Monday, 4 April 2011

Risk, Responsibility and Innovation diffusion

To imagine somebody watching the mushroom cloud rising over Hiroshima and saying "gosh! that's innovative!" seems an unlikely (and somewhat dark-humoured) scenario. But why? Clearly, it was innovative in the sense that we often think about innovation; and it 'caught-on' - it was diffused as 'early adopters' were rapidly joined by 'early majority' users. We may be beginning to see the 'late majority' (although if the late majority gets its way, there's a risk we'll all be 'late'!).

I think this scenario tells us something about how we imagine innovation and frame it within a restricted social setting. Nobody said "gosh, that's innovative' about the atom bomb because I think anybody seeing that terrible event would immediately feel the ethical impact on themselves and the world. They were not apart from the events; they were part of them. It was humankind which had brought this power into being.

When we do say "that's innovative", I think there is an implied separation between ourselves and our human condition and the technology we are commenting on. The separation is created because for most of the time, we have a view of ourselves as humans which is framed by our daily concerns and preoccupations: we face 'problems' in daily life, and often mistake our being for the dealing with those problems. Our 'selves' as 'problem-facing' entities becomes separate from our selves as authentic beings. The problem-facing self sees something in the world created by someone else who is living a similar inauthentic existence, facing similar problems and dealing with them in new ways. We see these ways they deal with their problems, and then we can say "that's innovative!".
Innovation is framed by inauthentic experience.
Innovation in education then becomes problematic, because education, in dealing with human goods, must deal with authentic experience. If it doesn't, it may deepen the sense of alienation. Of course, alienation and inauthenticity may lead to new 'innovation' which in turn can lead to new inauthenticity and alienation, and so on. This is the pathology of 'homo faber'.. a sort of pathological autopoiesis. I suspect it is also a key mechanism in the manufacture of risks in society.

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