As a former scholar of innovation, I am concerned with the following question: is innovation always good? Of course it isn’t. The Mafia also innovates. And innovation can be compulsive, neurotic, carrying people along while they don’t really need or want it. I discussed that in item 439 of this blog, in response to Zygmunt Bauman’s book on ‘liquid times’, which objected to the acceleration in society, of which innovation is part. I argued that according to my ‘cycle of discovery’, change alternates with stability, during which the pressure and material for change is accumulated. Innovation in not uninterrupted flux.
Hartmut Rosa also developed an argument against what he called the ‘acceleration’ in society, of technology, society itself, and life in it[i]. He explained it as follows: people no longer believe in life after death, and this limited life must be crammed full with as much experience as possible, so that production as well as consumption of goods and experiences, and ever new ones, must be as much as possible, per unit of time. This is accelerated by competition for scarce resources of money, time and attention, and a race to be the first to offer and use something new, and not miss out.
According to Rosa, this yields alienation, defined as voluntarily doing things, going along with the race, while not really wanting it. In consumption, entertainment, production, innovation, a job, increase of speed and efficiency, feeling one has to catch up, or keep up, doing ever more per unit of time. Here, innovation no longer has a goal , of improving life, and becomes an imperative in itself, a goal in itself, of ever more and ever new, at ever lower price, to consume ever more.
But there is more than this compulsion. The philosopher Sǿren Kierkegaard, a forefather
of existentialism saw the self not as a thing one has but a process one is, a process of development. The future is uncertain, you don’t know what to expect, and as a result you
cannot make complete, determinate plans, and this makes existence a leap, which requires trust and, I would add, courage. You are never completely right, and to see this you need the notion of God, eternity. You cannot look in all directions: looking is looking in one direction, and you cannot see the others. Language cannot say all. God is the ineffable all.
In this, in the development of self, innovation is indispensable, a condition of life, but here it has a goal, a goal of personal development. It is individual, not collective or universal.
This is my ultimate justification of innovation: it is a condition, a feature of life. Earlier, I valued innovation for its Nietzschean excitement, the romance, thrill, the thymos of crossing boundaries into the new. But it is more than that. It is part of being a self, of existence, a becoming of what you can be. Here, innovation is development, related to learning, transformation, discovery. It issues from development and enables it. it is not alienation but going somewhere you want and enjoy.
[i] Hartmut Rosa, Alienation and Acceleration, 2013, Suhrkamp Verlag.