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The Connection Between Fake ‘Innovation’ and Late Capitalism

My previous post about the ongoing crapification of personal computing and series about how the computing “revolution” of past two decades has been a showy failure lead us to a seldom asked question. While it can be phrased in many ways, here is the simplest version- Why do so many who are rich, in power or aspire to either keep incessantly talking about “innovation”, “paradigm shifts” and “disruption” when we clearly live in an age of profound technological stagnation. Why do people pretend that Apple is an innovative company when the last time they did anything remotely innovative was 2007? Why do so many fanboys celebrate every fart emanating from Elon Musk? What is innovative about Uber, DoorDash or any other service which replicates the services already available in third-world countries full of poor and desperate people? What is innovative about the plantation-lite work environment of Amazon?

Now let us get back to the central question- why do so many people want to believe in fake “innovation”? What is the upside of celebrating fake “innovation” even when it is results in regression rather than progress? Consider user interfaces design for personal computers or software. What is the gain from producing and pimping increasingly shittier “redesigns” and “upgrades” which make the interface or program less useful, slower, buggier and resource intensive? Also, why did user interfaces remain fairly constant for over two decades (mid-1980s to mid-2000s before starting to become progressively shittier? Or take automobiles.. why hasn’t the reliability, safety and longevity not improves since late 1990s- even though their “complexity” has? Why are automobiles from non-Japanese manufacturers (and Nissan) full of progressively bad design choices in everything from layout of engine and powertrain components to increasingly gimmicky but dangerous design choices for driver control panels?

The same can be said for the increasingly shitty style of management of retail store chains which has caused many to go out of business in past decade or Boeing building progressively worse versions of their older airliners. Why do multi-million dollars homes in western countries look bland, formulaic and ugly. Are you seeing a common thread running through all of them and what does any of this have to with the strong connection between fake “innovation” and late capitalism aka neoliberalism aka financialism? To understand what I am going to talk about next, we have to first go into the pillars holding the unstable edifice of late capitalism. As I have mentioned in some previous posts, one of these pillars is credentialism. But how does it work in practice? Well.. the real function of credentialism is to cultivate incestuous insider networks with other “elites” by going to the same “elite” educational institutions. But how does this lead to fake “innovation” and actual regression of technological progress?

It comes down to its interaction with another pillar of late capitalism. Have you noticed that every corporation and rich person seems to have unusually high levels of investment in how they are allegedly perceived by the public? But who are they trying to impress? Do average people buy into the bullshit about “caring” and “socially responsible” corporations anymore than they believe that the HR person at work is on their side? If average people don’t give a fuck about the “social liberal” causes which are heavily supported by corporations, who are they trying to impress anyway? The simple answer is that all of these virtue displays, fake philanthropy and show of social liberalism by “elites” are about oneuping each other. But hasn’t this always been the case? Haven’t the “elites” of all societies throughout history spent too much time trying to oneup each other? So what is different now?

Well.. in previous eras, the “elites” of those societies did not pretend to have reached their positions because they were competent or actually good at whatever they were supposed to be doing. They were quite honest that being an “elite” was about being born to the right parents, married to the right person or being good at violence. Consequently, they left the actual work of getting things done to competent people employed by them. That is why, for example, the Medici family of Renaissance Italy stuck to the business of merchant banking and political influence while being great patrons of art rather than pretending to be great artists themselves. That is also why a lot of the industrial and banking dynasties of late 19th and 20th century Europe and USA stuck to their original vocations rather than seriously dabble in stuff which would make them look liberal, hip or “progressive”.

So what happens when incompetent but rich people try to do stuff at which they suck? Ask Nicholas II of Russia of the erstwhile Russian Empire who decided to personally take charge of military operations during the later stages of WW1 in Russia? Or what about Enver Pasha of the erstwhile Ottoman Empire who decided to cosplay as a military leader during WW1. The same hold true for thousands of generals and officers who gained their pre-WW1 positions in French Army through connections, bribery and kissing the right behinds. Long story short, when incompetent but powerful people enter roles they are not capable of fulfilling.. things go to shit. While this is especially obvious during acute crises such as large wars or economic meltdowns, it still occurs in times without obvious crises- albeit at a slower pace. The point I am trying to make is that “elites” who seriously dabble in real work almost always end up as massive and spectacular failures.

The reason this is a far bigger problem today than in past is that nobody expected “elites” or aspirational elites to do anything beyond being idle or playing insider games of the type seen in royal courts of yore. However the ideology of late capitalism aka neoliberalism is built around the concept of “meritocracy” which require participants to act as if they are involved in doing important work. It is even worse for aspirational elites, who in previous eras just had to play long with these insider court games or marry the right person. This results in people with power and money but no intellectual ability or competence pretending they are geniuses- with predictable results. It is even worse for aspirational elites, who now have to pretend even harder to be competent and brilliant people than the greedy power grabbers they really are.

