The great lie of technology: How innovation is overrated

The modern age is obsessed with innovation. “Disruption” is the buzz word. Terms such as “revolution”, “change” and “empowerment” form the backbone of our culture.

Technology is the new emancipator,. We don’t need Marxism, free-love and Stratocaster guitars anymore – we have Macbooks, YouTube and, of course, bags and bags of originality.

As entrepreneur and investor James Altucher says, we don’t live in a knowledge economy anymore, we live in an “ideas economy”.

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The late Steve Jobs has come to symbolise the ideology that technology and economic innovation are the keys to solving human problems. But this ideology neglects thousands of years of human culture, and questions as old as time. 

Every week a new app is launched that is supposed to turn our lives around through its fascinating ability to make everything we do more convenient. Whether it is traveling to work, buying food or finding love, technology is changing the way we live.

Or so we are told.

The truth of the matter is that knowledge and technology can’t solve all our problems.

And that’s because the greatest challenges we face, after simple survival, are not addressed through innovation.

“Change”, “blue-sky thinking” and “disruptive” solutions can’t help us when it comes to sustaining lasting relationships over years, healing generations of family trauma, or helping us to act with greater integrity and self-discipline and respect.

Knowledge doesn’t change hearts. Ideas don’t guarantee happiness.

The great religions of the past, and the ancient philosophers of our cultural heritage, proposed ways of living, a way of relating to ourselves and others that would increase our happiness and, crucially, our behaviours.

What they offered the world was not knowledge and technological solutions.

They offered us wisdom.

The problem with wisdom is that it doesn’t make money, doesn’t get you laid, and worst of all, it’s not innovative.

Wisdom is not shiny and new, and doesn’t have the polished sex appeal of a brand new iMac.

Wisdom, above all, is old. It is timeless. It doesn’t change, and it doesn’t wow you with bright lights and gooey icons.

We hate wisdom. We prefer knowledge because there is always more of that to be found, and it solves problems for us.

The laws of physics and mathematics are seductive because they are rule-based – if you add a bit of mental or physical sweat, then you will have your answer, your solution, your bridge over troubled waters.

Wisdom won’t do anything for you. It can’t be automated. You can’t plug it into a spreadsheet and let the numbers do the talking.

Wisdom is as old as time, yet we never live by it.

“Love your neighbour as yourself” will be as true in a thousand years as it was when it was uttered by Jesus.

And it will always be as difficult to live by, regardless of Apps, iphones, flying cars and any other carnival of technological distraction we can think of.

The problems of being human cannot be solved by technology, the economy or the government.

The problems of being human are found in how we manage our egos, how we treat the people who love us, and how we navigate the friction between our animal needs and our social desires.

The greatest challenge in any situation is how we delay gratification for the greater good.

Technology can’t solve that problem, because it is a problem of the human heart. It has to do with the battle we have with ourselves.

Even if technology could solve it, it wouldn’t really help. As humans we are all born into this struggle, and it is what makes us whole.

Each battle is unique to who we are, and to seek a technological solution, an external solution, would be to abdicate our humanity.

We must walk through the fire. The fire of becoming, and we must do it alone. Otherwise we lose the gifts of experience, of becoming, or wisdom.

Wisdom is the opposite of efficiency. It is the opposite of a solution. Wisdom will not make your life more comfortable.

It is long, hard earned and painful, and doesn’t leave you with a feeling of resolution.

Rather, it leaves with the ability to embrace the messiness, the grief and the cruelty of life. Not only does it allow you to embrace it, it allows you to love it.

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