Disruption can be a good thing — an upending of the status quo, the carving of a new path for entrepreneurs denied traditional business opportunities, the introduction of a new product that promises to make our lives significantly better.
But as the pace of change has increased, those disruptions, especially those spurred by advances in technology, have brought unintended consequences for consumers, citizens and local and federal governments. In many cases, we are left to wonder if the steps forward of recent years will be accompanied by an equal number of steps back.
While the latest spate of advances bring individual convenience, they can throw neighborhoods into turmoil and disarray.
Consider, for example, the rapid expansion of ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft. On one level, they are a godsend for people who don’t own an auto, who want to get home safely after a night out or who want a quick and easy way to get around in any city or town without the hassle of renting a car or finding a taxi. Uber, which launched an IPO earlier this month, said an estimated 91 million people used its on-demand app last year.
But that popularity comes at a cost. Locally, Logan Airport has struggled with a crush of rideshare drivers adding to the already sluggish clot of cars around its busy terminals, with the resulting traffic spillover affecting nearby roadways and a large swath of East Boston. Earlier this spring, Massport approved changes that would move rideshare drop-offs and pickups to the central garage and add fees for each trip.
Airbnb, meanwhile, has made it simple to rent a room or a house in any city in the world without having to go through a hotel chain. It’s also been a moneymaker for homeowners looking to squeeze a little cash out of an extra bedroom.
Increasingly, however, people are using Airbnb to help turn entire houses into off-the-books, unregulated hotels and inns. Circumventing local regulations can be satisfying, of course, but safety regulations — think sanitation and fire codes — exist for a reason. And those short-term rentals are tying up properties that would otherwise be used for long-term renters and homeowners, adding to the region’s affordable housing crisis. Locals often can’t find places to live because rooms are being rented to out-of-towners. And recent studies have shown Airbnb and other services often drive up the cost of rent in housing-starved communities.
Now, there are fears those communities are going to get louder as Amazon and other retailers prepare to unleash swarms of delivery drones to drop off packages in neighborhoods across the country. A sister company of Google, Alphabet’s Wing Aviation, just got federal permission to use drones for commercial delivery.
And while recreational drones — the ones piloted by suburban dads everywhere — are loud, they pale in comparison to the commercial models. Many cities and towns are considering banning leaf blowers, which operate in ones and twos in backyards during the weekend. Now, imagine that din multiplied by a factor of 10, with deliveries occurring during all hours of the day.
“Without forethought, public outcry and regulation, the buzzing of drones may soon fill city and suburban skies, adding to the din in many places, and disturbing the peace of even those wealthy suburbs whose residents can afford the convenience of rapid home delivery,” Garth Paine, a professor of digital sound at Arizona State University, wrote in a column for The Conversation. “Even neighborhoods that have managed to avoid being under airport flight paths will find themselves surrounded by the buzz.”
It begs the question: Is the convenience of being able to order a new pair of socks with one click on your phone worth the disruption?