Pekka Himanen wants to make Finland the Promised Land of Knowledge Workers.
Himanen is a Finnish philosopher who, in his own words, is 'one of the internationally best-known researchers of the information age'. His latest research paper Suomalainen Unelma ('The Finnish Dream') is a proposal for a future information society strategy for Finland, prepared for the Finnish Parliament’s Committee for the Future.
Himanen (together with Richard Florida) supports the view that ‘world is spiky’, meaning that the wealth and power will always be concentrated in the hands of a small exclusive elite. Finland is a small country so competing in this global ‘winner takes it all’ game is tough. Himanen proposes that massive investments in innovation can give Finland the position of ‘absolute global leadership’ in various areas of business, science and culture.
In his research paper, Himanen is using the term 'innovation' in a rather confusing way, for example stating that innovation is only taking place close to the centres of financial power. This is of course wrong - innovation is taking place everyday all around the world, as documented by for example Worldchanging.org. What Himanen is trying to say is that there are only very few global actors who have the economic power and skills to turn an innovation into a global cash cow for investors.
FROM ATHENS TO SILICON VALLEY
Himanen introduces Ancient Athens as an example of an early hub of innovation. This was the place where Socrates, Platon and Aristoteles developed the works that are today extremely valuable for the whole Western culture. This creativity was brough out by the flourishing agonistic culture (from Greek agon, a contest) in which competition was highly appreciated. This activity was only available for a small group of men and was enabled by various forms of slavery and oppression of women's rights (although this minor detail is ignored by Himanen in his report).
In Himanen’s view, a contemporary benchmark for Finland today is Silicon Valley, a small piece of land in Western coast of United States, where some of the world's most powerful technology and capital investment companies are located today. Silicon Valley is an expanded version of the Ancient Agora of Athens, a creative hub enabled by slavery and oppression of people on a global scale (known today as the 'market economy' or 'free trade').
People working in Silicon Valley can focus on their creativity and do their best to develop globally dominant information tools, following the logic of market economy. Silicon Valley is a safe little nest to do this, a culture focused on work which enables people to ignore the problems of the rest of this planet. Companies are supporting this by creating little reality bubbles where workers can ignore the physical realities of the rest of the planet and can just focus on information processing and feeling good. A good example of this kind of company culture is Google (see the Mouse Labour article on Sergey Brin & Larry Page).
Pekka Himanen has analyzed this in his book Hacker Ethic, where Himanen defines successful information labourers as people who treat their work as a 'passion' or 'hobby' and are mainly motivated by peer recognition. The only thing that matters is that you are getting positive feedback from your friends and colleagues, and that you have enough money for material well-being. Problems in some far away countries don’t really matter.
THE CULTURE OF THE NEW CAPITALISM
Richard Sennett has analyzed the culture of contemporary knowledge workers in his book The Culture of the New Capitalism. Based on his interviews with Silicon Valley engineers, Sennett says that the new culture of capitalism requires people who are always ready to let go of everything, move on to another life/company, train themselves another set of new skills.
'A self oriented in the short term, focused on potential ability, willing to abandon part experience is - to put a kind face on the matter - an unusual sort of human being. Most people are not like this; they need a sustaining life narrative, they take in pride in being good as something specific, and they value the experiences they've lived through. The cultural ideal required in new institutions thus damages many of the people who inhabit them.'
FINNISH INNOVATION MINISTRY
As a future solution for Finland, Himanen is proposing that a new 'Innovation Ministry' should be established within the Finnish Parliament, to coordinate the process of gaining absolute global leadership in various economical areas, of turning Finland into another Silicon Valley. In his interview in Helsingin Sanomat (the mostly widely read Finnish newspaper), Pekka Himanen gives an outline of what he would do if he would be chosen at the first Innovation Minister of Finland.