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Helga Nowotny – Insatiable Curiosity

“An innovative idea is recognizable by the fact that it surprises. The greater the surprise, the more innovative the idea. But innovations do not consist solely of ideas, even if ideas are where they start from. Innovations are tied to the respective context.They consist in the recognition and implementation of new possibilities that reach beyond the tested or accustomed routine. They are defined by their success, which consists in opening up new spaces for activity, whether in connection with technological products, new markets, organizational adjustments, or other social arrangements. The surprise they can trigger no longer comes from the idea but from the effect they can have on life and work, on accustomed ways of seeing and thinking, on feelings and seemingly deadlocked arrangements and power structures. Surprising is also the speed with which an innovative idea can turn into an innovation and the speed with which an innovation can spread and change an existing situation. Innovations blur the boundaries between the present and the future. In many areas, the dramatic changes have pushed open the door to the present for new demands and possibilities that can be expected from the future. Like a breaking wave, the new communication and information technologies pour into everyday working life, where they destroy jobs or force the outsourcing of skills. The speed that has come with electronic data transfer has also increased the pulse rate of the present. To live for tomorrow means already living partly in tomorrow. One seeks to make oneself fit for the next techno- ecological niche that humankind has constructed with the aid of its science and technology.

Of course, there is also the countermovement. Politics and social movements do not mobilize so much by means of designs for a utopian future as by recourse to the historical legacy, fundamental values, and religious ideas. The closer the future seems to approach the present, the stronger the past’s power of attraction proves to be. Lieux des mémoires (sites of memory) are set up, historical identities are invoked, biographies and remembrances boom. Historians report that today their discipline not only explores dimensions of reality that were inaccessible to earlier historians but also can more comprehensively perceive and judge the long-term effects of, for example, the nineteenth century than it could in the past.64 The gaze backward into the past is extending, not least also because of the scientific technological instruments available today. Ice core samples in the Antarctic or Greenland permit conclusions about the long-term shift in the climate, and a new generation of satellites in space permits a glimpse all the way back to the beginnings of the universe.

Nonetheless, the increased sensitivity to the changes in historiography and the reconstructions of human life in the past as it may have developed through periods of climate change in prehistoric times still do not permit us to deduce any convincing perspectives on the future. The ideas of the future today have become more fluid, elusive, and volatile. Where the predictions of the natural sciences find support in more or less secured data and models, in many areas we must still reckon with unpredictable human behavior. Whereas past images of the future had a common if also utopian site, today there are hardly any overarching utopian models. The future as a collectively yearned-for space, occupied by wishes and expectations, must fail due to the plethora of what seems scientifically-technologically feasible— never mind what parts of the latter are desirable. Have we lost our future because it already claims us too much in the present?”


Helga Novotny
Insatiable Curiosity – Innovation in a Fragile Future


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