Thursday, March 20, 2014

Macro-Innov 8: Dimension 2 - Social issues

I am not going to spend much time on the social dimensions of macro-innovation (just 1 blog for the moment) but clearly the social issues are increasingly important.  Open a newspaper 10 years ago and there may be the occasional article on one of these issues. Today, because of the rise of the digital world, some or many of these topics may appear on any given day in a leading newspaper or in any issue of a news magazine like the Economist.

These topics should not be just left to sociological sidelines, they are indeed front and centre to the new world. They are issues of importance for innovation policy. If entrepreneurship, technology and innovation matter then the following issues are critical for national / regional attention - although it will probably be a long time before they are.
  • Cyber (everything digital) crime;
  • privacy issues (re Snowden);
  • distrust of government;
  • possibility of the breakdown of the internet due to insecurities;
  • distrust of science findings (growing social movements that distrust government and science - vaccinations for example);
  • the role of terrorism in halting or causing huge defensive innovation budgets - not national Defence necessarily but cyber defence etc;
  • resource constraints - food, water, energy;
  • middle income disparities - it is one thing to discuss the new possibilities of robot and 3D additive manufacturing technologies but who is going to buy the merchandise - the economics of new technologies is not being discussed yet;
  • re-emergence of tax shelters GLOBALLY; 
  • and modern digital corporations reinventing the transfer pricing of the bad old multinationals, playing off jurisdictions so where is home (recent stories on Candy Crush , Google pays little tax etc).
And this list ignores the growing controversial topics of whether game playing is addictive, reduces attention span is bad for social manners, bad generally .....

The social dimensions of technology have been obscure and little understood for too long. , Apart from big names like Marshall Mcluhan it has often been the domain of obscure sociology researchers who would claim that technology and its uses are 'socially constructed', most of whom where never interviewed on radio or television. This is changing for the better, leaving aside the modern McLuhan like prognosticators, social dimensions get more airplay now and that is good because it undermines the technological determinism of past ages and implants a sense of uncertainty over technological trajectories, use and interpretation. 

Innovation studies take note Hall and Martin[i] point out that an innovation must pass four hurdles: technical feasibility, commercial viability, organizational capability, and social acceptability. What is true at the micro level of products and companies is also true for techno-economic ecosystems. The social is important and getting bigger. What the society wide issues with technological acceptance and usage. 

The social dimensions of technology still has some way to go to be truly mainstream but it is on the way.

[i] Hall, J.K., Martin, M.J.C., Disruptive technologies, stakeholders and the innovation value-added chain: a framework for evaluating radical technology development. R&D Management (2005) 35, 3, 273 -284.

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