Events mutate into news at warp speed, which makes it hard to be cutting edge or even vaguely with-it. As a result, I subject every instalment of this column to a novelty scan based on whether the nitty-gritty is newsy enough. But a newish book, The Shock of the Old by Professor David Edgerton of Imperial College London, suggests I am tilting at windmills (a phrase borrowed from the 17th century Cervantes novel Don Quixote). What we judge new may in fact amount to a case of what Edgerton calls 'reheated futurism'. In his view, there is no such thing as revolution, only evolution. To prove his case, Edgerton quotes radical 20th-century English writer George Orwell. 'Reading a batch of rather shallowly optimistic 'progressive' books,' Orwell writes, 'I was struck by the automatic way people go on repeating certain phrases which were fashionable before 1914. Two great favourites are 'the abolition of distance' and the 'disappearance of frontiers'.' Sound familiar? Modern tech critics routinely claim the internet has succeeded in abolishing distance. And the Net does seem to live up to that claim because, unless you happen to be marooned behind a firewall, you can access the same sites whether you are in Mong Kok or Mongolia. The Net has pulled us closer together in a way that planes and trains never could. In answer to the question, 'What's new?', few modern gadgets convincingly fit the bill, however. All too often, what you see is just the same recipe with a different sauce. True, the iPhone appears to be a nice try at uniqueness. But, to my eyes, the device looks suspiciously like just another smartphone augmented with oodles more style. Cisco thinks the name isn't new either - hence its lawsuit against Apple. As for the MP3 players bandied about by the likes of Apple - you could dismiss them as glorified Walkmans. And you could even argue that Walkmans were preferable since back then, the only headphones available were incapable of tumbling out of your ears. Whatever your take, you must admit that tech wizards have a habit of reinventing the wheel then pretending it's the solution to our problems. Remember that hushed-then-hyped vehicle devised by scientist-cum-entrepreneur Dean Kamen, who, like the founders of Sweden's digital Pirate Party, lives on an island he pronounces an independent state. Kamen's baby, the Segway, was supposedly so novel that architects would need to build cities around it. The innovation was, however, essentially a motorised scooter with lawnmower looks. By and large people stuck to their bicycles. Nobody's saying that patent-hungry seers around the globe should give up and go home, wearily noting that there is nothing new under the sun (a proverb dating back to the year dot). But when you start to dig deep, the very word 'new' begins to look iffy. Everything's derivative ?la Web 2.0, that jazzed-up version of the original Web. When I venture to electronics fairs in search of true innovation, usually I only see variations on the high-definition television: row upon row of plasma-screen and LCD TVs. That said, it may not matter if everything resembles a knock-off that should have a decimal point and a digit after its name. That's how it goes. Nothing emerges from nowhere. We should know; after all, we're almost certainly part of an evolutionary continuum - upgrades of hirsute ape-like creatures. That picture applies even to the visionaries and inventors among us.