Maybe more people are writing about the real and potential problems of technology today than ever before. That is mostly a good thing. The list of books and articles from the last few years that have nuanced and illuminating perspectives on the contemporary technological situation is rich and long.

Recently, however, I’ve become increasingly aware of critical writing that is parasitic upon and even inflates hype. The media landscape is full of dramatic claims — many of which come from entrepreneurs, startup PR offices, and other boosters — about how technologies, such as “AI,” self-driving cars, genetic engineering, the “sharing…


Over the past five years, including while writing The Innovation Delusion with Andy Russell, I have been reading a number of works that paint a similar picture of technology and the economy in the United States. Yet often they aren’t in conversation together, I decided to write this post, structured as seven interrelated theses, synthesizing the picture as I see it today with the hope that it will be useful to others.

1. The 1950s-1970s — An Extraordinary Time

Many current discussions of technological and economic change start from the rapid period of economic growth and technological development that took place between roughly 1950 and 1970. To…


Why one longtime Apple fan is giving up on the company

Mobile phone reflected in broken mirror with distortion effect
Mobile phone reflected in broken mirror with distortion effect
Photo: Artur Debat/Moment/Getty Images

I have been a loyal Apple customer since 2003, when I met the woman who became my wife. When Abigail and I got together, she had an iMac, a blue bubble of a thing that looked cutting-edge for its day. I have fond memories of staying up late into the night, buzzing on whatever substances, typing my undergraduate senior thesis into its glowing azure modernity. The future was then. That iMac was followed by iPods, MacBook Pros, iPads, iPhones, and various iWhatsits and iThingamajigs.

During my long relationship with its products, Apple often did things that frustrated me. I thought…


In the last few weeks, friends at Virginia Tech have been asking me worried questions about the futurist and writer Jeremy Rifkin, who has apparently become a guru or “thought leader” in some quarters on campus. My friends asked, Is Rifkin really a respected thinker about economics and technology? And are his visions of the future so reliable and accurate that they should form the basis of planning? The first question will depend on who you ask, of course, but there’s a straightforward answer to the second question:

No.

Should we trust this man’s predictions? Uh . . . No!

Rifkin’s promoters and defenders will tell you that he’s advised leaders…


Have you ever heard of Design Thinking?

Your answer to that question will depend largely on where you sit in the world. The phrase Design Thinking is known almost universally in design circles. It’s made its way around networks of business hype more than once. Hell, the folks at Singularity University — a cult of technological utopians who hoover handfuls of vitamins and believe we’ll all upload our minds to servers in a few decades — think Design Thinking may be your “Secret Weapon for Building a Greater Good.” …


Lack-of-Positive-Futures Theorist and Scifi Writer Neal Stephenson (Source: Wikipedia)

Recently, I’ve heard several people suggest that a lack-of-positive-futures, or optimistic visions of tomorrow, have hampered advances in science and technology. This lack-of-positive-futures hypothesis builds on well-known gripes about supposed deficits in recent technological progress. As billionaire vampire Peter Thiel put it, “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.” The hypothesis suggests that one reason technology hasn’t improved is that we have become too pessimistic, that we have been watching too much apocalyptic zombies-slash-climate-change-destroy-the-world porno, that we are strapped for optimistic scenarios, which we could use to build a better world.

Problems with the lack-of-positive-futures hypothesis became clear…


In a recent publication, business school professors and collaborators put forward evidence that a parasite found in feline excrement may be leading to increased entrepreneurial behavior. The reason, they argue, is that the parasite Toxoplasma gondii makes individuals it infects less risk averse and decreases fear of failure. The authors found that being infected with the parasite was positively correlated with students becoming business majors and professionals founding their own firms.

In this application to the university-wide FIRESTARTER grant, meant to provide startup funds for projects with the potential to bring in at least $2 million dollars in external funding…


Last week, I awoke to find a funny message in my inbox. A colleague had forwarded me an email that a leader at the Stanford d.school apparently wrote about my recent essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Design Thinking is a Boondoggle.” Noting that “we’re watching this piece carefully”, the email provides “ready language” to members of the d.school in case they are asked about what I wrote.

The email delights in many ways. Its air of superiority and ad hominem elements are a gas. Yes, I am indeed an assistant professor at a university less elite than Stanford…


This post builds on two earlier ones I wrote, “Learning Innovation is Evolving into an Academic Discipline,” and the follow-up, “8 Questions and Answers on a New Academic Discipline to Study Learning Innovation.” I base this post on a Facebook Messenger conversation I had with a friend, which became a kind of interview and which I have edited for further clarity.

What is the big problem or question that your new academic center will address?

Well, I started seeing that individuals who said “innovation” a lot were getting a big share of resources and money at my university. And I…


(This essay is long. If it would be easier for you to read a pdf — though one without images and video links for now — you can down load it here.)

Have you ever heard of Design Thinking?

Your answer to that question will depend largely on where you sit in the world. The phrase Design Thinking is known almost universally in design circles. It’s made its way around networks of business hype more than once. Hell, the folks at Singularity University — a cult of technological utopians who hoover handfuls of vitamins and believe we’ll all upload our…

Lee Vinsel

I do technology studies, co-organize @The_Maintainers, and profess Science, Technology, and Society at Virginia Tech.

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