New Is Never Neutral

I used to love browsing in bookstores. Sadly, many have gone out of business. Amazon is to blame. Technology can be so dehumanizing!

I used to get frustrated when I couldn't find out-of-print books about architecture and furniture design, two of my hobbies. Both Amazon and eBay have helped solve that frustration. Technology can be so satisfying and empowering!

Thirty years ago, Georgia Institute of Technology Professor Melvin Kranzberg was a student of innovation. He developed six "laws" of technology that the Wall Street Journal recently revisited in an interesting article. Having had a ringside seat at some of the technology innovations in the decades since Professor Kranzberg wrote those laws, to me they offer some important context to what we're trying to do here at Inxeption. To put it simply: Think differently about technology.

Kranzberg's first law: "Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral." At first glance, that's a little confusing. Then what is it? The answer is: any significant innovation is going to have an impact, and it can simultaneously be a threat to some and a windfall to others. A smartphone that keeps you from getting lost on any given day is outstanding; a smartphone that your child hides behind instead of talking to you is a curse. Same smartphone. In business, the Internet and a software-enabled transition from brick and mortar retailing to e-commerce has been very good for some companies (Amazon) and disastrous for others (JC Penney).

It's clear Kranzberg's observation is a challenging dynamic for business: The winners will be those companies who see new technologies as a potential springboard for the next phase in the overall evolution of business, and who position themselves to take advantage of that.

At Inxeption we feel the next important innovation phase is going to move out of the retail consumer space and into the design and production of goods in a new and more transparent way. Inxeption and those companies who embrace connecting manufacturers and their customers are going to help drive a new leaner, more effective, domestic manufacturing sector in the United Sates. Customers are going to love it. Companies who rely on brokers and other intermediaries are going to hate it.

Another Kranzberg law that bears repeating is that "Technology is a very human activity." That contradicts a popular wisdom that technology is turning us into insulated, walled-off creatures who seek electronic "likes" on social media rather than human interaction. That may be one of those non-neutral impacts in certain situations, but I think the broader point is that people are using technology to find and experience human, emotional, satisfying solutions and connections. If they happen to connect with others on Facebook or by texting their teens instead of sitting down with them for a heart to heart around the kitchen table, that does not make their fundamental activity or desire to connect less "human." It's a new channel, a new form of expression and connection. People once thought telephones were de-humanizing, too.

At Inxeption, we're using technology to do something very human: Connect people who need things with people who make and sell things. But not just connect them through an online ordering process, connect them in a personal and fundamental way. Help the customer design and influence the product they want. Help the manufacturer create products that customers love and want to invest time and energy in shaping and improving for their benefit — and in the process improve the products for all customers, who then develop a community of stakeholders.

More deeply, I believe our platform is going to create a new breed of companies that receive not just sales and orders but who inspire emotions like love, delight, respect, loyalty, and trust from their customers. The impact is going to be extremely positive for customers and manufacturers. It's going to be potentially lethal for intermediaries. It's not going to be neutral.

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