Here is a good thought experiment:
- Consider the last time you walked into a convenience store .
- Perhaps you grabbed a snack, waited in line to pay, and left.
- Did anything in the experience seem interesting? Probably not.
Now magically transport that same little convenience store to a poor shanty town in Ethiopia or India, where there’s extreme poverty.
Suddenly that same convenience store is an oasis of innovation.
It has many world changing breakthroughs: fresh water, electricity, working toilets, air conditioning, cold drinks and stockpiles of food. There are magazines to learn from and basic medicines to use. Their lives would be instantly transformed by access to such things.
The big question: How can the same technology be a breakthrough in one place, and meaningless in another?
The only answer is that the true deciding factor for whether something is innovative or not is not in the technology itself, but in the point of view of the person using it. Innovation is not a static quality, but a relative one. Innovation is a matter of perception relative to where you are and what you have.
William Gibson said “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed” but there’s more to it than that. The value of any idea or invention is variable, not static. And it varies not only through time but from person to person. It can also move backwards and forwards, as organic food is now seen as an innovation, but yet before 1950 that’s all there was in the world.