Remember that old cartoon “Inspector Gadget”

Our love for gadgets and the vicious cycle of humanity

(A cynical look in the mirror)

Burbank, California; January 10, 2002; Joan Marques, MBA, Doctoral Student



Remember that old cartoon “Inspector Gadget”? About the guy who was unaware of everything around him but still got the job done thanks to his niece Penny, her dog Brain, and his many gadgets installed from head to toe? Well, there’s a significant chance that soon we’ll all look like him. I just read in the Daily News, Burbank & Glendale Edition (Jan. 10, 2002), that the number of tiny gadgets is becoming almost unlimited, as was recently displayed in a Las Vegas International Consumer Electronics Show. The tinier they become, the better. Or maybe it’s the other way around: the better they become, the tinier.


It’s amazing, if we care to take a step back, to see what our affluent society has been focusing on lately: a cellular phone with photo caller identification, a TeleZapper to keep those annoying telemarketers away, wristwatches with personal locators to find lost children, and a car DVD player that responds to voice commands, to just name a few. It’s almost unthinkable to think of the unthinkable, because that simply doesn’t exist anymore. Everything seems to first become possible, then affordable, then obsolete because there’s yet another device that transfers the next dream into reality.


This all brings yet another song to my mind, called “Einstein in Reverse.” You may not know it, because it wasn’t a global hit. But the essence of the song is that we manage to create everything: houses to withstand hurricanes, ships to sail through storms, unbreakable lamps, but…. We haven’t managed to find the mold yet to establish global peace. And now, more than ever, it seems to be that way again. While part of humanity is looking for yet another device to make life yet a little bit more comfortable, another part is looking for the empty cardboard boxes in which those devices were shipped to sleep in for the night…. While one mother buys a locator-wristwatch for her son in case he gets lost when they go shopping in one of our gigantic Shopping Malls, another mother is feeling the wrist of her son to see if he still has a pulse…

Sounds over-dramatized? Maybe. Makes us feel bad about our abundance? Not deliberately. Can we do something about it? Hard to answer that one! There are many ways in which the haves in the world are trying to support the have-nots, but there are just as many ways in which they maintain the status quo. It’s all about the way we, human beings are constructed and, as a consequence to that, the way we construct our global management.


In fact you can see the same story repeating itself over and over again: from the moment the Europeans started enslaving the native Americans (so-called “Indians”) after blinding them with gadgets from the modern world, which caused them to first kill off themselves, and later to be killed off further by the new “masters.” And believe it or not, as soon as our market is saturated from these new devices, they will be shipped to our economically weaker brothers in other parts of the world again, blinding them in turn, and increasing the profits for the “masters” on the other side at the same time: the everlasting vicious cycle.


Don’t think that I’m not interested in new developments. I wouldn’t be human if I were not. This little overview of history is just meant to underscore that it works every time: humans just love new thingamajigs. Makes you wonder how far we really evolved from being apes…