What’s the Next?

Innovation is the biggest buzzword of recent times. The predictions of a global shift in society, cultures and individuals fueled by infotech, biotech and nanotech is the proverbial writing on the wall according to any visionary du jour who happens to be your favorite. But is the future really headed the way we’d like to think so? Camera phones came out two years ago, but how come all of us (at least in the developed world) aren’t walking around with them? The plans for fuel-efficient vehicles have been around since Bucky Fuller days, as much as plans to make global hunger a thing of the past. But gas-guzzlers, genocide and forgotten tragedy victims of all varieties still do exist.

Sure, the answers aren’t easy, and any new insight into the problem is not going to make anything go away overnight, but maybe hope is more readily attainable if we look to the root of the problem.

In functional ecology, there is what’s called "indicator species". The life forms that take the first hit when a bigger connected problem is brewing in the background. Like snails that die when there’s a potential of a drought, or frogs that migrate when there’s potential of rain. As the nature of our interconnected world more closely resembles ecosystems than any other sustainable analogy, maybe there’s something there to help us rethink what might actually be next.

Maybe our "indicator species" for the next innovations that advance humankind are more rooted in people’s innate feelings than the technical possibilities. Maybe videophones and location-based services aren’t commonplace because cheating spouses and rebellious teens don’t want to be that connected. Maybe energy inefficiency is good for the suits in power who control the flow of capital in the global marketplace, and just maybe, they have enough of an emotional reason to defend what they consider what’s most dear to them: power!

Does this simplify why stem cell technology moves forward or wireless technologies adopt faster in certain regions? Perhaps. But more importantly, thinking about the root cause may just enable us to make technical and economic progress happen where we live, by understanding our psychology over our technology.

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