Lee Vinsel to bring philosophy of science perspective to VIZIYA Summit
The action-packed agenda for the VIZIYA Maintenance Summit & User Group continues to grow, with the addition of a powerful keynote speaker: Lee Vinsel, co-founder of The Maintainers. Vinsel is notable as a staunch critic of innovation for its own sake, as he believes that maintenance has significantly more impact on people’s daily lives than most so-called innovations.
Vinsel is an Assistant Professor of Science, Technology, and Society at Virginia Tech, and the author of Moving Violations: Automobiles, Experts, and Regulations in the United States. He is also the author of an upcoming book that looks at our society’s obsession with innovation for its own sake.
It would be inaccurate to say that Vinsel is literally against all innovation. Rather, Vinsel argues, our society tends to overvalue innovation and undervalue maintaining what has already been created.
In 2015, Vinsel and his collaborator Andy Russel founded The Maintainers, a global interdisciplinary research network that examines “maintenance, infrastructure, repair, and the myriad forms of labor and expertise that sustain our human-built world.” More than 40 scholars answered the call for papers that attempted to answer the question, “What is at stake if we move scholarship away from innovation and toward maintenance?” According to Vinsel and Russel, there was a large response from scholars across a wide variety of disciplines, all of them wanting “to talk about technology outside of innovation’s shadow.”
“The most unappreciated and undervalued forms of technological labour are also the most ordinary: those who repair and maintain technologies that already exist, that were ‘innovated’ long ago,” wrote Vinsel and Russel in Hail the Maintainers, an article published by Aeon. “This shift in emphasis involves focusing on the constant processes of entropy and un-doing … and the work we do to slow or halt them, rather than on the introduction of novel things.”
Vinsel grew up in the rust belt town of Joliet, Illinois. He believes that “growing up around abandoned steel mills and industrial decline gives one a certain sense of life with technology.”
It may have been this upbringing that instilled Vinsel with a somewhat cynical attitude towards innovation for the sake of innovation. From Hail the Maintainers: “The term is completely agnostic about whether these things and practices are good. Crack cocaine, for example, was a highly innovative product in the 1980s, which involved a great deal of entrepreneurship (called ‘dealing’) and generated lots of revenue. Innovation! Entrepreneurship! Perhaps this point is cynical, but it draws our attention to a perverse reality: contemporary discourse treats innovation as a positive value in itself, when it is not.
“Entire societies have come to talk about innovation as if it were an inherently desirable value, like love, fraternity, courage, beauty, dignity, or responsibility. Innovation-speak worships at the altar of change, but it rarely asks who benefits, to what end? A focus on maintenance provides opportunities to ask questions about what we really want out of technologies. What do we really care about? What kind of society do we want to live in? Will this help get us there?”
Vinsel is a scholar with a deep appreciation and understanding of the people that make society work. His keynote address promises to help you see your own profession in a completely new light.
The VIZIYA Maintenance Summit & User Group starts November 4, 2019, at the Hutton Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee. You can secure your place at “The Show Maintenance Deserves” at this link.