The only way to succeed in institutions (including corporations) dominated by “elites” who subscribe to the ideology of neoliberalism is to fake the appearance of progress even if it destroys all of the real progress made in the past. That is why people who push bad ideas like Windoze 8 and 10 will be promoted over those who wanted to improve Windows 7. It is also why developing more fragile phones and computers protected by increasing amounts of hardware DRM is now the business model of Apple. Now you know why the UI of Gmail, Google Maps and MS Office, to name a few, has become worse with each iteration. This is also why people celebrate frauds such as Elon Musk who are pretending that technological capabilities which were refined 50 years ago are the result of recent “innovation”. And guess what.. you don’t even have to possess any actual technology to fake “disruption”- just ask that Theranos woman. It is all about appearance and style, not substance.

To summarize. the rise of fake “innovation” under late capitalism has much to with a toxic combination of financial incentives, “elites” and aspirational “elites” being out of their depth in a culture which very strongly favors the appearance of work as measured by “metrics” rather than anything close to the real thing. Might write more about this topic in future, based on comments and responses.

What do you think? Comments?

  1. .....this blog has gone down in quality as of late.......
    December 10, 2020 at 12:14 pm

    “What is innovative about the plantation-lite work environment of Amazon?”

    Go on Glassdoor and it is not just crap-azon but all these “hip” tech companies….

    “oh, lala the happy hours are the bestest….”

    If a crappy company sells “culture,” there are four hundred and forty seven gendars and all that bullshit, no one will cry about benefits, workers rights or why the “new” system has twice and many injuries as the “old” system…

  2. President Not Sure
    December 10, 2020 at 2:38 pm

    There is genuine incremental tech innovation which happens everywhere around us and is very common, like faster computers, faster internet, more efficient cars, better medical equipment and treatments, etc.

    And then there’s groundbreaking tech innovation which rarely happens but the changes it brings are massive.

    Most of you haven’t noticed the most recent groundbreaking tech because you’re too busy looking at Google, Apple and other dinosaur companies, so let me enlighten you a bit.

    In 2008 someone solved the “double spending problem” which was a long standing unsolved scientific problem, and used his solution to implement the first decentralized currency called Bitcoin.

    Since then thousands new crypto coins have appeared, 99% of which are scams and shitcoins, but there are at least a few dozen with genuine improvements and new innovations pushing the technology forward with breakneck speed. Among these you can easily find many small companies which work on hard scientific problems and such 10-person companies do more innovation than beheamoths like Microsoft or Google.

    Expect in a few years to see profound changes to the financial sector worldwide. I hope you’ll be smart and have enough Bitcoin and Ethereum stashed by then.

    • Jack Donovan
      December 10, 2020 at 5:23 pm

      Is you a white man?

      If so, join us at the wolves of vineland!

    • P Ray
      December 10, 2020 at 5:34 pm

      Solved the double-spending problem, by introducing a unit of value that wildly fluctuates, has already been banned from purchasing property in some countries, has the most nodes in China and also requires increasing amounts of power and complexity to attain?

      There’s no free lunch, Bitcoin also has a cost.

      Ask the consumers waiting for stock of nVidia 3000-series and AMD 6000-series graphic cards how they feel about that innovative breakthrough.

      “The Greater Fool” theory is something also associated with Bitcoin.

      • President Not Sure
        December 10, 2020 at 11:20 pm

        Worn out phrases by yet another clueless nocoiner:

        Your new invention wasn’t perfect from the first day it was released, it’s volatile during its growth phase, countries with crappy fiat coins are so afraid they had to ban it, yada yada yada.

        You forgot to mention it’s only used by criminals, money launderers and for financing terrorism.

        Please do us all a favor and stick to your beliefs for as long as possible, please never in your life touch Bitcoin or any other cryptocurrency.

      • P Ray
        December 11, 2020 at 2:04 am

        Lel, still waiting for the Linux liberator that you are, to tell me about how much backward compatibility Linux has.

      • President Not Sure
        December 11, 2020 at 3:34 am

        “Lel, still waiting for the Linux liberator that you are, to tell me about how much backward compatibility Linux has.”

        Yet another piece of evidence you’re trying to sound smart on a topic you’re clueless about.

        But I will answer it and try to provide some usefull information for others who actually want to do something about their computing problems and hopefully jump ship.

        I strongly recommend Linux today for the majority of ordinary computer users, but would not have recommended it 10 years ago.

        There were major problems with unsupported hardware, but none of this was Linux’s fault, it was mostly manufacturers who didn’t want to bother with 1% market share platform and didn’t want to release their software as open source (nVidia still being dicks on this issue).

        Since then many things have changed and the situation today is:

        Every computer I’ve encountered from the past 15 years booted without problems and the motherboard chipset, integrated networking and audio works right out of the box with every popular distribution.

