Posted by: crudbasher | May 26, 2011

Deconstructing Disaggregation – Part 1

Disaggregate (v) 

a. To divide into constituent parts.

b. To break up or break apart.

My brother sent me this TED video last week and I’ve been mulling it over.

In it, Eli Pariser talks about how the Internet is evolving to present you with what you want to see and filter out other sources. He says this is a bad thing. Well I think this is a natural result of disaggregation which is the main power of the Internet. Let me tell you a story and then we will go back to Eli’s argument. Tomorrow in part 2, I will talk about how this will drastically affect education.

In the beginning…

In the dawn of history there has been a natural tendency for mankind to group up. It rapidly became obvious to early man that by pooling our resources, we can achieve a higher common standard of living. There was a limit to how much you can group up though. That limit was communications. Keep in mind that transportation is also a form of communications. Walking was a definite limiting factor in those early times. When all you had to communicate with was walking, you couldn’t collaborate very well with a village 50 miles away.

Roman Road (cc) pietroizzo

As our communications (and transportation) technology evolved, it became possible to expand the scale of our collaborations. Villages evolved into towns, towns into cities, cities into nation-states, and finally into nations. One of the most famous achievements of the Roman Empire was it’s system of roads. This was a necessary tool for ruling a far flung nation. Humanity was aggregating itself.


The biggest impact of communication technology is in business. Businesses used to be very vertically integrated. In other words, everything was produced in one factory. A car factory took steel in one end, and finished cars rolled out the other. All the means of production were aggregated in one location. This, however, has largely changed. Container ships drastically reduced the costs of transporting products across large distances so labor became the biggest cost, not transportation. Couple that with modern communications and all of a sudden it made economic sense to move parts of your business to parts of the world with lower labor costs and just ship your product back. With the Internet, you can still manage far flung production and design. The Internet is the 21st century equivalent of the Roman roads.

787 Parts (cc) niallkennedy

The Internet has accelerated that globalization process because you can communicate so much more information than you could before. The Boeing 787 airliner was designed by engineers in design shops around the world. Since it’s all in the computer, when the US designers went home for the night, the Asian designers took over. When they went home, the Europeans took over and so on. It’s a 24/7 world on the Internet. This way of designing is a form of disaggregation.

Disrupting the Aggregated Business Model

There are many, many business models that involve aggregation. Some are safe in the Internet age. You can design the airplane around the world, but in the end you have to assemble it into one piece. Building physical things is pretty safe for now.

But many business models are based on aggregating information. Take a newspaper for example. It is composed of, articles, ads, editorials and entertainment. Each of those things can be obtained now from other sources online. Not only that, but in the process of aggregating a newspaper, inevitably things have to be left out, either due to lack of space or due to the bias of the people involved. This means a newspaper is always plagued by compromises and is incomplete. The whole is not more than the sum of its parts in this case.

With the Internet, you don’t have to be physically in proximity anymore. Once you add machine translation, we really will have a global community.

So here’s the problem. While technology has changed, human nature hasn’t. We all have certain needs and wants. We want to be accepted by others, we want to have our beliefs affirmed and our world view validated. It’s now possible to connect up with others online who share our beliefs. These groups are now ad-hoc, not bound by geography,  and most importantly, not driven by necessity or survival. Some are political in nature. A group like Al-Qaeda couldn’t really be effective 40 years ago because it required a nation to project power and influence people. These days you can coordinate a loose group of like minded people to really affect things. This is visible now in the political process. The two main political parties in the US are having trouble raising money because other groups are going around them. The parties are designed as aggregators for money and information, which can be done now via alternatives.

Is Filtering a problem?

So let’s return to Eli Pariser’s argument. He is observing that many sources of information are automatically filtering what we see to try to personalized it for us. I partially agree with him that it’s a problem but some kind of filtering is necessary or else we would be deluged with information. I also submit that this filtering has always been going on. Censorship, bias and limited bandwidth have always constrained the information we have access too. These days there are vastly more sources of info than in the past. Where I agree with him, is the filtering should be more apparent to the user.

Even so, I think what is happening is good for democracy. As the sources of information have become more disaggregated, it becomes harder for propaganda to be effective. The truth generally gets out. What is irritating so many people in the news media is they can’t just put their spin on things anymore and have everyone believe it. The beauty of the Internet is it is disaggregated. Everyone has choices and can find what they want. You can’t make someone listen to you as much as some would like that. It really is about merit. If you can make a compelling argument, your message will be sent through so many channel that filtering won’t stop it.

Our world is being reformed before our eyes. We are no longer limited by the tyranny of location.  We are redesigning things along ideological lines now rather than geopolitical lines.  This massive change has swept over, music, film, news and business. Now it is coming to education. Part 2 tomorrow!

Update: Part 2!


