How should disruptions be handled?
Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
Opinion - New Straits Times
February 17, 2020
"DISRUPTION" is becoming an everyday word of late. The meaning gets trivialised. Anything that is related to high technology can qualify as “disruption”, be it a simple handheld device or paraphernalia claimed as crucial to transforming the world.
It is akin to a “revolution” except that in the articulation about “disruption”, the downside is often not emphasised as much.
Many are persuaded to embrace — adopt or adapt — whatever comes their way so as to ride the crest towards transformational (economic) change, hopefully, for the better. Exactly how this is to happen is not quite spelt out, especially when the negative impact is not acknowledged until much later.
By then it is often too late for any meaningful counteraction. For example, the use of handheld devices by billions worldwide.
Over several years, the unintended consequences gradually appear and later become more evident in the global community.
Notably in areas of mental health and hygiene, including episodes of addiction, depression, loneliness and generally those that “disrupt” human emotions and relationships.
Such “non-tech” disruptions, however, usually come about at the tail end of a long technological journey with no easy solution at hand.
Meanwhile, technology expands non-stop causing even greater disruptions to the softer sectors. The vicious cycle traps users in endless loops.
While the positive aspects are hyped up in economic terms, the socio-cultural cost is glossed over until it leads to dire consequences. “Gaming” is a case in point.
It’s now considered a harmful addictive behaviour, according to the medical fraternity.
Another instance is the Covid19 outbreak — it was rudely thrust upon us. A rather “sudden” disruption, and “bio” (nontech) in nature. Unlike “technodisruptions”, its impact is wholly disastrous, so much so the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared it a public health emergency of international concern.
More recently, WHO warned of a “severe disruption” to bio-medical supplies worldwide, making effective control more difficult, beginning with the lack of basic items such as personal protective equipment.
Reportedly, the world of technology is unprepared to provide any lasting mitigation as the number of deaths and infections soars.
Looking through this lens, the question that begs to be answered is: should technodisruption be blindly accepted when the possible resulting “bio-disruption” is least understood, resembling closely the Covid-19 outbreak?
Put another way, the tragedy is about being “unprepared” or even “oblivious” to the long-term negative and fatal bio-outcomes; yet the common people, unknowingly, are pushed to take risks by some economic forces.
This issue is gaining relevancy with outpourings of grief all round over the death of whistleblower Dr Li Wenliang. The doctor, who lost his life to the Covid19 bio-disruption, had earlier warned fellow medics and the public about the virus. Unfortunately, he was harassed for his “warning”, and reprimanded by the local police for making “false comments”.
His warning raises a vital question — how the so-called disruption should best be handled and understood. Was it too simplistic, ignoring the social (bio, intangible) cost in preference of the economic (techno, tangible) ones?
Should not both be given due importance so that societal wellbeing can be better protected?
Disruptions must be understood, and their impact on biological systems well articulated.
We owe much to Dr Li. The international community should come up with an appropriate response to the disruption. In this sense, Dr Li will be fondly missed. A true professional, he executed his role well.
Rest in peace, Dr Li.
The writer, an NST columnist for more than 20 years, is International Islamic University Malaysia rector