        With the GPU you need to be aware:

        1) Any intergrated GPU since they started integrating them in the CPU (around 2010-2012) works both from Intel and AMD. Previous GPUs intergrated in the motherboard should be avoided.

        2) All discrete AMD GPUs starting from the R3/R5/R7 era (around 2014) and later work well. All nVidia GPUs must be avoided like the plague if you want completely hassle free experience.

        The last thing are WIFI adapters, I’ve seen some that work and some that don’t, the latest ones you wanna buy might not work because they still not have went through the whole cycle of integration in the mainline kernel (which can take up to a year), so for a WIFI adapter you need to check online before you buy it.

        If you’re buying a laptop or an assembled desktop computer you just need to install a recent distribution on a 16GB USB stick and you can check on the spot if everything works by just booting the machine from the stick.

        So there you have it, everyone who wants to use Linux today has plenty of both cheap and expensing hardware to choose from and easily jump ship and rediscover what a good operating system used to be like.

      • P Ray
        December 11, 2020 at 4:04 am

        Well … your advice is utterly clueless because you don’t point out how far back in terms of years Linux compatibility goes.

        For example, Windows XP can run games and applications made for Windows 98 … that’s around 17 years of compatibility (1997 to 2014 – end of life for XP)

        But it runs properly on certain hardware that I know about … that isn’t being made anymore.

        For me, games are easily the yardstick for compatibility.

        Plus I like looking at things made many years ago to see whether a lot of gameplay has improved.

        People still play chess, you know that game with terrible graphics and no sound?

        And again, for your compatibility, you have so many different versions of Linux. Plus who supports it? You do … in that sense I’m glad I can still fiddle around with DOS right up to Windows 10.

        Don’t forget, Linux also drops support for architectures, just as silently as Windows now … but the real issue is because of the lower market share, support is much harder to find.

        Feel free to disagree for the sake of being contrarian, I know plenty of places to be frugal for software thanks to backward compatibility.

  3. P Ray
    December 11, 2020 at 5:35 am

    That is why people who push bad ideas like Windoze 8 and 10 will be promoted over those who wanted to improve Windows 7.

    Yup … but also the reality is shareholders want a return on investment, which is only possible with the buzz and hype of something new, even if it turns out to be a turd.

    Windows 8 is still better than 10, because the memory footprint is much lower, for example the system I am typing this on has 2GB of memory, and it boots from a hard disk in under 20 seconds.

    … and of course, it’s no longer easily available, like a lot of other good things …

    Funny saying to go with that? “If you see something you like, get lots of it because the manufacturer will stop making it.”

    • doldrom
      December 11, 2020 at 10:21 am

      Exactly the problem. The return on investment is more dollar bills.
      The ultimate end of all this fakery is everybody’s chief valuable will be a bunch of papers with numbers on them and very little else.

    • Jack Donovan
      December 12, 2020 at 11:50 am

      Oh hai Pee (sp)Ray,

      Whilst you are getting rotund around that middle section, I have been getting swole (and then the bath house, err sauna relaxation afterwords!!!)

      https://streamable.com/rpuqci

      • P Ray
        December 15, 2020 at 8:54 am

        Women should find sex a chore that proves how much they love the man, which is why rich men enjoy the attention of young women.

        If it’s going to take away his valuable money-making time, she better earn her fee …

  4. Doprindra
    December 15, 2020 at 2:49 pm

    You shit on Elon Musk yet he has come out and explicitly said that the MBA-inization of tech is what’s ruining innovation. You tend to shit on everyone who does one ounce of actual great thing. Fuck off!

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/elon-musk-decries-m-b-a-ization-of-america-11607548589?mod=e2fb&fbclid=IwAR3xBU68BekYqxCJaI7sUznEvLhoigDjHaoDdNkZbqpthpZr6xnygF3oLkM

    Saying one obvious thing after 50 years does not make you a visionary.

  5. P Ray
    December 15, 2020 at 11:32 pm

    A good and interesting way things are turning out, agreeing with your view, is (at least from what I can see happening in NZ) … CEOs and people with MBA’s or Master’s (without being specific about what their FIRST university qualification was) in IT, going around telling other people they have amazing new paradigms of learning …
    but on their own they have written nothing groundbreaking, and only participate in endless (paid) rounds of generic hectoring and railing giving presentations to university students and government departments via relationships with well-placed friends.

    Two of them come to mind, Norm Comerford and Andrew Davidson … and another coincidence, both died in helicopter crashes, yet are visionaries and thought-leaders … who have never written a book.

    • P Ray
      December 15, 2020 at 11:33 pm

      Whoops, let me correct myself, they died in aviation crashes – one helicopter, one light plane.

  6. Riz
    December 17, 2020 at 2:05 pm

    Wonder why you deleted my comment on how H-1B visa workers from India have lowered innovation in the US?

    It might have gone into spam folder. Repost it again if you want to..

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