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50 Examples of Technology Disruption

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A disruptive technology is a commercial invention that significantly changes society, culture, industries, economies, markets or professions. As the term suggests, this literally disrupts the way that things were done in the past with a sudden shift caused by the value of the new technology. It is common and fashionable to label any new technology as disruptive but in most cases, new technologies have relatively little effect. Disruption occurs where a technology represents a leap forward such that the old ways become unthinkably inefficient. The following are examples of disruptive technologies.
Example of Disruptive Effect
The wheel
Completely changed history with impact on transportation and the movement of goods.
The plow
Transformed agriculture and allowed for larger human populations.
The stirrup
Transportation and military power based on horses. Changed history by creating power imbalances.
Coins and later paper money
Greatly increased commerce. Largely displaced inefficient commodity currencies such as sacks of rice.
Printing press
Communication, politics and culture.
The compass
Navigation, contributed to global discovery, trade and imperialism. Contributed to the spread of technology and knowledge on a global basis.
The clock
Society, economics and culture. Allowed for more precise coordination and cooperation.
Transformed warfare, politics and history by creating vast power differences.
Steam engine
Transportation and manufacturing. A basis for the industrial revolution.
Factory automation such as the spinning jenny
Helped to create the industrial revolution that greatly increased standard of living in several nations. Changed the labor market creating something of a panic.
Transformed societies, economies and cultures by allowing vast regions to be interconnected with efficient transportation.
Represented a threat to art which survived. Changed media such as newspapers.
Electricity generators, grids and related technologies such as electrical lighting.
Created the modern world as we know it. Greatly transformed lifestyles, economics and culture. Opened up the night and changed sleeping habits.
Communication, industry and society.
Communication, culture, contributed to globalization by expanding the ability to communicate instantly.
Phonograph & Gramophone
Sheet music, playing piano at home as entertainment. Created the first mass market for musical recordings. Transformed lifestyles and stimulated the imagination. Created the modern music industry.
The first true mass media that centralized communication with a profound influence on culture.
Motion pictures
Storytelling, culture and communication. Films had a profound impact on the development of ideas and language.
Horses, transformed cities and changed lifestyles.
Production lines
Production lines and related innovations such as the specialization of labor and interchangeable parts created a vast economic boom and the industrial economy of the 20th century.
Lifestyles, food safety and the food industry.
Travel, business, ocean liners and rail. Contributed to globalization.
Lifestyles, society and communication. Synchronized culture around entertainment produced by a relatively small number of media companies.
A vast number of chemical products at low cost that transformed industry, economics, consumption and the environment.
Transformed the cost and design of an incredible array of products. Was the basis for other disruptive technologies such as VCR tapes.
Nuclear weapons
Greatly influenced politics and warfare by making a large conflict between superpowers unthinkable. Represented the first global existential risk controlled by humans.
Credit cards
Greatly increased commerce, travel and globalization.
Personal computers
Disrupted mainframes and enterprise software with a long term shift known as consumerization whereby firms started using more hardware and software designed for consumers. Partially democratized access to computing.
In combination with personal computers, this disrupted the typewriter.
DNA sequencing
Science, biology and medicine.
Gene editing
Biotechnology, agriculture, food and medicine.
Mobile phone
Landlines, culture and work.
Digital cameras
Cameras, film and film processing. Allowed photos to be taken a zero cost thus changing culture.
Industries, organizations, culture and way of life on global basis.
Internet search
Research methods, information habits and access to information.
Mail, telephones and paper based office processes such as memos.
Digital music
CDs, music shops and the music industry.
Social media
Societies, politics, social processes, culture, media industries and marketing.
Thinking, behavior, social processes and communication. Democratized media and internet access on a global basis.
Paper maps and navigation.
Cloud computing
Hardware, software and data storage practices. Allowed small companies to scale resulting in disruption to most industries. This is ongoing.
Streaming media
Television, cable television, movie theaters, entertainment industry and music industry.
Electric cars
The internal combustion engine.
3D printing
Potential to disrupt manufacturing.
Virtual reality and augmented reality
Real world experiences, working environments and interactions.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning
In progress, likely to disrupt most industries and professions. Hopefully, as a tool for humans to use.
In progress, likely to be involved in many industries such as agriculture. Militarized.
In progress, likely to be involved in every industry. Likely to be militarized.
It is common for a disruptive technology to be itself disrupted. For example, VCRs disrupted the entertainment industry only to be largely replaced with DVDs. DVDs in turn were disrupted by the internet and streaming media.


This is the complete list of articles we have written about technology.
Accelerating Change
Affective Computing
Arch. Technology
Artificial Intelligence
Artificial Knowledge
Big Data
Business Technology
Calm Technology
Consumer Technology
Creative Destruction
Cultural Lag
Digital Convergence
Dyson Sphere
Economic Change
Event Processing
Existential Risk
Farm Robots
4th Industrial Revolution
Future Technology
Grey Goo
High-Speed Rail
Human + AI
Hyperbolic Growth
Information Age
Information Security
Internet Of Things
IT Examples
Low Technology
Machine Biases
Moores Law
Passive Design
Personal Technology
Pervasive Game
Precautionary Principle
Predictive Analytics
Progress Trap
Reputation Systems
Robot Highways
Single Point Of Failure
Smart Glass
Sunlight Transport
Swarm Intelligence
Technological Change
Technological Singularity
Technology Culture
Technology Design
Technology Economics
Technology Env
Technology Forces
Technology Theory
Vertical Farming
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