noun: a disturbance or problems that interrupt an event, activity, or process
New Oxford American Dictionary
For the average person, the term disruption automatically brings to mind a negative process. An unexpected power shortage disrupted the Super Bowl. Hurricane Sandy disrupted life on the East Coast. Crispy Creme was out of chocolate creme donuts, disrupting my breakfast.
But sometimes disruption refers to concepts that we usually view in a more positive light: innovation, cutting edge technology, the growth in human interconnectedness. Indeed, the rapid change we are all experiencing encompassing just about every aspect of human interaction so frequently combines innovation with a profoundly disruptive effective, that we now speak of disruptive technology and disruptive innovation.
In general, a disruptive technology is a "new technology that has a serious impact on the status quo and changes the way people have been dealing with something, perhaps for decades." (http://www.answers.com/topic/disruptive-technology)
Few industries are more impacted by disruptive technology than the interpreting profession. From the introduction of new video conferencing technologies, to the growth of social media and increasing global interconnectedness upending traditional practices for hiring interpreters, to instant translation and interpretation apps and the proliferation of digital terminology resources, technology is penetrating all levels of our profession.
But perhaps no innovation will change the face of our profession more profoundly than the rapid world-wide adoption of the smart phone. The first iPhone was introduced in June, 2007, the iPad tablet in April 2010. Barely more than half a decade has passed since these mobile devices hit the market, yet smart phones and tablets with internet access, together with traditional PCs, are now in the hands of more than 5 billion people around the world.
Journalist Christoper Mims of The Atlantic posted a year-end article last December titled: The 5 Most Disruptive Technologies of 2012. Number 5 on the list? "Ultra-cheap Web Devices: Five Billion People with Internet Access."
In this article, Mims asks the reader to consider:
"What does it mean that another one or two billion people are encountering the internet for the first time? If the value of the network is proportional to its size, what happens when most of Earth's inhabitants can tap into a common pool of information and contacts?"
For our profession, some are answering these questions by racing to develop apps and other technologies to take advantage of these hand-held computers. As a result, almost every aspect of the traditional model for delivering interpreting services is being challenged. Everything from training and hiring practices, to marketing and service delivery are now possible through a mobile platform, upending a profession that has for more than half a century functioned primarily with a face-to-face model.
Google Translate, real-time machine interpretation, real-time video delivery of live interpreting services over smartphone and tablets, the ability to interpret for any client anywhere in the world from the comfort of your home, are examples of just a few new technologies available to the interpreting profession.
The downside, or disruption, can include lowered wages, a decrease in face-to-face assignments, difficult sound, visual and voice conditions with imperfect new technologies, and the loss of hard-earned labor/management employment models, among others.
The potential upside can include a hugely increased market, more full-time work for languages of lesser diffusion and interpreters who work outside of urban centers, greater awareness and visibility for individual interpreters and the profession as a whole, and the ability to provide previous hard-to-come-by training to a greatly increased geographic area, to name a few.
For the interpreting profession, the key question remains not whether we respond, but how. In a nutshell, we can reactive or be proactive.
We are excited to be highlighting this issue at the upcoming 4th InterpretAmerica Summit taking place in June with the interactive panel, The Coming Wave: Technologies That May Disrupt Interpreting. Representatives from Babelverse are among those presenting. Their services provides an excellent example of a proactive response to disruptive technology.
We encourage you check out our program and speaking and presenting opportunities, and register for the Summit today!