Fashionable words series: Disruptive

My thoughts on the word Disruptive vs Enhanced

Some thoughts on the meaning and implications of the word “disruptive”.

Night Skyline Zoom Burst 1” (CC BY 2.0) by sagriffin305

What does disruptive really mean any more? As an aspiring technology lawyer, I read a lot about “disruptive” technology. At first, this term surprised me. I found myself wondering why was new technology disruptive. Why was it not innovative, a game-changer?

I had always thought of the word “disruptive” to be an unwelcome event, such a disruptive class or a disrupted night’s sleep. I thought that technology did not disrupt me, it aided my work and I was glad I could have it at my disposal. New technology for me has always been exciting, and enhancing. Disruptive implied, to me, some kind of unwelcome interruption.

The dictionary definition of “disrupt” includes:

  1. To cause disorder or turmoil:
  2. To destroy, usually temporarily, the normal continuance of unity of; interrupt;
  3. To break apart
  4. Business: to radically change (an industry, business strategy, etc.), asby introducing a new product or service that creates a new market.

(courtesy of

The business definition is often in a positive light in order to portray new innovations. A new method or machine which will make our life, better, easier, quicker, more efficient etc.

However, some people really are disrupted by technology. For example, the person who always received their bank statements in the post now has to go download them, or the person whose job it was to package chocolate is now superseded by a machine which does this ten times faster. For them, technology is disruptive.

Conversely think of innovations for green energy, new medicines and prosthetic limbs. Think of how easy it is to check an email, see how many steps you have walked or have a face to face conversation with someone halfway across the globe. This is not disruptive. It is enhancing.

In general, I love new technology. I see that it aids life in the modern world and makes it more efficient and exciting than I ever would have imagined 10 years ago. I am not disrupted. My life is enhanced.


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