Is technology really disruptive?

by Despoina
disruptive technology

It is a Friday summer night in Brussels, unusually hot like the entire summer of this year in the city. After a day of home working trapped inside my apartment, I felt the need to breath some fresh air and so I walked my way down town. When I reached Avenue Louise, I what’s app-ed one of my dearest friends in Brussels and to my delight he was already in town with his long term boyfriend and ‘Patrick from Ireland’. I joined them shortly after to have some drinks in the gay street of Brussels where we hit all of the usual places; Belgica, Dolores, the rainbow house and so on….. I met with other friends who were already there, got to know a few new people, in short we were having a blast as one does on a pleasant Friday evening.

But we are now of some age already so after the third (or fourth) beer instead of hopping from bar to bar or going clubbing, we all felt a bit tired and wanted to head home instead. Being in the centre of Brussels capital on a Friday night, the taxi cabs are two seconds away from our location and this is the moment when my night would get a very annoying turn. Not something too serious thankfully however I do think the fact that we were on the gay street and the fact that my friends are gay had probably something to do with it.

Earlier that night, my husband called to ask if I am having fun and as it was getting late he suggested I got an Uber when I would decide to come back home. I thought to myself ; well the taxis are just next to us no need for an Uber, let us not be assholes. You know, those ignoring the struggle of cab drivers fighting against this disruptive app .  I supported all that, up until we got to the fucking taxi. We are four people so three of us went on the back seat and my friend Alain who is fairly tall went in the front seat. The driver was immediately rude towards Alain saying to him “Wait sir! Don’t you see I have my stuff and my bag right there (in the front seat)?!” Ok, well sure you are the taxi next in line, you see us approaching and leaning towards the window to ask if you are indeed free, but you have stuff laid over the front seat that you are unwilling to move in order for us to board.

We can surely wait for the good man to clear the space so we can use the service but the  problem is that this guy was really annoyed of the fact that someone, and by that someone I mean HIS CLIENT, would dare to enter the car and take up his entire space. How dare we be four people all at once in his cab?  Not only his tone was rude, he was clearly annoyed and wanted to make that obvious to us by banging the driver’s door as he went out of the car so that he could put his fucking bag on the port-baggage. Right then and there at that moment I felt completely irritated and displeased with this behaviour as well as the tone he used to address us during the entire ride. We announced to him that there where two stops ahead. One was my friend’s place and one was my place a bit further away. We reached my friend’s place first, after a really irresponsible and agitated way of driving. When we arrived to the first destination, I announced my preference to stop there as well and was met with an angry stare from the cab driver. I was obviously ordering an Uber right that second and my new ride came only 2 seconds later. This is not the only unpleasant experience I had with a taxi driver but I made sure that night that it would be the last.

As we talk and hear lately all about the new digital first way of doing things I wonder, is technology really disrupting anything or is it more that the way we provide a service is no longer responding to what people need?

On my way home on my Uber drive

On my way home on my Uber drive, I thought of all the applications that I use or that have gotten popular the last few years and  are considered to be disruptive meaning that they are innovative but at the same time have caused a shit load of trouble and a great headache to the current industry or the norm. Some of these apps are as you know already; Airbnb, Uber, Spotify, Netflix and even FaceBook, Twitter and Instagram and they are considered by most to be the source of all of modern society problems on a social as well as economical level.

Ok now,  why did some of these apps took off so fast and why did their usage spread like a virus and caused such a ripple effect?

I will start with what I love, music. You may remember buying that album where the only good thing in it was one song. The artwork was often a cheap printed image, no extra effort of even including the lyrics on a booklet, all that sold to you into the cheapest plastic packaging. Maybe you are not my age and you never really bought CDs but after buying one too many myself,  I felt like a fool and started to look for an alternative way to get content I liked without purchasing the entire CD! After using music platforms such as Spotify and Apple music, I went back to buying vinyls and CDs but only after I listen to them online and I make sure it is worth my money. Because if your album is good, you all time favourite artist, I will most certainly buy it in the end*. I feel that because of music being available in all of these music platforms, some artists have to work harder on their craft paying more attention and providing quality results as opposed to fast sloppy music with one hit song. And this is a good thing.

Then what about travelling.  I remember overpaying for that hotel in Paris with a tiny room that could only fit one bed where breakfast starts at 6 and ends at 9:30.  I remember paying for a room in Barcelona where the window was pointing to a WALL and the facilities where most certainly inappropriate for a hotel service. The customer service was adequate and almost rude on both occasions. Now, with Airbnb I can rent an entire apartment for the same price, be on a better location in the city I visit, eat breakfast whenever the fuck I want, be less of a target because no one can tell I am a tourist*  and most of all really feel like I am on vacation and not on a military camp.

While going down the nostalgia lain, do you remember renting DVDs, rushing to return them on time in order to avoid paying a ridiculous late fee? Thank god for Netflix and Amazon prime. If a movie sucks, I skip on the next one without all the hustle.

It is clear that our needs have changed and our tolerance towards bad or inadequate service changed as well especially when better alternatives are available. People are no longer loyal to brands and services like they are loyal to their football teams. They do not have to put up with average or crappy service and they do not appreciate paying a lot more than needed for them either! Why? Because making money is fucking hard and you will always be careful where to spend it. I am even looking forward to a time where younger generations will not even feel that hint of guilt when they will be using one of these alternative apps to get a service or content.

And before you get all communist and romantic on me, I will say this; I know there is another side to all of this, there always is. After all, it was not all bad and not all of the people providing a taxi or accommodation services do a bad job. The guy who works late shifts on a taxi cab to support his family, the small family owned hotel business, the artist who has to struggle way more to get recognised today. I get it. However,  is it not as simple as using a different framework and way to do the same as before only that you do it well? I mean if you are a taxi driver today and you are one of the good ones what stops you from being an Uber driver? If you are the taxi service, what stops you from listening to your customer’s needs and improving your service? There is no such thing as doing the same job exactly the same way for 30 years till you  retire. Economy showed this to us years ago, so we could use technology to our advantage. It is not disruptive it is changing the game for the better.

I like to see big businesses in domain such as the horeca, transportation and communication domain sit up their fucking chairs, change the way they work and ask their customers what do they want! Really listen and provide a good service Because it is give and take, if all people move to a service like Airbnb and Uber it means that maybe Hotels and Taxi services need to re thing the service they provide. If people no longer go to see stupid movies, maybe we no longer need to show those on the big screen. If people choose Netflix and Prime over Belga TV well maybe you should have provided quality and top content yesterday.

It is not disruptive it is customer need oriented – Customer needs ├╝ber alles.!


* #justice for Liberation

* Thank God I am white

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