Welcome to the Machine

Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.
Where have you been?
It’s alright we know where you’ve been.
You’ve been in the pipeline, filling in time,
Provided with toys and ‘Scouting for Boys’.
You bought a guitar to punish your ma,
And you didn’t like school, and you
know you’re nobody’s fool,
So welcome to the machine.

Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.
What did you dream?
It’s alright we told you what to dream.
You dreamed of a big star,
He played a mean guitar,
He always ate in the Steak Bar.
He loved to drive in his Jaguar.
So welcome to the Machine.

Remember that song? From the album Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd in an almost prophetic motion saw a generational change coming years before it actually arrived. The song was widely believed to be about the music industry and the “slurping” of fresh blood artists into the controlling depths of the recording industry, but I see something far more nefarious and relevant to today in light of the economy and business.

Photo by <a href="http://flickr.com/photos/tonivc/382150181/">ToniVC</a>
Photo by ToniVC

In fact, we are so out of our league with the concept of open innovation in a web environment that the generational, societal and economic corrections are about to kick in. The economics are already kicking in with the entire marketplace shrinking, if you look at market conditions, 50% in the last year.

I asked a VC a few days ago what he was investing in in a down economy and his answers indicate low-risk investments – that is, investments that are cash flow positive with an existing customer base. Yeah, not much risk and certainly different than the VC market we’ve been used to. If this is the mindset that is prevalent, there will be fewer innovators as less cash is available to be had. Fewer, or smaller innovations. Welcome to the Machine!

Generational corrections occur when a generational mindset changes. While my friend, Jessie Newburn is the resident generational expert in my circle of influencers, I believe she would point out that the individualistic Generation X that helped create the internet by challenging the established norms of the 1970s and 80, and who possessed the innovative prowess to create two generations of web companies is being replaced by a generation that is more likely to band together and hunker down for the nuclear winter. Hibernation, in a way. Those corrections are beginning to occur, I believe, as consolidations will likely become the name of the game. Welcome to the Machine!

Generational corrections beget societal corrections. Societal corrections merely reflect the mood of the workforce, the innovators and the money movers. When the finances dry up, the companies move into a mode of slow burn/slow growth as opposed to high burn/high growth, then business decisions are made safely. The Machine is safe. It is robotic and automated, programmed with computer-like precision. The Machine makes few (if any) mistakes, yet it is uncreative. It lacks pop and sizzle that innovators provide. When the society corrects itself away from innovation, it becomes precise and routine, but loses the juice that can be risky but productive. Welcome to the Machine!

If you’ve read this far and feel like I desire the demise of innovation, you have read me wrong. I do not. However, there are corrections happening that could last a long time (far beyond the 18 months experts think the economy will take to come back). It is a generational impact that could delay a proverbial Web 3.0 for 10 years or more.

With the trends of the incoming Presidential administration, my feeling is that the next generation of innovation could occur within the public sector itself, but won’t have the exposure or sexiness of that which was considered “hot innovation” in the last 20 years. Less private sector bling. More public sector growth.

What are your thoughts?

Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.