From Disruption to Consolidation

In this week’s class, we looked at four new technologies that once posed threats to the existing technologies of the telephone, film, television, and computing. The disruptions came from a variety of different sources. Two of the disruptions came from anti-trust actions, as was the case with the telephone industry in the 1980s and the film industry in the 1940s. Two of the other disruptions came from “below”, as was the case with the community antennae projects that eventually evolved into cable television and the personal computing revolution that would couple well with the advancements made in creating an open standards computing network, such as the Internet.

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However, as you can see in the chart and in this week’s outline, these disruptions would eventually become consolidated industries once more. The great monolith of AT&T was broken up but has since the last decade had one of its former pieces reemerge as an industry leader. While the Hollywood studios were essentially hollowed by the 1950s, they would often become parts of a conglomerate’s portfolio. In some cases, these film studios would pass through the hands of companies whose main industry would be as diverse as beverage bottling or parking garages.

In the case of grassroots technology, such as cable and computing, both would adopt commercialization. Cable television would help Turner challenge the broadcast networks on television but would ultimately reproduce the same programming and advertising-driven business as the major networks. The opportunity to revolutionize television with cable had been wasted. Moreover, personal computers made it possible for everyday citizens to participate in computing. However, the walled gardens of AOL, the Apple ecosystem, and even the data-driven imperatives of Google and PageRank isolates users into much smaller part of the world that the Internet promised unfiltered and unfettered access.

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