Green Screen Review: How America Gave Up on Change

Harvard Business Review interviewed Tyler Cowen about his latest book, on how America has given up on change.

“In his last book, economist Tyler Cowen wrote about how machine intelligence could change the world. In his new book, The Complacent Class, he writes about the forces that prevent change from happening. In particular, he argues that America has become more averse to change in recent decades and that this has transformed our work, our leisure, and our neighborhoods.”   More HERE.

As I read through the Cowen’s interview, I was resistant to the idea that I was adverse to change, being an early adopter of technology for my age group. Some of my favorite reading is about complexity, tomorrow’s technology, the historical impact of technology and social change and of course climate change. Then on reflection, I realized that we had lived in a community that fights change at every flex point where any change is proposed.

In Nevada County there are tribes which fought the introduction of corporate stores, “big box” stores, the widening of SR-49, Loma Rica Ranch Village, parking structures in downtown Grass Valley, the development of the old sawmill site on the southern edge of Grass Valley, to illustrate a few of the battles against change.

Reviewing the fierce fights to prevent a change in Western Nevada County, I realized that Tyler Cowen was a better social observer than I was willing to admit. I have been working on a book project, off and on, for many years on the creativity that generated the Western Nevada County technology cluster, sparked by the arrival of Charles Litton in the 1950s. Historically, Nevada County has been a very creative place, with an extensive list of accomplishments, from Pelton wheel power plants to birth of the cartridge gaming industry starting with the Atari 2600, and of course, Grass Valley Groups video switching and editing innovations, to mention a few.

In the 1990s and 2000s, the Economic Resource Council struggled to stimulate local creativity, to find another Grass Valley Group, to expand the technology clusters that was the envy of communities throughout the Sierra. Some cities are spending millions to develop their version of the Western Nevada County technology cluster and failing. The Green Screen Institute is the latest Economic Resource Council effort to jump start a new technology cluster to capture the rising wind of Virtual and Augmented Reality.

Initially, I resisted VR, unable to come to grips with the idea that millions of people would be stumbling around with their eyes covered with a headset that removed them from the real world, to place them in a virtual world. My resistance to change was preventing me from seeing the potential of mixed virtual reality, the enhancement of our real world with information transmission devices described in The Fourth Transformations by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel, subtitled How Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence Change Everything.

“The lenses of smart glasses will look a lot like simple eyeglasses. People who have optical prescriptions will be able to get them with MR capability. These will contain tiny nano-technological screens that will appear as 90-inch TV screens six feet in front of you, creating an image density eight times greater than HDTV.”

OK, I now want a pair of the AR eyeglass described by Scoble and Isreal. I am ready for some augmented reality. The question is, does Western Nevada County want those augmented reality glasses? Is Tyler Cowen right, does the resistance to change inhibiting the development of new things, new processes, and new tools for living a more productive life? Are local citizens fighting change inhibiting the creativity of our current generation of VR and AR inventors and builders?

Your thoughts? Is Nevada County resistance to change damaging economic development initiatives?

About Russ Steele

Freelance writer and climate change blogger. Russ spent twenty years in the Air Force as a navigator specializing in electronics warfare and digital systems. After his service he was employed for sixteen years as concept developer for TRW, an aerospace and automotive company, and then was CEO of a non-profit Internet provider for 18 months. Russ's articles have appeared in Comstock's Business, Capitol Journal, Trailer Life, Monitoring Times, and Idaho Magazine.
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3 Responses to Green Screen Review: How America Gave Up on Change

  1. stevefrisch says:

    Here is a good article from Tech Crunch on the competition in the AR/VR world…both between companies and for the “eyes” of the consumer:

    I really hope the investment in completion for a piece of the AR/VR market works for western Nevada County…but the competition is very, very, stiff. The reality is “winning” in the AR/VR market with players who are giants like Google, Sony, and Samsung, and securing a piece for Nevada County, is kind of a Hail Mary pass. If it connects….great, you win the game. Low probability high yield.

    In the mean time there are more than 6,000 businesses in Nevada County and many of them could use some help–with business and financial planning, with product research, marketing strategies, employment law, insurance and pooled benefit planning, new business development and gaining access to new markets and finally with accessing capital, the life blood of business expansion and job growth– investments here are high probability but low yield.

