Disrupting the wrong stuff

Author Tom Wolfe once wrote a book about the American space program called The Right Stuff. Last week I wrote a piece called Technology is disrupting everything. I don’t bring up Wolfe’s work to compare myself to him — that would be laughable — but because an astute reader named John G. Moore, Jr. left me a comment in that piece that got me thinking we are in fact disrupting lots of stuff, but mostly the wrong variety.

Here’s what Moore wrote:

Not everything is being “disrupting” tho. Only the easy or non essential things are being disrupted. Cancer, bigotry, hunger, you know the “hard” stuff—not so much. Ain’t no college boys trying to solve those problems, no VCs funding the disruption of those things. The stuff that does not “need” to be disrupted is being “disrupted” at an alarming rate. Just call a taxi or drive yourself,lol. Do we really “need” self driving cars? Nope. We need to start “disrupting” the hard things, not the silly/dumb/non essential tasks/product/services/etc.

To be honest I’m not used to thoughtful comments. More typical is spam, self promotion or gleefully pointing out my spelling or grammar errors. This was the best of all because it got me thinking, and it’s hard to argue with his thesis — the guy is spot on.

We are wasting our time, our money and our brainpower on solving non-problems while ignoring the real difficulties we face as a society.

Maybe it’s time to devote ourselves to bigger issues, to commit to the right stuff and use technology to bring out the very best in us.

Maybe we should stop glorifying developers who look for ways to eliminate humans from the equation and use our brain power to create the next generation of jobs.

Maybe like President Obama’s Cancer Moonshot we need to encourage our best and brightest to solve these foundational problems around population, clean water, feeding the world and reducing human misery.

Maybe we need more programs like Thorn’s Silicon Valley innovation lab devoted to using technology to fight child sexual abuse or TechCrunch’s own Mike Butcher bringing together experts from UNICEF and local NGOs to find ways to use tech to ease the refugee crisis in Syria.

Maybe we don’t need another messaging app or a better way to get from point a to point b. Maybe our needs are more fundamental than that.

Maybe it’s time we devoted at least a portion of the billions in venture capital being invested in those other things, toward making the world a better place, to using tech for good and disrupting the right stuff for a change.