Some people are technophobes: they have an immediate fear, or distrust of technology. Others are technophiles, and idealize technology, either from a lust for the new and innovative, or in the belief that technology will solve previously intractable problems. Sometimes technology does that: one sees such successes in medicine, for instance. In other instances, technology does not so much solve a problem as elevate a previously workable (or nonexistent) obstacle to a problem, and then offer a solution to it. This is a process of pre-justification. For instance, while it might not have been a problem for many people only to have the range of radio stations to listen to that are available via radio transmission, once the technology to provide satellite radio began to develop, the develops of it (and its merchants) insisted that limited radio (or unclear signals) were problems, and satellite radio was here to solve them!

Innovation, then, includes both an actual moving from an inferior to a superior position, and also a re-appraisal of the situation itself, looking for small difficulties to expand. Another way to put this is that one state is not replaced utterly by another, but rather than the second state is different, and only related to the first at certain points. Innovation exists when those points are many.

The original cronut, from

The original cronut, from

It is, perhaps, needless to say that economies also work this way. As more people want to generate wealth for themselves, there is constant pressure to carve out new economic generators where no one had previously seen them.

For instance: cronuts. In those early, barren days (a couple of years ago), we only had donuts and croissants. Oh the suffering we lived with in those dark days! Then NY’s Dominique Ansel Bakery combined these and a new pastry (and to new way to make money) appeared.

(As an aside and further fractal-life crenellation of the fecundity of innovation, here in Atlanta we have innovated a response to the cronut: the doughssant. And, here is a banker’s dozen (I just made that up to refer to eleven of something – INNOVATION!): “Shameless Cronut Knockoffs from Around the World” and “THE WORLD’S FIRST INTERACTIVE CRONUT- (AND CRONUT IMPOSTOR-) FINDING MAP.” It is, again, needless to say that if cronuts are questionably innovative, then reportage on fro-nuts is so to a second degree.)

(Disclosure: I haven’t actually eaten a cronut.)

Placed in the context of global hunger and resource management, of course the idea that bakers are spending their time and energy seeking to eke out one more niche pastry to tempt luxury-seekers, some rather serious ethical questions arise. However, one doesn’t encounter serious personal ethical considerations when the purported innovation is something a person is truly free to choose not to buy. Nothing in my life (or anyone’s?) makes buying cronuts more necessary to me than buying either croissants or donuts. (Let’s accept for the moment that buying either of this is necessary.) So, the fact that there are cronuts (etc.) out there doesn’t force me, or their makers, into an ethical confrontation.

Some part of this rumination springs not merely from an inveterate fascination with cake and baked treats, but also in consideration of innovating technology for education, including ebooks, elearning, etc. And here a personal ethical question does rise up. An individual’s relationship to an ebook is (one hopes) different from one’s relationship to cronuts because a person wishing to learn about something might have a “need” relationship with the ebook, rather than merely a “want” relationship. However, like cronuts, ebooks remain tools of those with means. As a corollary to this, those who are excited about cronuts are also those who need not worry about where their next meal comes from, and those most excited about cronuts are those who never need to worry about where their next meal comes from. By analogy, those who are the most excited about ebooks are also those who need never worry about being plugged into the most innovative technology. The danger, then, is accepting without consideration of this relationship the conviction and urging of the technophiles (the “hype”) because it rests upon conditions that exist only for a few. Education, I hope we can agree, should be open equally to all.