    I am much more concerned about the large investment in advancing AR/VR our Nevada County government has made and the questions about who and what businesses this investment is serving.

    I would posit that Nevada County’s limited financial resources should be used on business development strategies that 1) have a proven track record of success, and 2) are available to the broadest set of business entities possible.

    I admit I have a little bit of a dog in this fight…Sierra Business Council manages the Sierra Small Business Development Center. When we took that SBDC over 21/2 years ago its track record was spotty at best–it was managed out of Sacramento and the implementers didn’t have snow tires–but our track record over the last two years has been pretty good.

    In 2015 the Sierra SBDC served 148 small business clients in Nevada County, provided more than 800 counseling hours, supported 16 new business starts, and created or directly retain 81 jobs. In 2015 the SBDC also directly leveraged more than $9 million in new capital invested in Nevada County. That is what we do ‘on the books.’ Just as important as the basic services, when we identify are potentially high performing company we dig in, provide dozens of hours of specialized services and work with them to be ‘capital ready.”

    Results for 2016 are not fully tabulated yet, but we know they not only exceeded 2015 by about 20% and that jobs created/retained are over 100, but that the capital infusion numbers almost doubled.

    These services are available to EVERY Nevada County business.

    Yet Nevada County is not supporting the SBDC. There is a $600,000 five year contract to support the Nevada County ERC (which is frankly a modest investment in economic development as it is)…but not a dime for the SBDC. We manage the SBDC for a 7 county region on roughly $200,000 a year.

    If I have learned one thing about rural economic development strategies over the last 20 years it is that slow and steady, persistence and teamwork, wins the game. The game is won on the line not with the Hail Mary.

    There are so many things we could be doing in Nevada County to lift and create new opportunities for business. 1) strengthen existing businesses, they are already here and they are our neighbors who employ the people 2) help them plan for expansion of markets, 3) work directly with them to access capital from ‘outside’ private and public sources, 4) create and expand local capital pools that can be used to target high performing businesses, leverage outside capital, and boost them to the next level, 5) identify and foster start-ups, 6) support the broadband infrastructure, availability of housing and access to educational programs necessary for new business expansion

    Everyone wants to make this complicated…they go for the shiny object…the hail Mary…but really it’s quite simple– good business plan, access to capital, expand markets, hire people.

    With all due respect, the fiercest fight against aversion to change that needs to be won is the one inside the people who think we can pick and choose winners, and be heroes, that we can connect with the hail Mary…when the reality is the next big thing won’t be the thing you thought its would be, it will sneak up on you, it will emerge from giving 6,000 businesses the chance.


  2. Russ says:

    I share your concerns. It just did not seem like a good fit for the community. Charles Litton resigned from the Planning Commission when he could not get the Commission to adopt scientific measures for noise and other parameters of a quality community. He wrote to the head of AT&T Bell Labs asking for recommendations on how to accurately measure noise and to quantify it in a regulation. There were other examples of the need for scientific measurements, not just judgments by the commissioners, in a letter he wrote to the head of the Commission, but I do not recall them and my book of copied Litton letter is still in a box somewhere after our move. Litton was a doer, he bought a helicopter and learned to fly it. Then he created landing pads in the Sierra, where he could land the chopper bring in firefighter and equipment or pick up the sick or injured and take them to the pad he built at the hospital. When other refused to do what needed to be done, he did it for the community using his own resources.


  3. jeffpelline says:

    To be sure, “resistant to change” is a big deal around here, including the examples you cited and others. The views are often provincial. I’ve come to realize that Charlie Litton was the exception, not the rule, around here. There is no doubt augmented reality (more than virtual reality) will be big — eventually. But the real question is whether this particular technology is a good “fit” for our community in terms of job creation and economic development. I have a lot of experience in Silicon Valley, including longtime contacts with tech companies and VCs, and I remain skeptical about what makes our community unique to “incubate” AR and VR, as it did for video tech. And then there’s the issue of execution, not just the vision. Hoping for the best, however. Our community has fallen behind in the economic recovery, that’s for sure. And the population is aging and declining. We’ve got some very big challenges.


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