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The hierarchy of innovation Add to ...

Various technology experts believe we have entered an era of innovation stagnation. But tech writer Nicholas Carr, on his Rough Type blog, argues there has been no decline in innovation but just a change in focus.

He suggests there’s a hierarchy of innovation that parallels psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, in which humans progress from wanting to fulfill their physiological needs, to safety, to belonging, to esteem, to self-actualization.

The technological pyramid of needs might have technologies of survival at the bottom, followed successively by technologies of social organization, prosperity, leisure, and the self. Those stages, he stresses, are rough, and, of course, different people are in different stages as they make their journey through life. But overall, he suggests, there was a time when we focused on technologies for survival, such as fire, and another time technologies for social organization, such as cathedrals.

As we, in general, move up the hierarchy and become more inward looking, the inventions are less imposing. “We’re no longer changing the shape of the physical world or even of society, as it manifests itself in the physical world. We’re altering internal states, transforming the invisible self. Not surprisingly, when you step back and take a broad view, it looks like stagnation – it looks like nothing is changing very much,” Mr. Carr observes.

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