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Innovation is overvalued. Maintenance often matters more | Aeon Essays
"Capitalism excels at innovation but is failing at maintenance, and for most lives it is maintenance that matters more"



"At the turn of the millennium, in the world of business and technology, innovation had transformed into an erotic fetish. Armies of young tech wizards aspired to become disrupters. The ambition to disrupt in pursuit of innovation transcended politics, enlisting liberals and conservatives alike. Conservative politicians could gut government and cut taxes in the name of spurring entrepreneurship, while liberals could create new programmes aimed at fostering research. The idea was vague enough to do nearly anything in its name without feeling the slightest conflict, just as long as you repeated the mantra: INNOVATION!! ENTREPRENEURSHIP!!

A few years later, however, one could detect tremors of dissent. In a biting essay titled ‘Innovation is the New Black’, Michael Bierut, writing in Design Observer in 2005, lamented the ‘mania for innovation, or at least for endlessly repeating the word “innovation”’. Soon, even business publications began to raise the question of inherent worth. In 2006, The Economist noted that Chinese officials had made innovation into a ‘national buzzword’, even as it smugly reported that China’s educational system ‘stresses conformity and does little to foster independent thinking’, and that the Communist Party’s new catchphrases ‘mostly end up fizzling out in puddles of rhetoric’. Later that year, Businessweek warned: ‘Innovation is in grave danger of becoming the latest overused buzzword. We’re doing our part at Businessweek.’ Again in Businessweek, on the last day of 2008, the design critic Bruce Nussbaum returned to the theme, declaring that innovation ‘died in 2008, killed off by overuse, misuse, narrowness, incrementalism and failure to evolve… In the end, “Innovation” proved to be weak as both a tactic and strategy in the face of economic and social turmoil.’

In 2012, even the Wall Street Journal got into innovation-bashing act, noting ‘the Term Has Begun to Lose Meaning’. At the time, it counted ‘more than 250 books with “innovation” in the title… published in the last three months’. A professional innovation consultant it interviewed advised his clients to ban the word at their companies. He said it was just a ‘word to hide the lack of substance’."



"Nixon, wrong about so many things, also was wrong to point to household appliances as self-evident indicators of American progress. Ironically, Cowan’s work first met with scepticism among male scholars working in the history of technology, whose focus was a male pantheon of inventors: Bell, Morse, Edison, Tesla, Diesel, Shockley, and so on. A renewed focus on maintenance and repair also has implications beyond the gender politics that More Work for Mother brought to light. When they set innovation-obsession to the side, scholars can confront various kinds of low-wage labour performed by many African-Americans, Latinos, and other racial and ethnic minorities. From this perspective, recent struggles over increasing the minimum wage, including for fast food workers, can be seen as arguments for the dignity of being a maintainer.

We organised a conference to bring the work of the maintainers into clearer focus. More than 40 scholars answered a call for papers asking, ‘What is at stake if we move scholarship away from innovation and toward maintenance?’ Historians, social scientists, economists, business scholars, artists, and activists responded. They all want to talk about technology outside of innovation’s shadow.

One important topic of conversation is the danger of moving too triumphantly from innovation to maintenance. There is no point in keeping the practice of hero-worship that merely changes the cast of heroes without confronting some of the deeper problems underlying the innovation obsession. One of the most significant problems is the male-dominated culture of technology, manifest in recent embarrassments such as the flagrant misogyny in the ‘#GamerGate’ row a couple of years ago, as well as the persistent pay gap between men and women doing the same work.

There is an urgent need to reckon more squarely and honestly with our machines and ourselves. Ultimately, emphasising maintenance involves moving from buzzwords to values, and from means to ends. In formal economic terms, ‘innovation’ involves the diffusion of new things and practices. The term is completely agnostic about whether these things and practices are good. Crack cocaine, for example, was a highly innovative product in the 1980s, which involved a great deal of entrepreneurship (called ‘dealing’) and generated lots of revenue. Innovation! Entrepreneurship! Perhaps this point is cynical, but it draws our attention to a perverse reality: contemporary discourse treats innovation as a positive value in itself, when it is not.

Entire societies have come to talk about innovation as if it were an inherently desirable value, like love, fraternity, courage, beauty, dignity, or responsibility. Innovation-speak worships at the altar of change, but it rarely asks who benefits, to what end? A focus on maintenance provides opportunities to ask questions about what we really want out of technologies. What do we really care about? What kind of society do we want to live in? Will this help get us there? We must shift from means, including the technologies that underpin our everyday actions, to ends, including the many kinds of social beneficence and improvement that technology can offer. Our increasingly unequal and fearful world would be grateful."
leevinsel  andrewrussell  maintenance  infrastructure  innovation  technology  2016  capitalism  repair  growth  robertgordon  siliconvalley  creativeclass  economics  claytonchristensen  entrepreneurship  business  michaelbierut  inequality  love  fraternity  courage  beauty  dignity  responsibility  change  society  maintainers  labor  care  repairing  themaintainers 
april 2016 by robertogreco
Was America’s Economic Prosperity Just a Historical Accident?
"What if everything we’ve come to think of as American is predicated on a freak coincidence of economic history? And what if that coincidence has run its course?"



