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We hear the word today more than any time in history.3. Abernathy, Nathan Rosenberg, and David Mowery, tell us that incremental innovation has always been the primary generator of economic growth.There is nothing wrong with the idea of innovation in itself. The problem lies in how we have reshaped our society in the name of innovation. But our society has, unwisely, become obsessed with revolutionary, or “disruptive,” technological change.5.
Part of the way into it, as the word innovation flew from the President’s mouth again and again and again, the professor was suddenly overcome with fear. What if they decided to use shots of hard liquor in their game instead of merely sipping something less alcoholic? The religious and political traditions that supposedly undergird American culture hold that we have a moral duty to reject fear.
He had anxious visions of his students getting alcohol poisoning from playing The Innovation Drinking Game and being fingered for their demise. (“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life.”—Matthew ; “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”--FDR) Yet, innovation-speak is a language of fear. “Innovation policy” arose in the late 1970s amidst concerns about American industrial decline and falling productivity and, especially, the threat of economic competition from Japan.
When we sound out contemporary techno-chatter, as Friedrich Nietzsche once put it, we often “hear as a reply that famous hollow sound which speaks of bloated entrails.” You know that “Big Data” is one thundering, odoriferous bout of flatulence.11. Neoliberalism focuses on increasing free markets and decreasing the scope of government via deregulation, privatization, lower taxes, and similar policies.
(If you want to have a little fun, go to a page of a granting agency, like the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health; plug an overhyped, underperforming region of research, like nanotechnology, into the search bar; and watch the hits roll in. Yet, innovation is the more basic ideology in contemporary society.
But are Augustine’s interests the general public’s interests? Large segments of our culture have shifted in this way.
After all, as a major defense contractor, Lockheed Martin’s whole business model depends on our fearfulness.19. In 1971, over 60% of incoming freshmen believed that “developing a meaningful life philosophy” was an important goal. News outlets constantly run stories on prevalent diseases that share a major cause: stress.26.Within a few years, night terrors about China had replaced bad Japan dreams.17. ) The report especially emphasized the nation’s need to produce more engineers and scientists through university training.In 2005, the National Academy of Sciences published a report, titled , which argued that the American economy was falling behind in terms of global competitiveness. Yet, the scientific organizations, university presidents, and corporate executives who wrote the report stood to benefit directly from the policies recommended in it.18.The report was led by Norman Augustine, a former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Lockheed Martin. it’s meant to make people feel that they can’t get their feet on the ground”—Marilynne Robinson, “A Conversation in Iowa.”23.In many ways, the report reflected Augustine’s and Lockheed Martin’s interests. “What we’re really telling people is that if they do not acquire nameless skills of a technological character, they will not have employment. So basically it’s a language of coercion that implies to people that their lives are fragile, that is charged with that kind of unspecified fear that makes people . Since the financial crisis of 2008, frightened parents have come to the conclusion that the point of college is to get a good, high-paying job.At the macro-level: In response to the Great Depression, economists created the first meaningful measures of the economy, like Gross Domestic Product.By the late 1950s, however, economists had a puzzle on their hands.Hey, you should probably make sure your kid knows how to code. Or perhaps we are just bent on evading the specter entropy.In any case, the spirit of the times is one of joyless urgency, many of us preparing ourselves and our children to be means to inscrutable ends that are utterly not our own.”—Marilynne Robinson, “Humanism”27.Moreover, some have argued that powerful organizations, like Lockheed Martin, push for more engineers and scientists because increasing the supply will decrease wages. Today, that number has dropped to a little over 40%. You know, the best road to innovation is a good education. “Now we are less interested in equipping and refining thought, more interested in creating and mastering technologies that will yield measurable enhancements of material well-being—for those who create and master them, at least.An overproduction of scientists and engineers will mean that they are more beholden than ever to corporations.20. Anecdotally, economists and business school-types argue that corporate executives read and obsessed over Clayton Christensen’s writings on disruptive innovation not because they wanted to be disrupters but because they so feared being disrupted, that is, having their businesses and industries overthrown.21. In 1971, under 40% on incoming freshmen believed that “being very well off financially” was important. Our society has become more materialistic during the Innovation Age.24. Hey, you better pay for those expensive test prep classes. Now we are less interested in the exploration of the glorious mind, more engrossed in the drama of staying ahead of whatever it is we think is pursuing us.