The politics of technology

Building a better mousetrap seems to have more in common with Britain’s finest hour than with the glamour of innovation. For example, developing the technology to blanket cities with free wi-fi is, to paraphrase Churchill, “…not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Glenn Fleishman, writing in the NYT Advocates of Wi-Fi in Cities Learn Art of Politics, describes the necessary disillusionment of early “free wi-fi” pioneers and their subsequent embrace of politics in order to implement their plans: “All of us were very idealistic, and all quite strongly opinionated,” says one such pioneer.

“The problems that were hard in 2001 were technical ones,” Mr. Spiegel [president of NYCwireless, a volunteer wireless advocacy group in Manhattan] said. “Now, they’re personal and relationship and political ones. The technology, we almost don’t even think about it anymore.”

Sound familiar? Anyone who has tried to push innovation in organizations recognizes that getting the technology right is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. Politics comes next. Perhaps we need a Churchillian theory of innovation?

2 thoughts on “The politics of technology

  1. My experience is that “never have so many owed so much to so few”. A few people make things happen, with the rest gathering the benefits ….. after they drop their bows and arrows aimed squarely at the backs of the pioneers.

  2. […] Last month I talked about the long, thankless efforts at innovation that predate a technological “revolution” (see earlier Politics of Technology). In the evolution of WiFi technology at the city-scale, we maybe seeing the shift in the adoption curve (from the long nascent tail to an explosive adoption rate). In part II, the incumbents shift from fighting the new technology to embracing (or at least exploring) it. The WSJ today reports on the recent change of mind by the CableCos and Telcos, from suing municipal wireless efforts to competing with them: WiFi landgrab. This may be because they failed in 13 of 14 efforts to legislate away free municipal wireless last year. Or because it’s become apparent that, while they’re busy lobbying, others like Google, Earthlink, and many local others are out there building networks: More than 50 municipalities around the country have already built such systems, and a similar number are at some stage in the process, including Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco and Houston, according to Esme Vos, founder of the Web site, which tracks such projects nationally. By 2010, ABI Research forecasts a $1.2 billion market for the wireless technology used in the city systems. […]

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