You want to DISRUPT my TECH? How about I DISRUPT your FACE?

Discovering why disruption is disreputable

Something for the Weekend, Sir? My “iBeats by Dr Dre” earphones have ceased functioning. They lasted all of eight weeks.

Tangerine Dream at Coventry Cathedral. HD.

Tangerine Dream at Coventry Cathedral 1974.

While I’d been joking that I was trying to defile Dr Dre’s muvva-fuddin’ bitch-slappin’ earphones by listening to early Mike Oldfield and Tangerine Dream, I never seriously expected that ambient Sounds of the Seventies could cause them to break down for real (4 realz, shurely? -Weekend Ed).

I have written to Dr Dre to ask for an explanation but have yet to receive a reply, which I find extremely unprofessional of him. I am beginning to suspect that he may not even be a real doctor.

For a freelancer on the go, having one’s earbuds-with-mic for one’s smartphone stop working shortly after one has set off for one’s day of work is extremely disruptive (for one). Yet disruption, we are frequently told, is supposed to be a good thing. Disruptive technology is what drives IT development and engineering advances.

So disruptive technology is ... a pair of broken earphones?

The analogy is perfect. Time and time again, any mention of the word “disruption” in the workplace invariably heralds a nightmarish period involving one system-wide disaster after another, lots of blame-calling in meetings, key resources being wasted, resignations of the best staff and vast sums of money vanishing into the pockets of slippery consultants.

No no, the experts bleat, you have it all wrong! Disruption is cool and sexy! Disruption brings progress! Disruption makes the heart swell!

Disruption makes your willy and wallet swell, more like. You disrupt my system round here, pal, and I’ll disrupt your fucking face.

That’s not to say I haven’t been party to a bit of disruption myself, not least in my admittedly minor role in helping kill off traditional typesetters at the end of the 1980s. I content myself with the knowledge that they were ripping us off something terrible and deserved everything they got.

You want £50 to amend one word on a page? Bye-bye, bozos. Hello Apple Macs.

My first experience of disruptive IT on the receiving end, however, was while freelancing at the turn of the century at a magazine company whose publisher, contrary to my express instructions, had allowed a consultant into the building. While I was out at a liquid lunch, the publisher then allowed himself to fall victim to this scammer’s consultant’s flipchart presentation.

“We’re moving everything to XML!” he announces, pulling me into his office as I return from lunch and try to totter between the open-plan desks to regain my own. “Steve” he grins, practically hugging the Turtle-Necked Twat next to him around the shoulders, “has it all sorted!”

I look at Steve and notice the damning evidence – the flipchart pen – still in his hand. Damn. The boss has always been a sucker for slick patter and a flipchart. I suspect it’s something to do with the loud tearing sound as the pages get turned with a flourish. Possibly an S&M trigger.

OK, I say, let’s employ an XML workflow. It seems a bit overblown for our little magazine, though. What are you hoping to achieve?

“Steve says we’ll be more efficient!”

This magazine employs only five people, I remind my publisher: four if you don’t include me because I’m a freelancer. You think an unflinchingly strict workflow of bland-looking templates, verbose manual tagging and constant pruning of the validation, one in which getting a single text character out of place spells instant collapse of the entire publishing system, and which will require a new server, new software, specialist IT support and lots of training, is going to save you money?

“Don’t worry, Steve will show you what to do.”

For the next two weeks, Steve-the-TNT gets in everyone’s way, interrogates the staff with his syrupy voice and draws diagrams with lots of criss-cross arrows on the boss’s flipchart. He convenes a systems analysis results meeting and tells everyone what they already know.

The following week is worse, as each of us get cajoled into Steve’s training courses that turn out to be one-way conceptual think-piece lectures on the benefits of XML. We stay late every night to catch up with work.

When it comes to implementing the system, though, Steve’s time in the office suddenly becomes less frequent. After a further month of sporadic appearances, during which his behaviour is highly evasive, the TNT is never seen again.

“He had to move on to another cutting-edge project,” explains my publisher. “In Los Angeles, apparently. Or it might have been Qasigiannguit. Anyway, could you finish off what he was doing? Just tidy up a few loose ends?”

Steve-the-TNT, who I later discover has just earned more from my publisher in two months of disruptive twattery than I do in two years, has left behind a one page template set up at the wrong size and in the wrong application, a couple of sample XML files that he copied from a PCW cover disc, and a half-written DTD whose schema is so obsolete that it later featured in all four Jurassic Park movies.

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