Whatever happened to innovation?

A while back, I wrote a post about Instagram’s acquisition by Facebook. I am not sure if I was able to convey my exact feelings effectively enough. There was hardly anything special about the occasion- a giant tech company buying a 2 year old startup whose single product went viral. Something that happens twice a day in the valley. Well, except for the money involved in the transaction which raised quite a few eyebrows. But I am dumbstruck that strangely this did not raise enough questions in the tech world about what we’ve come to define as “technology innovation”. Maybe because the tech-world-intelligentsia are too busy in the headless-chicken frenzy. It feels like the tech world is in a state of fast-decay.

If it seems unfair that I keep referring to Instagram, let me clarify that it is only for the sake of naming something. I can name a dozen other. Besides, Instagram set a dazzling example of the current state-of-affairs. I spend quite a lot of time every day reading tech magazines and blogs and frankly, sometimes I just feel repulsed by what I get to read.

I was drawn back to the stream of thoughts by an article I read today. It was good to see atleast one sensible person to speak my mind. Google is indeed sitting on a huge cash pile and doesn’t have much clue where it is going to invest it. And that’s true of others of the league. I’m overlooking a lot of exceptions to the theory and painting too black a picture here but the bottomline is that innovation has largely stunted. Interestingly, the conference at which Peter Theil made above comments was about discussing whether technology has improved our lives over the past 30 years.

It is disturbing to know how much the paradigms of technology innovation and being a genius inventor have changed over a few decades. I am about to finish reading a book I should have read in high school, may before that – “SURELY YOU’RE JOKING MR. FEYNMAN!”.  The book has enlightened me of my dumb ideas about technology and innovation beyond words. It was refreshing to remember what true genius means and what does invention mean. The way the mind of a scientist works just blew me away. His ability to think in a peculiar way and the things that he is adept at seems to be a born-talent.

I used to feel lucky to be born in the age of information. But I think I would be rather happier if I was to be born five decades ago. There is nothing to beat if you were fortunate enough to see Einstein himself in flesh and blood. To live in the times when William Shockley invented the first transistor – the very building block on which today’s supercomputers are built. To witness Max Planck and Niels Bohr, the Gods of quantum mechanics, unravel the mysteries of atomic structure. It was Renaissance.  Mark Zuckerberg is smart alright, but he’s no genuis. It doesn’t take a genius to build a facebook. You don’t need a Ph.D. in a niche subject and years of experimenting and understanding to put up a website or an app to share photos or videos or tweets.

And with this, I also realize a fact. The true genius usually aren’t really those who you hear about in news or whose photos you see in the journals. The true genius sit quietly in the dark corners of their labs/basements working hard, largely oblivious to the outside world.

When I let my mind play with the ideas of starting up, these absolute dumb things unfolding in the tech world did have their  (un)desired effect on me and I tried hard to think of yet-another-stupid-app that I can launch my startup with. And who can blame ? It’s all about build-fast, get-huge-PR-fast, get-acquired-fast. Mainly the second. Real fast money. A real-world-problem to solve? Product? business model? REVENUE? Never mind that. But eventually I did come to my senses and decided not to follow just a mindless bandwagon, no matter how big is the promise of riches and how easily replicable the path. It just doesn’t make sense. I set out to make a difference, as Jobs put it -to make a dent in the universe, and that’s what I will do. I hope the tech-world and the so-called tech-giants of the world get to their senses in the earnest as well. Else very soon we will have to start giving away Noble prizes for making cool games app.

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