“There are many ways in which you can interpret this economic model, but the most lasting—the reason, perhaps, for the public notoriety it has brought its author—has little to do with economics at all. It is the suggestion that we have not understood how lucky we have been. The whole of American cultural memory, the period since World War II, has taken place within the greatest expansion of opportunity in the history of human civilization. Perhaps it isn’t that our success is a product of the way we structured our society. The shape of our society may be far more conditional, a consequence of our success. Embedded in Gordon’s data is an inquiry into entitlement: How much do we owe, culturally and politically, to this singular experience of economic growth, and what will happen if it goes away?”



“TED’s audience is so primed for optimism about the future that Gordon… knew before he began that he’d [Gordon] lost the room.”



“Brynjolfsson let a long beat elapse. “Growth is not dead,” he said casually, and then he grinned a little bit, and the audience laughed, and the tension that had lingered after Gordon’s pessimism dissipated. Brynjolfsson had the aspirational TED inflection down cold: “Technology is not destiny,” he said. “We shape our destiny.””



"In 2007, Mexicans stopped emigrating to the United States. The change was not very big at first, and so for a few years it seemed like it might be a blip. But it wasn’t. In 2000, 770,000 Mexicans had come across the Rio Grande, but by 2007 less than 300,000 did, and by 2010, even though violence in Mexico seemed ceaseless, there were fewer than 150,000 migrants. Some think that more Mexicans are now leaving the United States than are coming to it. “We’re never going to get back to the numbers we had in the late nineties,” says Wayne Cornelius, a political scientist at UC–San Diego who has spent the past 40 years studying this cross-border movement. A small part of this story is the increase in border protection, but the dominant engine has been the economic shifts on both sides of the border—it has become easier for poor Mexicans to improve their quality of life in Mexico and harder to do so in the United States. Because migrants from a particular Mexican village often settle in the same American place, they provide a fast conduit of economic information back home: There are no jobs in construction or housing. Don’t come. The Pew Hispanic Center has traced the migration patterns to economic performance in real time: a spike of migration during 1999 and 2000, at the height of the boom; a brief downturn in border crossing after the 2001 stock-market crash followed by a plateau; then the dramatic emptying out after the housing industry gave way in 2006. We think of the desire to be American as a form of idealism, and sometimes it is. But it also has something to do with economic growth. We are a nation of immigrants to the extent that we can make immigrants rich."
cyborgs  economics  humanity  jobs  progress  sustainability  history  technosolutionism  benjaminwallace-wells  2013  robertgordon  ted  tedtalsk  optimism  pessimism  erikbrynjolfsson  labor  prosperity  wealthdistribution  industrialrevolution  capitalism  growth  demographics  immigration  migration  us  mexico  society  socialchange  upwardmobility  classmobility  future 
july 2013 by robertogreco
The Technium: The Post-Productive Economy
"Civilization is not just about saving labor but also about "wasting" labor to make art, to make beautiful things, to "waste" time playing, like sports. Nobody ever suggested that Picasso should spend fewer hours painting per picture in order to boost his wealth or improve the economy. The value he added to the economy could not be optimized for productivity. It's hard to shoehorn some of the most important things we do in life into the category of "being productive." Generally any task that can be measured by the metrics of productivity -- output per hour -- is a task we want automation to do. In short, productivity is for robots. Humans excel at wasting time, experimenting, playing, creating, and exploring. None of these fare well under the scrutiny of productivity. That is why science and art are so hard to fund. But they are also the foundation of long-term growth. Yet our notions of jobs, of work, of the economy don't include a lot of space for wasting time, experimenting, playing, creating, and exploring."

"The are two senses of growth: scale, that is, more, bigger, faster; and evolution. The linear progression of steam power, railways, electrification, and now computers and the internet is a type of the former; just more of the same, but only better. Therefore the productivity growth curve should continue up in a continuous linear fashion.

I suggest the growth of this 3rd regime is more like evolutionary growth, rather than developmental growth. The apparent stagnation we see in productivity, in real wages, in debt relief, is because we don't reckon, and don't perceive, the new directions of growth. It is not more of the same, but different."
growth  robertgordon  industrialization  generativity  leisurearts  evolution  internet  networks  plumbing  china  future  technology  productivity  economics  kevinkelly  2013  technium  post-productiveeconomy  artleisure 
january 2013 by robertogreco

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