The case for chucking ‘innovation’ that wasn’t

May 6, 2013

The knives are out—again … sorta.

Over the weekend, Evgeny Morozov, author of “To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism,” made the case for why “innovation,” should be added to the “Spring Cleaning” list compiled by The Post’s Outlook section this year.

Trash bag
It was time for Spring Cleaning, and “innovation” fell in the path of the broom. (bigstock)

The word “innovation”, he argues, has been misused to the point where even “the mere invocation of innovation automatically confers credibility on ideas, companies or products that could — and should — be widely contested.”

The upside of new technological advances are often touted as innovative without a critical look at the potential downsides, he writes:

“In an ideal world, start-up ventures would count as innovative only if they end up improving our society. The mere fact that we can do something more efficiently — without asking how such efficiency will affect the world around us — isn’t necessarily innovative.”

On Twitter, Morozov goes so far as to say he hates the word, asking the Twitterverse if others hate it as much as he does:

But read his case carefully and you’ll notice, even as Morozov may hate “innovation” and criticizes what he sees as its frequent misuse, he doesn’t argue that the word should be eliminated. Princeton Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter does so with the term “working mothers” and Columbia University’s Chief Digital Officer Sree Sreenivasan does the same with “RTs ≠ endorsements.” Even Post Columnist and Wonkblog contributor Neil Irwin dumps Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke into the time-to-go pile, making the case for a new chairman.

But Morozov stops short, allowing the word “innovation” to bounce off the rim of this year’s Spring Cleaning trash bin.

I’ve read Morozov’s argument a few times, and I enjoy it a great deal. His brief tour through the history of the word and its roots in insurgency and troublemaking is a nice reminder that a sharp and important edge has been routinely dulled in recent times. A little less than a year ago today, I wrote about “innovation” and its overuse, as shown in a Wall Street Journal report on the word’s frequent appearance in corporate marketing and business books. Then I wrote—and nearly a year later I maintain—that “it’s not about the word, it’s about how you use it.”

Read the entire Spring Cleaning list, and let us know what you think in the comments.

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Caitlin Dewey · May 6, 2013