Wednesday, 23 October 2013

3. Value of innovation

 Concerning the value of innovation for society there is a pro-innovation bias, with the assumption, presumed self-evident, that innovation is beneficial. And often it is, in increasing material prosperity, health, etc. But it need not be.

There is also innovation in crime, terrorism, violence and arms races. The mafia is innovative. Politicians and leaders may be innovative in corruption and suppression.

Innovation is propelled by consumerism and propells it. Demands are stimulated that may seem artificial and may distract from higher values in life and society. In capitalist economies consumer demand is sacred, it is what drives value, but it is driven by advertising and hype. Innovation often pushes demand rather than being pulled by it.

For example, in electronic goods ever new functionalities, forms and features, bells and whistles, in software and hardware, are pushed onto the consumer. If you do not go along with buying the new hardware you will find that your old hardware is no longer supported in software and ancillary equipment (printers, routers), so you are forced to go along or drop out.

You may not like glut of electronic gadgetry for your kids, but if you don’t let them go along you condemn them to isolation and social ostracism.

In  my philosophy blog (items 110 and 111) I discuss the notion from the French philosopher Baudrillard that with new technologies of communication we are wandering into what he calls hyperreality and hyperidentity. A great deal of innovation lies in entertainment, chatter and hype. Those lead us into phantasy, distraction, emotion, mimicry of celebrities, conformism, crowding, opinions instead of facts, emotions instead of arguments, leading us away from realities and individual identities. 

Innovators such as Apple, Google, Facebook, and Twitter, claim, or take it for granted, that their innovations are for the good of scociety, enhancing contact and communication between people, thus furthering the sharing and spread of knowledge and friendship. It is a matter of debate whether that is the case. There are indications that it (also) yields withdrawal into groups of like-minded people, enhancing isolation and distrust with respect to other groups, thus reducing rather than enhancing tolerance and variety. They may feed and confirm rather than loosen conspiracy theories and hysteria.

However that may be, creativity, invention and innovation are part of the vitality of the human being. We find it in the drive towards artistic expression as well as in Nietzsche’s will to power, with a drive towards conquest, and in the earlier notion, in classical Greek philosophy, of thymos, the drive to manifest and deploy oneself. It is part of human drama and tragedy. Nature itself is the paragon of creative destruction. Would we want to stop innovation and take away the vitality of life and society? Perhaps we can curtail it here and there, or redirect it.

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