Are Innovators Giving Way to Innovations?

Posted on July 6, 2011


Watching the live announcement of Facebook’s partnership with Skype to offer video chat on the social network was more like looking down on Mission Control than observing a news conference.

Dozens of reporters were seated keyboard-to-mouse at long tables, taking digital notes.  While common in Silicon Valley, it’s a somewhat jarring sight for those accustomed to the conventional (and often uncomfortable) auditorium-style accommodations of White House news conferences or corporate media centers, still populated to some extent by note pads and ballpoints.  And even though Facebook icon Mark Zuckerberg stood in front of the room alongside Skype CEO Tony Bates, answering reporters’ questions, the journalists themselves were primarily heads down in their technology.

The scene struck me as an interesting harbinger of the next evolutionary phase of media coverage and confirmation that history, indeed, repeats itself, because the technology world has run a course similar to that of the last two centuries’ captains of industry.  In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Industrial Revolution was synonymous with names like Rockefeller, Carnegie, Mellon and Morgan. In the late 1900s and early 2000s, the technology revolution was built on personalities, with names like Gates, Jobs, Dell, and (yes) Zuckerberg.

But just as 20th century consumers eventually shifted their attention from Henry Ford to Ford trucks and from Howard Hughes to Hughes communications satellites and helicopters, we have recently begun to focus more on the technology than the technologists. We seem to have graduated from the Age of Archetypes—when we sought to be the next Jeff Bezos or Meg Whitman—and enrolled in the New Entrepreneurial Era, seeking to bring out the next hot mobile app or an amazing new  game interface.   Today’s heroes often are devices with names like Xbox, iPad, Windows Phone 7 and Kindle.  Personalities may no longer be as important as portability and practicality.

There will always be room for innovative entrepreneurs in the technology arena—just as there will always be a place for Presidential news conferences right alongside Twitter town halls.  Our constantly shifting focal point, however, may have moved away from the innovators who have made this such an interesting time and toward the innovations that make this such an important point in history.