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  2. […] week I wrote two fairly long posts about how things related to information are being digitized and then disaggregated. I think if […]

  3. […] 1. Disaggregation. – Our society and relationships are structured on a physically based model. The Internet is changing that to an interest based model. (see Deconstructing Disaggregation) […]

  4. […] this process disaggregation. I wrote a ton more on this concept in an epic two part post called Deconstructing Disaggregation so I won’t rehash the whole argument here, but I will point to this story I saw today which […]

  5. […] Deconstructing Disaggregation – Part 1 Part 2 […]

  6. […] of the most important  societal trends I have been writing about  is what I am calling Disaggregation. The Industrial Revolution was marked by a dramatic reorganization of societies’ resources to […]

  7. […] have referred to this breaking up of current organizations as Disaggregation. Have you noticed how the last few US elections have been more and more volatile? People complain […]

  8. […] you look at other industries that have undergone Disaggregation forced by improved communications, you will see a natural tendency for people with talent to […]

  9. […] One of the big threads running through my posts is this concept of Disaggregation. Basically I see the main power of the Internet in allowing society to break apart existing structures and reorganize them into new, more efficient models. This breaking apart process I call Disaggregation. […]

  10. […] trappings (and diversity administrators) away. I have been saying for a few years now that the principle of Disaggregation will be coming to universities. A school is really just a way of bringing together teacher and […]

  11. […] I look around the world, I see social structures being torn down. I call this the disaggregation of society. We are moving from organizations based on location to organizations based on ideas and […]

  12. […] is a fascinating development. According to my Theory of Disaggregation, knowledge organizations that are based on physical locations will be reorganized by other methods. […]

  13. […] watching the rest of the world change with the Internet, I have come up with a theory called the Theory of Disaggregation. Briefly put, it means that the Internet’s primary affect on society is one of splitting […]

  14. […] he is talking about is Disaggregation! We have had all these systems built up in order to manage and organize people and resources. The […]

  15. […] nature of this change is A) Disaggregation of location based structures and B), A drastic enhancement in the reach of creative […]

  16. […] It seems like we are seeing a new online college venture every week now. This story from the Inside Higher Ed site is notable because it involves a partnership with several other online schools. The Saylor foundation is not accredited but Excelsior is, so Saylor has made arrangements for students to be able to take exams at Excelsior for credit. Therefore, Saylor is concentrating on creating very pedagogically sound classes and Excelsior can focus on assessments. This splitting up of the traditional functions of a college is the very essence of how the Internet changes organizational structures. I call this “disaggregation“. […]

  17. […] to my theory of Disaggregation, we should start seeing a fracturing of the monolithic type of school where they provide […]

  18. […] Learning. It is very targeted and focused on just one thing. It also fall in perfectly with my Theory of Disaggregation which says that large, physically organized systems of information are being split up into smaller, […]

  19. […] along physical proximity lines is going to be broken up and reorganized. I call this idea the Theory of Disaggregation. In my mind, there is no reason why schools should exist in a location. They should exist as an […]

  20. […] The biggest effect of the Internet on society has been lowering the bar to distribution of content. It used to be it would cost enough money and resources that you had to have a large company behind you but that’s not the case anymore. Case in point. Microsoft is remaking the classic sci-fi series Blake’s 7. Obviously Microsoft isn’t a small company but what is interesting is it will be exclusively shown on their XBox One game system. The real costs to them were getting the license and producing the show, not distribution. The content industry is becoming disaggregated. […]

  21. […] everyone wants a piece of that, but they are ending up with only a piece. According to my theory of Disaggregation, the big aggregations of content should be breaking up. We will then go through a time where it […]

  22. […] of a multinational company in near realtime. It allows an airplane like the Boeing 787 to be designed by engineers around the world, working 24 hours a day. When one group goes home, the next group in entering their own offices. […]

  23. […] a number of reasons. First, by disaggregating the research process to the students it follows my theory of Disaggregation. Second, the most effective way to learn something is to do it yourself. The least effective way is […]

  24. […] keep seeing Disaggregation happening everywhere via the Internet. In this case you take the keyboard, monitor, and mouse and […]

  25. […] You can actually do this now. Modern game consoles can now track a person’s body pretty well. With better cameras they will be able to track facial expressions as well. That’s step one. So how do you run this much higher level of detail? How will they get the computing power to do it? Just apply the Theory of Disaggregation. […]

  26. […] Wait, this seems like a familiar idea… Take the administration of the school and the instructional design functions and split them off site to the US. To separate out what was organized on physical proximity lines and reorganize them by intellectual needs. Yes, you know I had to go there: this is a great example of Disaggregation! […]

  27. […] people who insert themselves in between and take a cut. These are the middlemen. According to my Theory of Disaggregation, their days are numbered because you don’t need them to aggregate resources any […]

  28. […] now you will frequently hear me mention a concept called Disaggregation. I did a big primer on it here but the short version is […]

  29. […] problem is, this is directly the opposite direction in which society is moving. As explained by my Theory of Disaggregation, the Internet connects producers and consumers directly with no middle man required. This then […]

  30. […] I think learning will be like in the future. This splitting up of the degree into pieces follows my Disaggregation model exactly. Learning is not tied to a building or a place. People who leave that behind will […]

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