Friday, February 16, 2007
Who Will Buy?
The short, balding curmudgeonly man is acerbically attacking the Information Technology Revolution, and particularly hugely successful social networking sites like My Space. Says they're a fad, no different from the hula hoop. The sixty-something female scientist next to him questions the nature of innovation itself. And the other guy up there, who says he teaches at the London School of Economics, but sounds suspiciously German, claims that the line between science and public relations is growing ever so thin. To shore up his argument, he cites the book Bullshit, by Harry Frankfurter.
Where the fuck am I? An academic conference for nattering nabobs? No. I am at InnovAction, a massive trade show and science fair in the smallish city of Udine, Italy. This auditorium, now thinly populated, was only this morning packed to the hilt to hear a roster of politicians and university rectors drone on about economic competition and the necessity for corporate tax breaks. The hallways and exhibition arcades are awash with go-to capitalists in suits, publicists with expensive watches and (eek!) lots and lots of policemen. Yet here they are, these doubting Thomases, these sceptics, these defilers of hype and buzz and everything else that makes late capitalism so, so special!
The speakers are Brian Winston, Helga Nowotny and Martin Bauer, and each one of them is completely compelling in their own way. After their panel, I ask each of them for an interview, if only because their attitude is so endearingly bemused and critical in the middle of this sea of sales pitches. Then I walk over to the Plaza of Culture, a section of the trade show that has seemingly been leased entirely by MTV Italy. It's all futuristic cubicles and melty chairs and last years' Morcheeba album and it's so cluelessly NOT critical that all the sudden InnovAction 2007 looks like the most brightly colored lonely place on the planet.
But then again, maybe I'm just missing my wife and daughter.