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September 23, 2008

Innovations can come from anywhere

ESPOO, Finland – This week will be a lot about innovation in the mobile world (James and I are at The Way We Live Next, Nokia Research Center’s geek-fest for journalists of all stripes).

But I am always thrilled by human ingenuity. I think we, as a species, MUST innovate. It’s that juvenile mammal that never grows up, always monkeying around, seeking to find a solution to a pesky problem. We couldn’t stop innovating if we tried.

I can haz txt

Part of watching innovations spread is the sense of wonderment of early use. The great and late Arthur C Clarke used to say that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. And in some ways it seems that way in this New York Times article about texting.

Okay, so the article is really about the dangers of texting, pointing to a terrible accident where a commuter train collided with a freight train while the operator was on his mobile. But, I remember talking in the US about the dangers of inappropriate cell phone use almost 10 years ago. Is this still news?

Owning a cell phone is not an excuse to skip good judgement.

(Also, look for a gratuitous phone reference in the article.)

Nokia stirs things up

We mentioned earlier the elite group of developers chosen under the Forum Nokia Innovation Series. But just last week, Stuff Magazine awarded Nokia with the Brand of the Year at the Stuff Gadget Awards. Not bad. And, also last week, Forum Nokia kicked off, with none other than the amazing inventor, Dean Kamen, the ‘Calling All Innovators‘ contest.

Many companies do such contests to stir things up and help shepherd innovation along. But sometimes folks do it on their own, coming from the heart and with deep passion. Chris, from Symbian Freak, wrote an open letter to a Nokia exec, laying out his frustrations, desires, and understanding of where Nseries is and is going [via]. To top it off, Chris also offered a concept he’s calling the NX-T multimedia computer.

Nokia is working hard to connect to talent like this through programs like Nokia Pilots (which supposedly started taking registrations last week – though I can’t find the link, sorry). And, co-creation is the future of product development (and even for error message development!)

Taking a Swype at a new mouse trap

What with billions of text messages flying around the world (even if the NYT is clueless), there doesn’t seem to be any problem with writing a text message. But, recently, a cool new tool has popped up, called Swype, that, uh, swept away the crowd at the TechCrunch 50 (there’s a video of it in action, too).

I’m just not sure if this is really an improvement over current ways. Let’s see. Might be useful for longer writing.

And then there’s Africa and India

Two guys I want to catch up with at the Way We Live Next event are Jan Blom and Jussi Impio, who are doing cool stuff in India and Kenya, respectively. I’ve always had a particular fascination with emerging markets (hence the 1100 Club) and know how creative folks there can be within so many constraints.

Indeed, last week, we had a great discussion here at work about the Legatum Fortune Technology Prize for businesses that apply technologies to improve the quality of life for individuals and communities in the developing world.

And with that in mind, I found out [via experientia] that the PICNIC conference this week (which I had to skip) will have a whole day devoted to Africa, mobile tools, and media. And the great Ethan Zuckerman will be there (and I see Nokia’s Younghee Jung, will be, too!).

I’m looking for more stories from these emerging markets. In the mean time, I’ll just have to get my fix from Jan and Jussi.

Parting shot, via Tim O’Reilly

Despite all the exuberance I show above, it’s sobering to think how the US is slowly sinking into a financial black hole. At his keynote speech last week at his Web 2.0 conference, Tim gave a tough wake-up call to the tech world. He suggests that the pinnacle from which the US is now falling is based on little value, as exemplified by an iPhone beer-drinking simulation and Facebook’s SuperPoke sheep-throwing app.

He calls for folks to ask themselves if they are working on the right thing. Tim has political relevance and environmental and social responsibility in mind. Do you?

I have a feeling that his Web 2.0 Summit, where I am hoping to go to in November, might just have this at the core of the discussion.

Image from merliniski