Innovation’s a Curse But Maintenance is Life

What Do we Collectively Value?

What types of jobs are most valued in our society? Another way of asking this question is who is being paid more and why? We love the CEO but resent the barista. Or we praise the administrator and forget the janitor. Tish Harrison Warren has this quote my former boss Bill used to say to me “Everybody wants to start a revolution but no one wants to take the trash out.” We undermine certain forms of work because we believe they’re less valuable. Well, we’re wrong.

Everybody wants to start a revolution but no one wants to take the trash out.

Tish Harrison Warren

If you are an avid social media user, you’ve probably heard about what Elon Musk has been doing to Twitter. The stories are wild—companies’ stock prices plummeting, celebrities asking Elon Musk for help–it’s an insane time to be a Twitter user.

Most notably, after the layoffs of many hardworking people at Twitter, there are now concerns being brought up about privacy and EU regulations that Twitter is no longer abiding by. Because Musk fired a good chunk of Twitter’s workforce, many of the people who worked to uphold Twitter’s integrity departed, and now Twitter is a ship that is slowly sinking.

Related Post: The Opposite of the Aesthetic Life: Acceptance

The Cost of Innovation

We are a society that values innovation above maintenance. Instead of valuing service jobs because they help keep society going, we redirect our attention and our money to the innovators. Innovation is important but in order for an innovation to be sustained, it needs to be maintained. People need to do the hard work of making sure there are systems in place to keep everything running.

Our infrastructure. Our bridges, water systems, our sewage systems—what if they all failed? Many people would die. Wouldn’t be able to get to where they need to go. People would get sick. Our cities would be unreachable and polluted. And yet, we never think about those things. Unless something has gone horribly wrong. The Innovation Delusion makes the case that the U.S. has got to do more maintenance of our infrastructure before something goes horribly wrong. Our budgets are shifted towards innovation instead of maintenance. We cannot have more until we continue to count the cost of what we actually have.

You know what’s really awful? Planned obsolescence. It’s a crime that a certain phone company is so darn guilty of. Appliances like your refrigerator and your washing machine have actually gotten worse over the years instead of better. Despite our technological advances, our appliances break down more. Why? Because companies value profit over a good product.

While I abhor planned obsolescence, what makes things worse is that it can actually be a crime to try and get your products fixed at a repair shop. Due to the warranty, you might actually be committing a crime trying to maintain something. And if you go to the company you bought it from to get it fixed, they can price it so high that it would make better sense to get a new one. Which is horrible for those who can’t afford it. Horrible for the waste our environment is paying the price for. Horrible for the consumerism it feeds into.

Related Post: The paradox of rest in American culture

Our Maintenance

The Innovation Delusion was a wonderful read (mostly because they make a better argument than I do for the importance of maintenance). But what about the rest of us? Those of us who live regular lives. We’re not making boatloads of money in the tech sphere. We have regular jobs, and we have the same old duties.

Washing dishes and cooking. Cleaning up around the house. Mowing the lawn. Checking the fire alarm and testing out the heat before winter comes. This all comes down to consistent care. We may not be maintaining the system of a large corporation, but we’re maintaining the systems that govern our lives. 

Making your bed every morning is an act of maintenance. It’s choosing to see your life and the lives of those you love as worth caring for. It’s worth putting in the time and energy to wipe down the table every night. Or mop weekly. Or get ink for the printer. Maintenance never looks like it amounts to much. It doesn’t feel all that revolutionary. And yet, what would happen if it all stopped?

Return to Appreciation of Maintenance

Maintenance doesn’t sell. What sells is flashy new products. What sells are new inventions promising us that we’ll stop working as hard as we are. I think the real issue is that we lack appreciation for what actually sustains us.

We don’t appreciate the janitor, or the barista, or the doorman. We don’t appreciate the teacher or the mechanic or the IT guy. And whether we like it or not, our lack of appreciation is costing us in a way that we will come to pay a hefty price for. New gadgets are fun but they flicker out. We actually realize what’s important in a blackout when the lights are all out at your house.

Maintenance is not that fun. But that’s the thing—to be dependable is boring. To feed your family everyday isn’t the most exciting thing. Taking out the trash doesn’t compare to a revolution. But the revolution can’t happen, can’t continue if no one is willing to feed people and take the trash out. Maintenance is actually what keeps us going, and it’s time we start to value it for what it’s worth.

Signing off,


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4 thoughts on “Innovation’s a Curse But Maintenance is Life

  1. Wow – I’ll climb right up on that soapbox with you! I am married to a maintenance king, and I’m fowarding this to him. He will give me a high-five and a Hallelujah. 😊

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