Crowdsourced Terror, Hyper-Competition and the Acceleration of Acceleration

I’m not quite yet in my old-man-phase, where I’ll point at every fresh societal development as evidence of a world gone crazy. I figure I’ve got at least two more decades before I get there.

That being said, I can’t help but point out the fact that everything seems to be moving much faster now, that the second-derivative rate of change – the acceleration of acceleration – has become more readily noticeable. These days I feel as though I’m bent backwards, watching a speeding bullet pass over my shoulder in slow-motion, Matrix-style. It’s flying fast, but somehow I can tell. Am I slower or is the pace quickening – and if it is quickening, how is it that I am able to see that so clearly?

There is a new terror movement on the other side of the world that is crowdsourcing social misfits from every corner of the globe, recruiting via interactive marketing and social media in a manner befitting a Fortune 500 company rolling out a new product. Just yesterday, terrorists were sneaking video cassettes of their rants to the mainstream media via elaborate networks of shadowy operatives and untraceable handoffs in the dark. Today they’re uploading videos of murder directly to Youtube, on Google-owned servers. They’re posting selfies to Instagram, propaganda to Facebook and keeping the world updated about their exploits on Twitter. They’re branding and thought-leadering. They’re communicating with the White House over the World Wide Web. They’re doing what a top-flight consultant might recommend to Tide detergent or TIME Magazine – “Join the conversation!”

None of this would have been possible just a short time ago. Osama’s gang could never have taken out a full-page ad in the New York Times, even if they’d paid in cash. The reach they’d have gotten by doing so, by today’s standards, would be quaint. In 2014, a millennial terrorist (yes, that’s what they are) with a laptop and a modicum of social media savvy could easily amplify a message like that by several orders of magnitude without even getting out of bed.

Obama doesn’t have a strategy. How can he? In 2003, we wondered what could possibly be worse than Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad? Now you know. Syria has a population of 22 million and an estimated 10 million of them are classified as refugees. Mass murderers now control a territory with a landmass the size of Great Britain. Overnight.

There’s a burgeoning realization that what we’re watching is a region-wide, religious civil war – something that has to be fought out, with oceans of blood an inevitability rather than merely a bad option. There are no options for us, we can’t help. It’s 1300 years in the making, even if the Western intervention in Iraq sped it up. “Let the animals kill each other,” is a common refrain in bars and coffee shops across America.

In the last year, everyone I know added the Uber app to their phones. All of a sudden, town cars on demand became an attainable thing for the upper middle class – not cheap, but easily gotten. Lyft came along shortly after and gave Uber a run for its money. Competition became brutal overnight. Uber decided the world was only big enough for one of them and unleashed an army of well-trained saboteurs to wreck Lyft’s business and tie up its drivers. Apparatchiks across the country set about requesting fake rides to jam up the system. They hailed Lyft drivers from the app with dummy credit cards and burner phones with the sole intention of luring them over to Uber, according to media reports. Nobody even blinked at this new kind of extremist campaign  – “Let the animals kills each other.” You couldn’t find a single Uber user who stopped using the service as reports of this came to light. If anything, we’re cheering it on.

This week, a third competitor entered the mix. It’s a Tel Aviv-based company called Gett and they’ve taken the ride war to its logical endpoint: Gett is now offering customers a ride from any part of Manhattan to any other part, at any time of day or night, for just ten dollars. For the non-New Yorkers among my readership, allow me to explain that ten dollars is the Manhattan equivalent of free, no charge.

App-assisted on-demand transportation is an “industry” that, for all intents and purposes, is less than three years old. And, already, its two largest players are medievally maiming each other on the battlefield. This as a third warrior enters the arena offering the same service they’re fighting to provide for free. What will Uber and Lyft do to deal with this new competitor? Kidnappings? Car bombs?

In a prior era, this kind of thing would’ve played out over years and decades – think Coke versus Pepsi or Ford versus Chevrolet. Generations of executives and marketers fighting for the upper hand in this category or that. Now we go from zero-to-free in minutes. Minutes!

Market share matters more than money in an environment where the only thing that counts is the valuation at which you can sell stock. Stock seems to sell quicker based on total addressable market (TAM) and your size within that market these days. The town car landgrab is old school – something from a time before time. The tactics and savagery are a throwback but the motivation behind it is thoroughly modern, an artifact of now. Uber is worth $20 billion dollars and it’s nowhere near any kind of public offering. How can this be, the company was only founded in 2009? They’re in 200 cities across more than 40 countries. They claim the ability to offer a ride to 43 percent of Americans within 8 seconds. That’s how this can be. Overnight.

If the world seems to be turning ’round faster than ever, you’re not alone. Grab hold of something, it shows no sign of abating.


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