This is a course blog for the members of EH236 at the University of South Alabama, Spring 2006.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Timing is Everything

Timing is an important factor in the usefulness of any invention. As seen recently in the field of technology, emerging innovation and inventions are not entirely new ideas. Often, they are more or less renovations or dressed up versions of older technologies. This, I think, is the way that new inventions have come to pass. Successful inventions do not become popular by pure genius, but instead, they are made famous by practical applications and of course, impeccable timing.

Many modern inventions have been around far longer than we may recognize. Inventions have a way of going through several stages of evolution before they become commonplace. An important aspect to focus on when dealing with the outbreak of a certain invention is to closely observe the cultures that initially adopt innovation. In many cases necessity is the mother of all inventions, and of course, different cultures may need different types of inventions at an overlapping time. This is why we do not see an equal distribution of recent inventions or willingness to adopt these inventions on a correlating scale.

Often times an invention does not rely on one individual, but instead it relies heavily on many people who interact and modify the product to meet certain needs. This evaluation is key to the initial acceptance and success of any invention. A good example of the evolution of an invention is Thomas Edison’s phonograph. When Edison initially invented this device he intended on it being used in a number of different ways. Several of the intended uses was to read books to blind people, preserving the last words of dying people, and teaching spelling. After a few years Edison eventually went on to say that the phonograph “had no commercial value”. It did not become popular until several entrepreneurs successfully modified the original phonograph into a machine that could record and play music. Several other noteworthy inventions have been stumbled upon in similar circumstances. The steam engine, automobile, gasoline, and airplane are all examples of inventions that relied upon previous inventors’ work.

Jaucourt sums it up plainly in the following passage, “Inventions are the children of time, but, if I may say so, industriousness can speed the delivery. How many centuries did men walk on silk without knowing how to make use of it, how to adorn themselves with it. No doubt nature has in her storehouse treasures which are as precious and which she keeps for the moment when we least expect them; let us always be prepared to take advantage of them”.


Blogger carebear said...

In your essay you stated, inventions do not rely on one individual. I like this fact and I agree with this statement. Often times we branch from one anothers ideas, and this plays a role in the invention process. Why is timing so vital or critical to inventions? I believe time plays a role in everything. As for necessity being the mother of all inventions, I disagree. Perhaps this holds true in some cases, but an invention can be the result of an accident, or mere curiosity.

6:42 PM  
Blogger Justin said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:04 AM  
Blogger Justin said...

The issue of timing in any invention has been dictated through the course of time. As I noted in my article, Thomas Edisons' phonograph was invented years before it became mainstream. Why did it become mainstream at a certain time? This can be answered in several different ways. One reason is the value for the phonograph at the time of its invention was not in high demand. If Edison had waited ten years, his phonograph would have immediately became successful. The answer is simply that Edisons timing in creating the phonograph did not correlate to societies need for such an invention. By this example we can see that timing is indeed the greatest dictator for the success of any invention. Another noteworthy invention dictated by time is gasoline. During post-medieval petroleum distillation, 19th century chemist found the middle distillate fraction useful as fuel for oil lamps. During this procedure the most volatile fraction (gasoline) was discarded as a waste product. It was not until internal combustion engines became popular that this so called "waste product" was deemed the perfect fuel for such an invention. Once again this has shown the issue of timing to be highly important. How many tons of gas did these post-medieval chemist waste simply because the need had not arisen for that specific compound of gas? I think there are four factors that influence the acceptance of any invention. The most obvious factor is relative economic advantage compared with existing technology. The second consideration is social value and prestige. Which can at certain times outweigh economic benefit. The third factor is of course compatibility with vested interest. The latter can best be explained by the invention of the standard QWERTY keyboard. The final consideration for adopting any invention is the ease with which their advantages can be observed. This can best be noted by the acceptance of guns by the English after witnessing the battle of Tarfia. All of the previous examples I gave can best be deemed necessities. However, I am not saying that every invention is created out of necessity, sure there have been inventions that have been dictated by peoples desires, wants, and politics. However, the inventions that have changes the course of history have been products of necessities.

6:21 AM  

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