Browse Definitions:

sea change

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

A sea change is a significant and/or systemic transformation. The term is frequently used in business and IT (information technology) contexts as an alternative to the less current buzzword, paradigm shift.

The many technological sea changes cited in the media include the Internet, cloud computing, big data, social networking, Web 2.0, IT consumerization and mobile computing.

Here are a few examples of how the term has been used:

  • According to some speculation, Google Wave (the predecessor to Google +) was expected to enable a sea change in business collaboration.
  • The trend towards distributed computing was described as a sea change. (John Gage of Sun famously described the transformation from isolated desktop computers: "the network is the computer.")
  • Open APIs (application-program interfaces) have been described as fostering a sea change in application development and interactivity.

"Sea change" originated in Shakespeare's, play "The Tempest," which was written about 1610. Ariel sang the following in a song to Ferdinand, describing the physical transformation that the sea had wrought in his father (who had drowned).

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

According to Michael Quinion of World Wide Words, "sea change" first began to be used metaphorically in the late nineteenth century.

See also: IT transformation, disruptive technology, change management

This was last updated in October 2012

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