Wednesday, January 25, 2006

innovation is overrated..

In the business pages I read companies bragging about innovation, ad nauseum. Their own innovation of course. Most ludicrous of all is Microsoft. Microsoft says innovation is their one true "core competancy". Bill Gates even says his position in the company is "chief innovator". Naturally companies can be expected to brag and bluster, but Microsoft innovative?

The problem is larger than an annoying business buzword. It is a philosophical assumption that innovation is always good, that there is no downside, that there is no cost nor drawback to innovation. A free lunch. Society, and particularly progress, depends on innovation. It is a freight train that can not slow down. If it did, then the unthinkable would have to be thought. The freight train of progress must, by definition, make the world a better place. Technology is widely admired. The myth is that it will make our lives easier and give us more free time. Like an ad for a handheld computer, showing a person in office attire using a gadget at the beach - technology has set the person free! The reality is exactly the opposite. Nobody goes to the beach more often because innovative technology has given them more free time. Innovation means working more hours, not less. We also assume that innovation is that proverbial rising tide that floats all boats. That everyone will benefit. But inconveniently, disparity of wealth is growing, not shrinking. The technocrats' answer is of course: more innovation.

We should be aware of what is lost with innovation. That is tradition. In America we are accustomed to despise tradition, we are so eager to replace it with something better, a more profitable, faster, bigger thing or way of doing. Accounting standards are a good example. Enron was among the companies that was applauded for innovative accounting in the 1990s. When Enron fell apart the innovation was relabled: fraud. The same thing might be said for fiat currency itself some day. It was a wonderful thing. Until it crashed. Then we might think there was a good reason that money was, traditionally, made from silver and gold.

1 comment:

gregor jamroski said...

innovation and automation has always been viewed as the liberator from work, even toted as such by Marx and numerous theoretical deviations such as the Situationist International.

As we know and experience to varying degrees (depending on what we have chosen to own or emplyers have obligated us to use) technologogical innovation has resulted in a 24/7 connectivity. We are always on and always available.

resultant is not only degredation of tradition, but boundaries evaporate: metaphorically, national and personal. space has shrunken, if not disappeared. to a certain degree it's a choice, while we watch our kids and even ourselves increasingly cave inside a digital lifestyle which is presumably emotionally and physically safer than connecting in face-to-face encounters. The digital is less complex, rarely challenges, and one can appear to be whatever they so wish. It's Bauldrillard's "simulation" multiplied tenfold.