Joe Schumpeter and the truth about technology

This morning’s Observer column.

Pondering the role of entrepreneurship and innovation in this process, Schumpeter argued that capitalism renews itself in periodic waves of traumatic upheaval. He was not the first to have this idea, but he was the first to come up with a memorable term for the process: Schumpeter called them waves of “creative destruction”.

We’re living through one such wave at the moment, but our public discourse about it is lopsided. That’s because the narrative tends to be dominated by enthusiasts and evangelists, by people who, like the “cybertheorists” Poole detests, tend to focus on the creative side of the Schumpeterian wave. At the same time, people who are sceptical or fearful about the new technology tend to be labelled – and sometimes derided – as luddites or technophobes.

The trouble is that Schumpeter meant what he said: innovation is a double-edged sword.

So who will control the Net, in the end?

My comment piece in this morning’s Observer.

It’s all about control. Of course, nobody uses that particular term. The talk is always about “governance” or “regulation”, but really it’s about control. Ever since the internet burst into public consciousness in 1993, the big question has been whether the most disruptive communications technology since print would be captured by the established power structures – nation states and giant corporations – that dominate our world and shape its development. And since then, virtually every newsworthy event in the evolution of the network has really just been another skirmish in the ongoing war to control the internet.

This year closed with two such skirmishes.