Simple choice: Innovate or die

Technology, advancement are tools, not enemies

Thirty years ago, my dad and I and bought our family’s first VCR.

Well, he bought it.

I picked it out. When we got home my mom was not happy that we — make that he — went out and spent a couple hundred bucks on “some toy for us to play with.” However, when we told her what it did and how she would never miss another one of her TV shows, she was in a much better mood and I lived to write this.

I bring this up because this story to me seems very symbolic of the changing nature of technology and its impact on our economy.

And while a lot of us are willing to adapt, too many of us are not and run the risk of getting left behind.

Take Macy’s, for example. They are closing down more than 600 stores next year, in part, because of online competition.

During June’s U.S. Conference of Mayors gathering in Indianapolis, one of the points of discussion was how to deal with the tug of war between Airbnb, the online home sharing service, and the hospitality industry. Airbnb allows homeowners to rent out their places for people looking for a place to stay for a few days and there’s no room at the inn. The hospitality industry is screaming about fairness and regulation.

I find it amusing how when technology and innovation arrive on the scene, the old economy goes into a tailspin.

While the big fight between Uber, Lyft and the taxi industry may come to mind, I can take you back a lot further.

There was a time when the film industry was ready to go to war over the VCR because it thought no one would go to the movies anymore and just stay home and watch them on tape. I am not making this up.

And it’s not just industries where this drama is unfolding, but it is also people. We are in a debate in this country over manufacturing and “bringing those jobs back.”

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but more manufacturing jobs have been lost to technology than to outsourcing. And even though there are 7 million fewer people working in manufacturing since the 1970s, our productivity has only gone up. I recently read a story about machines sewing clothes and writing news stories.

(And, no, I don’t worry about being replaced by a computer, because there is not enough room on the internet for the storage needed to duplicate my ego.)

The moral of the story is this: Instead of fighting ideas and innovation the old economy should embrace it, and if they’re smart, co-opt it. Think of the industries that have been slow to change and see if they are still thriving or for that matter still around.

When was the last time you went to Blockbuster Video or bought a roll of film? Or for that matter, used an operator to dial long distance or went to the blacksmith to get new shoes for the horse that pulled your buggy which got you to the office? Heck, the print media were slow to embrace the internet, and now you can see what’s happening there.

Innovation and technology are not the enemy. They are tools that we use to increase our productivity. Now this doesn’t mean we should not have empathy for those displaced by the new economy. If anything we should invest more in institutions that help these workers learn new skills and remind them that learning is a lifelong process.

The choice is simple: innovate or die.

Abdul Hakim-Shabazz is an attorney and the editor and publisher of IndyPoltics.Org. He is also a frequent contributor to numerous Indiana media outlets. He can be reached at abdul@indypolitics.org.

Abdul Hakim-Shabazz is an attorney and the editor and publisher of IndyPoltics.Org. He is also a frequent contributor to numerous Indiana media outlets. He can be reached at abdul@indypolitics.org.