David Sax's "End The Innovation Obsession" in The New York Times is about what I expect from a man who wrote the book The Revenge Of Analog. But here's the thing: Getting the usual from David Sax is awfully damn good.
Sax isn't a Luddite (though that term maligns and misrepresents the true Luddites) but believes innovation does not always have to involve electricity, printed circuits, or the internet. The Revenge Of Analog describes how people are learning that tactile, analog, human tools are often superior to ideas we've been sold by businesses. At the very least, the true revenge of analog is its coexistence with digital.
"End The Innovation Obsession" gets at this idea that new and old, analog and digital, traditional and newly invented tools can and should coexist. We should doubt that newer is always better:
"We are told that innovation is the most important force in our economy, the one thing we must get right or be left behind. But that fear of missing out has led us to foolishly embrace the false trappings of innovation over truly innovative ideas that may be simpler and ultimately more effective."
Not everything that glitters is gold and we shouldn't be magpies attracted to every shiny thing. (Thought it turns out magpies aren't interested in shiny things.)
We are better served by testing new things against tradition. There was a time when Robert Moses' new and whiz-bang ideas about traffic seemed the one true way. Sixty years later I live in a city divided and scarred by Interstate 81.
"It took more than 50 years evidence, accidents and political courage to realize what a colossal mistake the Moses approach was and to begin to undo that with proven ideas in people-centric urban planning that aim to bring cities back to those who live in them."
Still, it's not about rejecting new ideas. I'm typing this on a Chromebook rather than my old manual typewriter or fountain pen to more efficiently get it online. I have however been listening to records on the turntable while composing this. I'm combining the old and new and choosing tools based on the task I've set for myself. I'm practicing what Sax describes as "reflective innovation" rather than rejecting technology as the term Luddite now implies.
"This type of reflective innovation requires courage, because it calls into question the assumption that new is necessarily better" (emphasis mine).
Sax argues for a "human-centric future that reflects where we've been, what we've learned and how we actually want to live." Living this way requires rejecting some technologies because they fail to serve and embracing traditional tools and ways of living that work well. Sometimes that kind of living gets leads to some name-calling and derision.
Me, I'm a proud Luddite even as I finish typing this on my Chromebook and prepare to post it on the internet. I'm not after any kind of revenge and I'm past the innovation obsession. It's all about what works well and feels good. It's about living as human-centric life. Innovation isn't just waiting out there in the future. More and more I'm finding it in the careful sifting of the past.