What can we learn from this regarding disruptive ideas and disruptive technologies, and especially what it means to the question: how do I, as an individual, navigate the fluid world created by all this disruption?
Bowie was reacting to a disruptive influence: pop music. In the sixties and seventies recording technology (the eight-track recorder), musical instruments (the synthesizer and all the permutations of the electric guitar), studio technology, stage equipment, marketing methods, network television, and high-speed long-distance travel were all bringing about rapid changes in the entertainment business. On top of that, there were disruptive ideas affecting music: war protest, exploration of psychedelics use, resistance to authority, questioning of sexual tabus, resistance to the power of capitalism. Bowie could see that you had to ride this wave or be drowned by it.
When you talk about disruptive ideas and technologies, it's hard to determine which is the chicken and which the egg. The materialist view is that the technologies enable the rise of ideas (i.e. television enabled people to question authority, since it was letting people see the Vietnam war in ways that contradicted the official version of events). It is impossible to prove, but I would suggest that the technologies also come into being in response to ideas arising on deeper, non-material planes. The idea of equality has been percolating in the back of humanity's mind for centuries (millennia?). Technologies that give people equal access just bring that impulse into being in the physical world.
Equality and decentralization are seriously disruptive ideas. Take for example this presentation Sugata Mitra gave a few days ago at an education conference at the Universidad Francisco Marroquín in Guatemala. In essence (anticipating all the TL;DW reactions), his research shows that groups of children given networked computers, the proper atmosphere, and unstructured time can, as teams, teach themselves nearly any subject if they are given the right questions to research. There are many arguments against this, but one of them is NOT that children don't learn this way. The studies and the data are copious.
This is more than a little scary, considering that until recently it has been assumed teachers and trainers were among the few traditional professionals in the world that couldn't be replaced by computers. Add to that the trend toward e-learning (computer-based, interactive teaching programs) in industry, and it looks like there will be far fewer teachers and trainers in the future.
Often -- as in the trend toward e-learning that I cite above -- the driver for these changes is financial; decision makers are either trying to save money or increase profits. But I'm sure you'll recognize that there are frequent examples in which the driver of the change is ideological, spiritual, or simply a desire to be in harmony with the zeitgeist.
In my own life I have found myself questioning how aikido and other martial arts classes are taught. Japanese martial arts are a seriously top-down, authoritarian affair. Class starts by bowing to an image of the art's founder (the "shomen", or the "head" of the room), and then the students bow to the teacher. During the brief time I had an aikido school in Davis, California, I adopted a radical practice of assembling in a circle. We turned and bowed to the shomen (which I see as more of a spiritual practice -- acknowledging the kami, or spirit, of the school), and then we turned toward the center of the circle to bow to one another. No bowing to me, as the teacher, per se. It may seem like nothing to you, dear reader, but I assure you it would be seen as sacrilege by many.
There are other areas of my life I have felt compelled to introduce more equality into, and I find that I also am less and less comfortable with accepting the right of "authorities" to dictate the agenda.
There are no easy, absolute answers. I do believe that children, up to a certain age, need authority. Being allowed to determine everything for themselves is actually a source of stress. In Waldorf schools (which all of my children attend) the idea is that the teacher is firmly in control during the first few years, and as the children are trained to use their freedom, the reins are slowly loosened.
And I don't believe in being my children's "best friend", either. I'm their father. They need that.
The problem we as individuals have is that all of this disruption, all this abandoning of traditions and institutions for good or bad reasons and adoption of new practices at a rapid pace, is moving at a speed that's outstripping our economic and political systems' ability to react. If you watch the Mitra video, you'll see someone in the audience, a teacher, ask the inevitable question: what happens to teachers once this catches on? I think he fudges the answer and suggests teachers will have a marvelous new "meta" role in education institutions. I'm not convinced. I think there will be lots of teachers out of work.
So what is our choice? Writers can't make a living creating articles for magazines anymore. Small dairy farmers can't live from the milk their cows give selling it at government-set prices meant for mega dairies. Librarians are dropping like flies as libraries close. The list goes on and on. Everyone has to innovate; such as the small dairy farmer starting to make specialty cheeses from her milk that she can sell at farmers' markets, or the writer maintaining a company's blog.
Do we all have to be David Bowie now? Do you know how to reinvent yourself?