For the past few weeks, I've been musing about business uses of the iPad. In doing so, I referenced a Wall St. Journal article about how doctors have been using iPads to reach children who have speech and communication problems, including Caleigh Gray, a two-year-old with cerebral palsy.<p>

While most readers focused on how the iPad is proving beneficial to Caleigh, I'd like to focus on how the device "has the potential to disrupt a business where specialized devices can cost thousands of dollars." I think the economics term for this disruption is creative destruction. In this case, a new generation of tablet devices continues to spread the wave of creative destruction initiated by early computers. Industries that have been affected include newspapers, entertainment media, finance, music, business communications, manufacturing, and now medicine. In each of these cases, old line competitors have fallen to the wayside to see newer more nimble competitors take over, and new businesses replacing old.<p>

In each case, old ways of doing things have given way to new, and usually less expensive, ways of doing things. Industries that have not been completely revolutionized by computers or destroyed by them have nonetheless changed profoundly. Computers have affected the retail, dining, and travel industries, for example, while not really affecting the experience of eating out.<p>

Friends in the industry know that I worry a lot about how society determines access to mission critical facilities. For instance, it is generally acknowledged that large financial firms buy what they can afford based on a business case. Often, hospitals, police, educators, and first responders must make do with less because they must finance even lifesaving functions using limited local tax dollars.<p>

It's an old argument, akin to asking why we pay baseball players and actors more than teachers, cops, or the president. Of course, it's no less true for being old. And now businesses like Facebook and Google can build huge data center footprints while providing social interaction and search, which are arguably of limited social value.<p>

The Greenpeace-Facebook dustup illustrates why it matters how we determine what is socially valuable when it comes to data centers because taking outsized access to mission critical computer facilities necessarily means using an outsized portion of the natural resources that belong to us all and should be used for the common good. So it has meaning when Greenpeace accuses of Facebook of being irresponsible for siting a data center in a utility that relies on coal, and it is equally meaningful when Facebook points to its energy-efficiency as a defense. They are not arguing about data centers; they are arguing about the responsible use of land, water, carbon, and raw materials. In fact, they are arguing about the system we use to allocate resources.<p>

In practical terms, the argument is a proxy for how the government and society will come to regulate data centers. Will data centers be regulated as separate entities? Or we will we acknowledge that energy-intensive data centers are the means that organizations use to boost productivity and reduce emissions enterprise wide. Will we look to limit or control how data centers operate today or wait to see whether continued IT innovation and creative destruction will eliminate wasteful ways of living and bad environmental actors.<p>

Some act as though we have a real choice. At last year's Uptime Institute, the New York Times columnist Paul Krugman offered that he wishes that America could be like China, if just for a day, so that we could order things to be done in the right way, rather than witness the messy, sometimes dishonest debates that we have in western democracies.<p>

GSMI's Green Data Center hosted a panel this week that reminded me that how we regulate our use of natural resources is as important as conserving these resources. Bret Stephens wrote eloquently on the topic a few weeks ago in the Wall St. Journal: "Also true, however, is that all free societies are haunted by the fear that their lack of discipline dooms them in the long run. It's why generations of thinkers--Shawm, Heidegger, Satre, Foucault, Chomsky--were drawn to totalitarian regimes....It's why so many environmentalists would gladly suspend democratic norms to combat the notional threat of climate change. <p>

"And it's why so many Westerners make such a fetish of China and its  supposedly superior ways."<p>

Stephens takes his train of thought in another direction, as he is really discussing the significance of Liu Xiabobo's Nobel Prize. Still I can only note that creative destruction--and not a five-year plan--is the force to be credited with the technology used by Caleigh Gray.<p>

Will the iPad change how we do business? Isn't the answer obvious.