Welcome to 2014: why innovation won’t work

Here is an interesting talk on more than just the topic in the title (what’s wrong with TED talks):


  1. David Garen says:

    If I understand the main point correctly (he talks kind of fast and throws out lots of unusual phraseology), this confirms much of what I have been thinking in the last few years. That is, that the world’s big problems and needs are fundamentally rooted in philosophy, history, economics, etc., which is not generally admitted or realized. As a scientist (hydrologist) and one who has worked with technology for all of my professional career, I am seeing the limits of the paradigm of ever increasing complexity of and emphasis on technology. It’s like this paradigm has been what we have done for a lifetime or longer, and we think that continuing down this path is still the answer. I have wondered whether I am just getting more philosophical as I get older, but then I see bright younger people, like you, Jeremy, or this guy giving the TED talk, or my own twenty-something sons expressing these philosophical thoughts too. So maybe I’m not just turning into a cynical old crank, longing for the good old days when life was simpler and better. At work, I keep pushing my colleagues to ask “why” questions, but I’m not sure they get it, as it seems that they mostly (but thankfully not totally) seem to think that more technology and more complex systems will fix our problems and make things better. However, the hard thing about all of this is that these questions are difficult and strike at the very core of our worldview and assumptions about life, which makes people uncomfortable and therefore is not polite to discuss (especially here in the US). Anyway, I feel more strongly than ever that asking fundamental questions, as suggested by this TED speaker, those essentially rooted not in science but rather in these liberal arts subjects, is a prerequisite for being more intentional about our use of technology and for actually solving problems rather than creating new and bigger ones.

    • It does seem like the assumption that technology will make things easier doesn’t hold in nearly as many cases as it used to. And that it is not even neutral. But, rather, that it is making things more complicated. There is an interesting book on this: Callon, M., Lascoumes, P., & Barthe, Y. (2009). Acting in an uncertain world: an essay on technical democracy. Cambridge: MIT Press. And I agree, many of these questions strike at the core of our worldview, as you succinctly put it. I hope all is going well out on the west coast, have a great start to 2014!

      • David Garen says:

        Thanks for the book recommendation — I looked it up on Amazon, and it looks interesting. I’ll have to check it out.
        In the center where I work (http://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov), we have a large data collection network and data base and computing system. It has become increasing complex, especially in the past decade or so, and, probably as a result, it has become quite unstable and difficult to manage (although it does, I admit, have some useful new functionalities too). I feel, though, that it has gotten to the point of being counterproductive in many ways, making it harder, not easier, to get our basic work tasks done.
        Another thing is that the technology has increased people’s expectations about the volume of work that we ought to be able to crank out because we can “automate” so much. People often don’t seem to realize, though, that in many cases, this just substitutes quantity for quality — we might churn out mediocre data reports, but we have plenty of them!
        Our system is a kind of creeping, evolutionary thing that no one really guides (or perhaps can guide) in a more intentional way. It’s as if we feel compelled to proceed down the technological path, for various reasons — new security measures, new capabilities in automation, new web-based tools etc. — and I get the vibe that people think we need to apply all of the new technologies in order to stay “current” or to give the image of being hip and cool and on the cutting edge.
        It’s kind of like the way Jacques Ellul portrayed technology in “The Technological Society”, like a juggernaut that takes on a life of its own and that nobody can stop. I suspect that much of the force of technology is rooted in the corporate capitalistic economic system that we have (suffer under?) and the values inherent in that.
        Anyway, my experiences at work are an interesting case study for me in thinking about the role of technology in our lives and the memes (many of which are unacknowledged) driving people’s assumptions — or lack of intentionality — about using technology. My quasi-Luddite attitudes lead me to be more skeptical and cautious than some of my colleagues in jumping on the hi-tech bandwagon. Whatever happened to the KISS principle (keep it simple, stupid)? Is it even possible to keep it simple any more? Can we or will we ever be able to recognize the diseconomies of complexity?

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