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2006 GTI Scholars
May 30 Travel Journal Entry 
28th-Jul-2006 09:39 pm
glowpig
On Monday, we saw where power is made and where that power is used--the nuclear power plant and Delta Electronics.

There is a concerted effort in Taiwan to produce innovative technology, to anticipate needs and change according to them. The huge campuses ensure a homogeneous corporate culture, as no one needs to leave. ITRI has housing, cafes, a post office, a gym, a pool, and the world's largest cafeteria. Every moment of an employee's time is, so to speak, company time. We were told that the cafes are there to give employees a casual, relaxed place out of the office to discuss projects. If you are always at work--even when you are going to the gym or posting a letter--do you have any real private life?

I could not help thinking of Margaret Atwood's novel Oryx and Crake. In that book, there were walled towns, like gated communities, where everyone was an employee (or a family member of an employee) of a single company. No outsiders, no one whose goals are not the goals of the company. What would become of someone like me there? The protagonist of Oryx and Crake was stuck in a marketing position, writing ads, while those with scientific know-how benefited most from this new world model. The type of creativity he possessed had no place in it.

Successful science and technology development require as much creativity as any artistic endeavor, though--and more innovation because there are more obstacles to overcome. We writers can perhaps become complacent, telling stories in the same form stories have taken for two centuries. We do not have an impetus for change because the economy does not depend on us changing; we are not concerned about competition from overseas writers who will do exactly what we do and more cheaply. No, our innovation depends on the visionaries who do something new for no other reason but the joy of it--or because they do not know any better.

But technology and art are different in what they mean to those who create them. Technology has always been concerned with what is new, with change, with making what people do easier or different. But in art we have tradition, and we value it. Our goal as storytellers has always been the same--to show the minds and lives of our characters, to say something about all of us through that. "Look," we say, when we read Gilgamesh, when we read Homer, when we read Shakespeare or Tolstoy or Joyce or Steinbeck--"Look how we remain the same, in our fears and aspirations even while all the technological and sociological details, the vehicles we ride in, our means and modes of communication, the organization of our societies, change."

Art is here to remind us of our constancy, our nature. Innovation in art comes when some genius envisions a new way of showing this.
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