Developments in technology have been altering the way people conduct business since the beginning of humankind. The earliest Neanderthals’ lives were overturned drastically by the ability to create tools and fire. This perhaps was the first instance of technology disrupting the lives of humans. Homo sapiens went from being gathers to hunters and builders, therefore exploding the possibilities of human society. As markets developed, people progressed, and the world became civilized, we see this same trend continue. If we reflect on the development of civilization we can identify several instances of technology that have had drastic effects. Many of these developments have had ripple effects that extend far beyond the innovation itself. These innovations created a world unimaginable by individuals living before them. The History Channel has a list of 11 Innovations that changed history. This list includes the following (not in historical order):
- The Printing Press
- The Compass
- Paper Currency
- The Electric Light
- Domestication of the Horse
- Magnifying Lenses
- The Telegraph
- The Steam Engine
Every one of these inventions changed society, how people lived, how people thought about possibilities. Each of these inventions also changed the way business was conducted. For example the printing press revolutionized the way individuals digested information and this had lasting effects on the way companies communicated with the public. The printing press opened doors for developments in advertising, and expanded markets. As people were able to get information beyond just word of mouth, it expanded the ability for businesses to grow. The invention of the compass allowed for navigation, particularly of the oceans. This led to European exploration, trade, and eventually the industrial revolution. Every item on this list disrupted the way human civilization conducted business.
Currently we are living through arguable the largest disruption of human society and business: the Internet. We have been ascending towards globalization with each of these technological advancements, and we have summited with the Internet. As Professor Kane’s research discovers, nearly every business is aware that it has been and will continue to be disrupted by the digital age/ technology. There are various “obvious” ways that technology has altered the market, operations, and finances of business. Examples of this range from specific cases, such as a market disrupter like Uber, to more general trends, like the offshoring of production. Aside from these, there are countless subtler ways that the Internet has affected the way companies do business in the 21st century. (read more about globalization)
Image 1: The internet as represented by interconnectivity
The base of this transformation is the ease of interconnectivity that the Internet provides. As the Internet grew in popularity and the technology became ubiquitous, the web-based community grew. The Internet has warped our understanding of time, space, distance, and possibility. Contact with someone across the world was unimaginable before the compass, laborious with the telegraph, and instantaneous with the Internet. An individual’s or a business’ customer base once consisted of their town, neighborhood or city. Today, we unavoidably live in a global society. Out of this interconnectivity and the growth of community came the concept of social media. Social media has given people a tool to share ideas globally. The global market space continues to be fueled by the interconnectivity of the Internet and is facilitated by social media. The web has forced us to address the challenges and prosperities that come with globalization.(read more about the impact of the Internet)
The flowering of this global community stems from the globalization of businesses. No medium or large-scale business can operate without engaging with society in a global way. Companies exchange information, labor, and products globally. This fact has created an expectation of contributing to this global community beyond just fiscally. Corporations are now being pressured to consider the international effects of their decisions. Proof of this can be seen through the history of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
Corporate Social Responsibility represents the concept that companies cannot purely seek profit without regard for their affect on society and the earth. Investopedia defines CSR as “a corporation’s initiatives to assess and take responsibility for the company’s effects on environmental and social wellbeing.” A CSR Quest article outlines the three phases of CSR.
- Phase 1 (1960-1990) Pre CSR Phase
- Phase 2 (1990-2000) CSR Initiation Phase
- Phase 3 (2000- ongoing) Early CSR Mainstreaming
Phase 2 occurs around the time of the dot com boom. The availability of the Internet and the concept of CSR developed at the same time. This can potentially be explained by the development of a global community that is facilitated by the web. As the community grows so does the exchange of information, bringing to light the issues resulting from globalization.
One of the major theories in CSR is the “triple bottom line.” The idea of the triple bottom line is that companies should have three objectives: people, profit, and planet. John Elkington coined the term in 1997 in his work Canibals with Forks. This theory is essential to a business operating sustainably in a global world. The creation of the Global Reporting Initiative or (GRI) was also developed in 1997. The GRI is a set of reporting guidelines for companies to highlight their sustainability practices. 1997 was also the year the dot com bubble began to grow rapidly. The next phase of CSR, “Early CSR Mainstreaming,” occurs right around the time the dot com bubble burst. The market crash that resulted from this demonstrated to individuals and companies the potential negative business effects of the Internet. It is perhaps not a coincidence that this also resulted in the conventional embrace of CSR.
Image 2: Diagram of a the Triple Bottom Line theory
What makes humans different from other animals is our ability for innovation and development. As society continues to develop we will see many more technological advances that thrust us forward into the future. The world that we live in now will be astronomically different than society in ten years. Humans also have the ability for reflection, consciousness and morals. As society continues to embrace technological changes it will increase our need to operate with a global conscious.