Still An Innovation Nation

Car_versus_horse

Yesterday, according to the Mayan calendar, we were to have seen the end of the world. Today professors like Robert J. Gordon in The Wall Street Journal (22-23 December 2012) unfortunately continue to spread doom and gloom.

According to Gordon, “for more than a century, the U.S. economy grew robustly thanks to big inventions; those days are gone.”

Gordon seems to think predominantly from 20/20 hindsight, seeing the innovations of the past — such as the electric light bulb, running water and the jet airplane — as the last major vestiges possible of human advancement.

As Gordon states: “Only once would transport speeds be increased from the horse (6 miles per hour) to the Boeing 707 (550 mph).  Only once could our houses be replaced by running water and indoor plumbing. Only once could indoor temperatures, thanks to central heating and air conditioning, be converted from cold in winter and hot in summer to a uniform year-round climate of 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Gordon’s pessimism is bad enough (“The future of American economic growth is dismal”) but his arrogance is even worse.

How sad that he cannot see past our momentary troubles and imagine better, greater things to come.

– Is 707 miles per hour really the fastest that humans can travel? I guess Gordon hasn’t been following the land speed record in Scientific American (5 November 2012) that has an English project pushing the 1,000 mph barrier and already projecting hitting 1,600 mph or Virgin Galactic (just the beginning of our space journeys) reaching more than 4 times the speed of sound (>3,000 mph!).

– Is indoor plumbing really the last great innovation when it comes to water? Please don’t tell that to almost a billion people worldwide who live without potable water. However, thanks to innovators such as Vestergaard-Frandsen, whose Lifestraw water purification tools “removes 99.9999% of bacteria through a superfine filtration process” for only about $6 each (Mashable), many others may soon have access to safe drinking water.

– Is central air is the end of the temperature innovation cycle?–You’ve got to be kidding me. In the context of global warming and the resulting “storms and other (weather) extremes,” there are considerable challenges ahead of us to be met. Someone ought to tell Mr. Gordon that sustainable energies are coming online (solar, wind, wave, and geothermal) that can help stem global greenhouse gases thought to be a major cause. In fact, whole new “green” high-tech cities like Masdar City are being developed to operate with low environmental footprints.

Gordon may think all major innovations have arrived, and probably thought the same before the Internet and smartphone were created.

In his op-ed, Gordon calls on skeptics to “rebut” his innovative idea that robust innovation is over. But perhaps he is actually asking them for help. Because such pessimism and small thinking are a prison of his own making. Unfortunately, he is professionally considered an “educator.” But it’s lessons like this that our young people – facing one of the most economically challenging times in modern history – can do without. 😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Paul Townsend)