Favorite MLK quote on tech innovation

On days like this when someone famous is honored, I try to dig up something they wrote to compare what I think I know about that person and why they’re famous, with what they actually did and said. It’s always enlightening, but sometimes I find unexpected gems like this:

(yes it’s 3 long paragraphs, but I bet you $50 it’s the best writing you’ll read today).

Modern man has brought this whole world to an awe-inspiring threshold of the future. He has reached new and astonishing peaks of scientific success. He has produced machines that think and instruments that peer into the unfathomable ranges of interstellar space. He has built gigantic bridges to span the seas and gargantuan buildings to kiss the skies. His airplanes and spaceships have dwarfed distance, placed time in chains, and carved highways through the stratosphere. This is a dazzling picture of modern man’s scientific and technological progress.

Yet, in spite of these spectacular strides in science and technology, and still unlimited ones to come, something basic is missing. There is a sort of poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.

Every man lives in two realms, the internal and the external. The internal is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, morals, and religion. The external is that complex of devices, techniques, mechanisms, and instrumentalities by means of which we live. Our problem today is that we have allowed the internal to become lost in the external. We have allowed the means by which we live to outdistance the ends for which we live. So much of modern life can be summarized in that arresting dictum of the poet Thoreau: “Improved means to an unimproved end.” This is the serious predicament, the deep and haunting problem confronting modern man. If we are to survive today, our moral and spiritual “lag” must be eliminated. Enlarged material powers spell enlarged peril if there is not proportionate growth of the soul. When the “without” of man’s nature subjugates the “within,” dark storm clouds begin to form in the world.

If we believe this, then why is so little of what we talk about when we use the word innovation directed at helping people make, in MLKs terms, internal progress?


(hat tip to truehoop)

13 Responses to “Favorite MLK quote on tech innovation”

  1. Oran

    Nice quote. Looks like you made a copy-and-paste error though: “He has built gigantic bridges to span the seas andMartin Luther King, Jr. gargantuan buildings to kiss the skies.”

  2. Jason

    It’s to this internal renewal that the software we create strives to address. Maybe there’s some hope for tech after all. (logos.com) Here’s to you MLK!

  3. Nishith

    True Words Undoubtedly.
    It would be interesting, though, to discuss as to how this internal progress we talk about may aid innovation. In my view, what MLK is pointing towards is the looking to within vis a vis to without. And this looking within process is a journey to know what each of us really are but as usual its an individual process. With each of us having to find, make and hopefully follow our own paths towards IRONICALLY ourselves. It will allow us to deal with our own insecurities, with our fears, allow us to stand by our beliefs and our values under times of duress. It will make us more able and maybe we will determine our purpose too during the process.
    But whether innovation is aided in this process ummmm an interesting thought !!!!

  4. Kaley

    Posts like this brgthien up my day. Thanks for taking the time.

  5. Joe McCarthy

    Glad I didn’t take the bet. As relevant today as it was in 2008 (or in 1964).

    Ironically, however, in light of SOPA and PIPA (and HR 3699, the Research Works Act), I was listening to an On The Media segment last night on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Public Imagination, that pointed out the irony – other descriptions also come to mind – of King Family’s tireless effort to enforce intellectual property barriers to accessing many of his works. King may have preached about freedom, but his family is dedicated to limiting freedom … even though King himself borrowed liberally from other sources throughout his career as a preacher.

    All this does not diminish my admiration for MLK, and the inspiration his words and deeds continue to hold for me, and I suppose it is not out of alignment with his concern about “technological abundance” not being met with spiritual growth … though I would not have imagined he would support limiting technological abundance as part of a program to equalize the technological and spiritual realms.

  6. Anja stas

    Maybe because internal progress doesn’t immediately translate into outward rewards and our Western society and especially business is very much focused on immediate and outward rewards. Inward growth is necessary for true transformation but is a slow and tough process. Not for cissies! And maybe there aren’t enough successtories to exemplify this path. After all, it’s a whole new ball game and we can no longer copy past models into the future. It will be the true measure of mankind, the true measure of our soul to succeed.

  7. Anne McCarthy

    This in particular stands out to me, “Our problem today is that we have allowed the internal to become lost in the external.” As a lover of quotes, I appreciate that you do this :)



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