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Disrupting everything

Last year when I started working on Dirt—which was really my first startup—I had a number of people say things to me like: “Wow, that’s quite a change, going from real estate into tech.” But that’s not the way I saw and see it.

I don’t think you can silo industries like that anymore. Technology is touching everything. Some would even go so far as to say that every company in the world is, or will be, a software and technology company.

The way I looked at it was that I was starting a technology-enabled real estate company. I was hoping to leverage the internet to improve the way things are done in an existing industry. Of course, by improve I really mean disrupt—which is arguably the biggest buzzword in the tech community today:

“Disruption is not so much a trend as an especially lucrative world philosophy favored by technophilic entrepreneurs. It’s the only path towards progress. If you’re not disrupting something you might as well go collect kindling and roast raccoon meat in the hills of Cupertino.”

A good example of how disruptive innovation is reaching all sectors of the economy, including government, is the New Haven-based startup called SeeClickFix (which I discovered via This Big City). What it does is allow citizens to report non-emergencies (like potholes) to their local government. Governments can then respond and manage these tasks. (Sorry Rob Ford. Now you don’t need to return all those phone calls.)

But moreover, I think it shows that technology is not only going to disrupt business and industry, it’s going to disrupt the way cities function and the way we live. I don’t know what that’s ultimately going to look like, but I can already feel it underway.

Albert Wenger, of venture capital firm Union Square Ventures, recently argued—in a talk at DLD—that we are still in the midst of a transition from the Industrial Age to the Information Age. And I buy that. With every new disruption, we’re one step closer to completely making that transition. But we’re not quite there yet.

The Industrial Age drove people out of cities. It made cities dirty and undesirable. But in the Information Age, cities are damn important and it’s where people want to be. Look at all the people rushing back to urban centers.

So if technology has the power to disrupt business, industry, and cities, I suggest we stop just thinking about technology in isolation and remember the powerful words of Marshall McLuhan: “The medium is the message.” Don’t just focus on the obvious or you’ll miss a tidal wave of change happening beneath the surface.

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