the world around them are seen as pragmatists, while those who imagine fabulous alternative futures are viewed as radicals. The last couple of decades haven’t been ordinary, however. Inside the papers, the pragmatists were the ones simply looking out the window and noticing that the real world was increasingly resembling the unthinkable scenario. These people were treated as if they were barking mad. Meanwhile the people spinning visions of popular walled gardens and enthusiastic micropayment adoption, visions unsupported by reality, were regarded not as charlatans but saviors. […]
When reality is labeled unthinkable, it creates a kind of sickness in an industry. Leadership becomes faith-based, while employees who have the temerity to suggest that what seems to be happening is in fact happening are herded into Innovation Departments, where they can be ignored en masse. This shunting aside of the realists in favor of the fabulists has different effects on different industries at different times. One of the effects on the newspapers is that many of their most passionate defenders are unable, even now, to plan for a world in which the industry they knew is visibly going away. […]
With the old economics destroyed, organizational forms perfected for industrial production have to be replaced with structures optimized for digital data. […]
That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen. Agreements on all sides that core institutions must be protected are rendered meaningless by the very people doing the agreeing. (Luther and the Church both insisted, for years, that whatever else happened, no one was talking about a schism.) Ancient social bargains, once disrupted, can neither be mended nor quickly replaced, since any such bargain takes decades to solidify. […]
And so it is today. When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.
There are fewer and fewer people who can convincingly tell such a lie.
Now try to replace the term newspaper industry with “IT industry” and see what you get.
What are your thoughts on this matter, does cloud computing represent a revolution or an evolution?