A year of dis­rup­tions and dis­rup­tors

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

Alot has hap­pened in 2014, many tragedies, nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, po­lit­i­cal crises and also so­cial tur­moil. But if one has to un­der­line a trend in the events of the out­go­ing year, one will find dis­rup­tions re­cur­ring over and over.

Even as the re­ported dis­cov­ery of the wreck­age of AirAsia Flight 8501 yes­ter­day seemed to pro­vide clues to the mys­tery of the plane’s dis­ap­pear­ance, fam­ily mem­bers of those on­board Malaysia Air­lines flight 370, which has yet to be found after dis­ap­pear­ing in March, are still wait­ing to learn the fate of their loved ones. Th­ese two air­plane tragedies dis­rupted the long-held il­lu­sion of a smoothly-run mod­ern world. Peo­ple know that air travel, like any other form of trans­porta­tion, car­ries cer­tain risks but be­fore flight 370, few sus­pected that a plane could sim­ply go miss­ing with­out a trace. After all, the skies are dot­ted with satel­lites, mo­bile apps can track your where­abouts by the minute and spy agen­cies boast an ever-stronger abil­ity to eaves­drop on our ev­ery move, how dif­fi­cult could it be to track a jet with hun­dreds of peo­ple on it? It turns out to be more dif­fi­cult than we think be­cause of the lack of co­or­di­na­tion be­tween in­ter­na­tional avi­a­tion au­thor­i­ties.

The down­ing of another pas­sen­ger plane, Malaysia Air­lines flight 17, by mis­siles fired from a re­gion con­trolled by pro-Rus­sian sep­a­ratists in East­ern Ukraine in July scat­ters another il­lu­sion: that war is an out­dated af­fair in the mod­ern world, tak­ing place only in fail­ing states and has no im­pact on peo­ple other than those di­rectly in­volved in it. The ag­gres­sive strat­egy of Rus­sia to an­nex Crimea and to en­gage in a thinly veiled proxy war in Ukraine seems to turn back the clock to Cold War times. The idea that glob­al­iza­tion has ren­dered old-fash­ioned land-grabs ob­so­lete is no longer true. In the Mid­dle East, the rise of the ji­hadist Is­lamic State also res­ur­rected an an­cient idea, that of the caliphate, rul­ing over parts of Syria and Iraq with its reign of ter­ror.

The world also re­al­ized this year the weak­ness of in­ter­na­tional health au­thor­i­ties. The quick spread of the Ebola pan­demic in West Africa re­veals mostly not the well known weak in­fra­struc­ture of un­de­vel­oped coun­tries but the as­ton­ish­ing lack of readi­ness of top health bod­ies such as the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WHO). Fund­ing cuts amid the global re­ces­sion and the en­trenched bu­reau­cracy of the WHO re­sulted in a void that al­lowed Ebola to spread unchecked in the first months of the year.

In Tai­wan, the seem­ingly end­less food scan­dals have ba­si­cally taken away what­ever pub­lic trust still ex­isted. More­over, it rep­re­sents also a dis­rup­tion of long-held be­liefs that Tai­wan is a “Food King­dom” pop­u­lated with hon­est peo­ple sell­ing in­ex­pen­sive del­i­ca­cies. While there are no doubt many hon­est restau­ra­teurs in Tai­wan, the na­tion now finds it­self in a soul-search­ing mo­ment with sim­i­lar­i­ties to what South Korea faced after the sink­ing of the ferry Se­wol: Have we com­pro­mise too much for speed and af­ford­abil­ity?

Dis­rup­tions in 2014, how­ever, were not all bad. The rise of so­cial me­dia and smart de­vices cre­ated many dis­rup­tions to long-es­tab­lished or­ders. Start-ups like Airbnb and Uber are bring­ing a sea change to the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try and taxi busi­nesses. More im­por­tantly, tech­nolo­gies en­able peo­ple to quickly or­ga­nize events and spread in­for­ma­tion, re­sult­ing in “po­lit­i­cal dis­rup­tors” that seems to come from nowhere and sud­denly take over. Tai­wan’s Sun­flower Move­ment in March and the re­cent Um­brella Revo­lu­tion in Hong Kong are the most ob­vi­ous ex­am­ples. Thanks to th­ese so­cial me­dia-armed dis­rup­tors, Ko Wen-je, a physi­cian run­ning as an in­de­pen­dent can­di­date, made his­tory by be­com­ing the first non-Kuom­intang can­di­date to take over 50 per­cent of votes in a Taipei may­oral elec­tion. Ko wasted no time in his first days as mayor to dif­fer­en­ti­ate him­self from tra­di­tional politi­cians. For bet­ter or worse, he is pre­sent­ing him­self as a dis­rup­tor.

2014 was the year when the peo­ple came to rec­og­nize the re­al­i­ties of the world. This loss of in­no­cence started with the 2009 fi­nan­cial melt­down, which re­vealed the ut­ter in­ca­pa­bil­ity of the so­ciopo­lit­i­cal elites whom peo­ple used to trust. In 2014, peo­ple learned that the world does not run on au­topi­lot, that the “lead­ers” alone can­not fix all prob­lems (in fact, they can some­times be the prob­lem), More im­por­tantly, they re­al­ized they have to par­tic­i­pate. Ef­forts to con­tain Ebola are see­ing re­sults re­cently be­cause of the sac­ri­fices made by brave vol­un­teers. If 2014 was a year of painful reck­on­ings, let us hope it will also be the be­gin­ning of an era of ac­tions.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Taiwan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.