icm2re logo. icm2:re (I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything) is an  ongoing web column  by Brunella Longo

This column deals with some aspects of change management processes experienced almost in any industry impacted by the digital revolution: how to select, create, gather, manage, interpret, share data and information either because of internal and usually incremental scope - such learning, educational and re-engineering processes - or because of external forces, like mergers and acquisitions, restructuring goals, new regulations or disruptive technologies.

The title - I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything - is a tribute to authors and scientists from different disciplinary fields that have illuminated my understanding of intentional change and decision making processes during the last thirty years, explaining how we think - or how we think about the way we think. The logo is a bit of a divertissement, from the latin divertere that means turn in separate ways.

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The valley of deletion

About innovation policies and cancel culture

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2021). The valley of deletion. About innovation policies and cancel culture. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Print)], 10.8 (August). http://www.icm2re.com/2021-8.html

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2021). The valley of deletion. About innovation policies and cancel culture. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Online)], 10.8 (August). http://www.icm2re.com/2021-8.html

London, 22 November 2021 - I have recently reviewed some old texts of mine that, deleted here and there and difficult to recover from back-ups, risked to fade into oblivion if I had not had a fixation with cultural preservation. I have come across other authors' productions that may encounter similar destiny in the next future and I have also noticed claims from professionals in any sectors complaining about the "cancel culture".

A wonderful recent film (Qui rido io, by the Italian film director Mario Martone) reminded me that while misrepresentation is indeed an extraordinary tool for parodies and dramaturgic masterpieces, it can also be the first step for digital contents to fall into the rabbit hole of deletion strategies: these are subtle, silent weapons of digital destruction - that in an information rich, technological world causes disappearance and even death, and should be treated as unacceptable, as cyberstalking or cyberbullying are.

The theme is surely on the rise and social psychologists consider it as the extreme manifestation of ideological polarisation - that is everywhere. A March 2021 draft addition into the Oxford English Dictionary defines the term "cancel culture" as "the action or practice of publicly boycotting, ostracizing, or withdrawing support from a person, institution, etc., thought to be promoting culturally unacceptable ideas". From what I have considered, the problem exists even beyond this public discourse surface and it affects deeper layers of cultural, scientific and technical productions.

Who works in research and development is familiar with another expression, the old concept of the valley of death. This is a dramatic, conventional stage in which an innovation is seen as not yet ready for production, commercialisation or endorsement by markets and therefore will not be sustained further by its funders or inventors within controlled processes.

Thousands of talented and even patented ideas and prototypes are abandoned in the valley of death each year all over the world because of this so called "linear" model of innovation, particularly popular in the academic sector and therefore directly impacting the creativity and future of many young people (not to mention the potential of older generations, that simply cannot access and contribute to the system).

Truth is that a very small percentage of innovative solutions and products come to the consumer through such linear journey nowadays. That is, in my opinion, overarching good.

Over the last century the innovation ecosystem has become much more complex and plural than its representation within the circles and processes of Universities: it includes financial stakeholders, the media and social media and, of course, governments and non governmental organisations. Quite chaotic and inefficient at times, such ecosystems have allowed greater diversity of people to access capital and social networks and to create new audiences and markets.

A more immaterial and digital economy has led innovators and society at large to find diversified and creative routes to push forward new ideas and make them commercially viable, for instance through crowdfunding or through communities' projects and social enterprises.

However, if it seems evident that the need of upfront investment is not urgently needed anymore for innovations to flourish like in the old pre-digital, manufacturing economy, it is also true that a new type of "valley of death" exists, impacting potentially everybody who uses digital tools and contents to promote their creations.

The new valley of death is a valley of deletion: it consists in the sudden unavailability of digital documents or the equivalent sudden unavailability of attention from experts, peers and colleagues and consumers.

These risks of sudden disappearance are particularly high for "one person one product" innovators and for small research-based and creative businesses, as well as for writers and independent authors, actors, journalists, scientists, engineers - you name it.

What seems to me particularly concerning is a general lack of awareness of this dimension of the digital economy among many policy makers. Researchers and young people in general often tend to see the problem but from an upside down point of view, like we all lived in a constant Dragon's Den competition and we just need to find the right sponsor at the right time: among creators there is, in truth, and very often, an unrealistic expectation of success or intellectual property value for concepts and prototypes that surely do not deserve to waste resources and attention or would need, to say the least, re-design, re-engineering and rebuilding efforts so that they can become viable.

But social and economic change happens in our age exactly through sparks and conversations, through viral adoption of ideas, through instant virtual gathering of crowds and constant transformation of ideas, contents, technological components. None of these can happen if your words, images, names and concepts are deleted or hidden to their intended audiences.

When innovators, researchers, authors are targeted with silence, indifference, misrepresentation and deletion strategies and when they are prevented from having an audience, when they do not have an environment in which they can discuss and test their ideas safely, when their time and energy are diverted, it is inevitable that their potential is affected: they become dices thrown down in the valley of deletion.

Defamation of character and isolation strategies have become normalised within the internet. These abhorrent tactics have been known in politics for long and there is nothing really new in the ways in which they have colonised social media. But for the fact there is not yet a developed, counterbalancing culture people could rely on. The law, and the society at large, are not ready yet to tackle the full array of problems created by cyber-harassment and cyber-stalking. This states of affairs leaves ordinary people with a constant sense of suffering from impostors' syndrome if they are just innovators that want to pursue their ideas against the backdrop of a general lack of acceptance and support. Great hostility and resistance to change has always been associated with troubled innovators: extraordinary inventions and discoveries have an history of delays and masquerades. But deletion strategies within social media and circles of peers can easily go undetected for years without traces.

Information avoidance and the valley of deletion may cause to future generations enormous problems on a massive scale, particularly in sectors of research like climate change and medicine.

I hope that my little and still slow endeavours in self-publishing, with icm2re and with other monographic publications, have been making a contribution for better understanding these phenomena and encourage others to research and to teach in many fields of the data and information sciences diamond. People should talk, write and work without fear of being ahead of times, censored or rejected along the way.