innovation | May 01, 2012

Justin Fox: Is Internet Innovation A Myth?

In a recent Wired article, Justin Fox asks whether the prevailing notion that we are in "an age of unprecedented, staggering technological change" is actually true—or whether it is a myth perpetuated by journalists covering business and technology. While Fox does admits that this argument is blatantly contrarian and purposefully provocative, he does see some truth behind it.

Here's Fox:

"Compared with the staggering changes in everyday life in the first half of the 20th century wrought by electricity, cars, and electronic communication, the digital age has brought relatively minor alterations to how we live. Electricity is still electricity, and still generated mostly with fossil fuels; cars are better but not all that much better, and still propelled almost entirely by fossil fuels. Only communication has been truly transformed, but is the transformation really as profound as the advent of telegraphs, radio, and TV?"

While slightly tongue-in-cheek, Fox does make a compelling case. Most recent technological advancements have focused around personal communication and miniaturization, and while this may have improved the way we communicate with one another, is this really as transformative as we have made it out to be? Perhaps we just need some patience. After all, "for decades, electricity had little effect on industrial productivity as manufacturers simply swapped out older energy sources for electric power but changed nothing about how they made things," says Fox. "It was only as new factories were built that took advantage of the unique properties of electric motors that a productivity boom ensued. Just give the digital age a bit more time, and you’ll see huge changes (and, one hopes, improvements) in how we work and live."

The next transformative technologies appear to be on the horizon—3-D printers and biotechnology to name a few—but it is still uncertain whether these technologies will ever reach maturity, much less transform the way we live. Far from a technological pessimist, Fox challenges today's companies to break out of their communication-based blinders, and start a new golden age of innovation. Until then, "we wait, and we check Facebook on our iPhones."

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