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Monday, 14 December 2009

'Confused' of Hull

Confused, discombobulated, experiencing cognitive dissonance, unable to sleep, undecided, indecisive, alarmed, optimistic, supremely pessimistic, prone to nightmares, perturbed and with an immense urge to drink enormous quantities of alcohol.
And that describes only how I feel about the shortest of the three essays I have to complete by January 18th.

The problem is that I used to have an easy life which chiefly consisted of mixing with the perpetually halitosic whiners that constitute "joiners" in the UK, drinking as much as it was possible to on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday and simply working for a living. The biggest, most creative and grandest thoughts were mostly given to how I could avoid doing things - overtime, loading trucks, going for a drink with "the lads", taking on extra unpaid responsibility and these plans were constrained mostly because the solutions availabe were:

...becoming a pop star
... winning the lottery
.... having such a serious industrial injury that I either had to retire(on a handsome compensation packet) and therefore could'nt work or died as a result of the serious industrial injury (without compensation being directly available to me) and therefore could'nt work.

As I had, a few years ago, passed the age at which so much wealth was accumulated in a short time via pop stardom that work became unnecessary, and I had no intention of being hurt or dying I had one option - the lottery. I did have two barriers to my lottery plan:

- a serious political objection on the grounds that it is essentially another tax on poor people combined with a contention that all of us already pay to much tax and the things we are paying for via the lottery (school books, sports facilities for kids and theatre) should already be paid from our current taxes.

- kept forgetting to buy any tickets.

So education was decided. I was advised I would 'enjoy' it. I was told I would be 'good' at it. It would be 'rewarding' was the nod I recieved. And would, in the future, lead to better opportunities.

So friggin what?

I mean, if all this education malarkey i s going to be like the last week - continually questioning perfectly good prejudices that I've had for years, I have to ask if it is of any value at all. And I am not the only one. The new vice dean or chancellor, or whatever he is, of our University, shares my distaste for knowledge. And we are not alone - most politicians, in a mood reflective of the current economic climate, want nothing to do with anything that tells them anything. What is demanded, apparently is, in the vernacular of joinery, 'stuff that does shit'. [I should emphasize here that the emphasis of that sentence should not be on the 'does shit' bit, but on the 'stuff' part. In the interests of brevity, I should therefore rephrase my typification as "What is demanded, is practical applications that make money"].

Isnt this the real world, I hear the cry? Well, it is, like my essays, a little more complicated than that. Despite the fact that Team Antikythera lost last week's debate on the relevance of genius in Innovation (a clearer case of tactical voting I have never seen, and a travesty of justice as our opposition turned up thinking they had to argue our case which resulted in their case being a hastily flung together mish-mash of "erms", "likes" and "its just obvious"s)the question of genius relating to the development of technology is fairly clear. Genii, or inventors (although obvioulsy not all genii are inventors and vice versa) tend to be broody coves, a little bit eccentric, insular. Trousers, when they remeber to wear them tend to be too short. Underwear is often worn outside the breech and hair is invariably unkempt. This is because, quite unlike cats (who you wil notice are usually very well kempt unless one throws them out in the rain because of incessant miaowing when one is trying to type), genii (or inventors) have their minds on higher things - "truths" as one bright spark described it.

But technology, and society, does not move forward on ideas alone. Someone has to use the brilliant ideas of the inventors. These people are innovators. They are invariably smooth, slightly untrustworthy, perhaps glib. Like cats, they are perfectly groomed, and, like cats, the uppermost thought in their mind is "What's in it for me?". Innovators license or agree copyright renumeration (=steal) the ideas of inventors and apply them to the real world as surely as a cat will attempt to lick the butter off your toast. Inventors are incapable of doing this because they are too busy being trapped in phone boxes or tying both sets of showlaces together or have just moved on to the next invention, trouserless.

The relationship is symbiotic, and for many years, it has sort of worked in a system of Universities and sponsorship and patronage. [I say "sort of" because we do live within societies that are stratified, so that despite overwhelming evidence, the freedom to be a genius or inventor has, until recently only been afforded to the upper (financial) echelons. I am left wondering that if the net had been cast more widely we would have had more, and better, inventors, although it is harder from someone from humble origins be a genius because clogs didnt have shoelaces]. But now, the "business" model has pervaded all. Inventors, it is declared, must do stuff or die.

This new model is thoroughly in line with the paradigms of our times. To create a better health service, more administration (not of medicines) is needed. To educate people more effectively, more inspections of the process (without fundamentally learning from those inspections) must be done. To reduce traffic, more roads must be built. We have learnt nothing from the Greeks, those masters of imbalance. To the Greeks, genius was everything, but doing anything was distasteful. The Greeks were too busy worrying about shadows on walls and inventing words like epistemology to bother with innovators. I am very afraid that our gravestone will read "Good at making vacuum cleaners".


Bill Hall said...

Excuse me - I had a pair of clogs with laces, admittedly only Size 2,but nevertheless neat.

On a more serious note (dah dah in c#)does your peroration imply that Dyson (et al) was an inventor or an innovator?

MJN said...

Ah Dyson... and Leonardo Da Vinci...what do we do with these people? Dyson claimed the first great advance in wheelbarrows for 5000 years (a ball instead of a wheel)as well as his famous vacuums. A very clever man. But he still applied existing technology to an existing device - so he was an innovator. There's nowt wrong with that. In fact, as our technology has spread and the "wavefront" of technology has widened, I think the lines are becoming blurred, but I also think that the focus of where true invention can operate shifts.

JoeyMac said...

Do we need a new label? innoventionators perhaps?

MJN said...

Or perhaps "theoremadoers"