Everyday Problem Solvers
Creativity, Technology and Necessity
June 17, 2012Posted by on
Last sunday I watched The Avengers (awesome movie by-the-way, Kudos to everyone involved) and yes The Hulk is awesome, Scarlett Johansson is hot and Thor does have a mighty hammer, yes, but my favorite character is not a human, it’s a software, and it’s know by “Jarvis”. In fact what I like most about Iron Man movies is not the plot, or characters or Robert Downey Jr. What I like most is the tech, specifically Jarvis.
It’s a common saying and accepted fact: Necessity is the mother of inventions, but I hear a lot of folks saying things like “Item X came to solve a problem that did not exist” and these kind of people also usually belive that you can create a necessity, almost always using telephony as an example. They do belive that if the phone wasnt invented we would be doing just fine with regular mail services and telegraph. To understand why this is wrong you need to stop looking at the invention and start analysing the necessity and the scenario. What people needed was a fast way to communicate with each other. That’s the necessity: Faster communication. The scenario was the following:
- You either learn to read and write, or find someone who would do it for you (remember this is 1860’s, illiteracy rates are very high)
- You acquire paper, pen and ink.
- You write down your message.
- You go to a post office, and deliver the letter (let’s assume you got the address right and all)
- A few days or maybe months (in some cases, a year) later the other person gets the letter. (Let’s also assume that it did not get lost, stolen, misdirected and neither damaged along the way)
- Now it’s the other person “turn”
In this scenario, any kind of invention that, either decreased the time taken to transmit a message or that removed the need for literacy would prevail, and so the electrical telegraph did. By decreasing the time taken to transmit a message, the telegraph ruled over long distance/urgent communication. I dare saying that if it was not for the price (it was not cheap to send a message), it would reign over small distance and not urgent communications too… The telegraph still needed some education (on the part of the person operating the machine). But people still needed more, and on and on… The point is: Necessities are not invented, necessities are discovered.
What usually happens is that some products makes you aware of a necessity, usually when you forget the device… Cellphones/Smartphones are the latest living proof of it. You became aware of the fact that you needed mobility when you bought a cordless phone. You might have bought it because it was cool, or beautiful and maybe because it was cordless, but you kept it, and replaced all the others you owned, because you could no longer stay put and talk. And when someone came to you and said “What if you could take that phone anywhere?” i bet you though something like “That would be interesting… I would like that!”. The land line fulfilled the need for communication, the cordless gave you a glimpse of mobility and the cellphone is now your god.
One thing that is very important but i will no discuss here is the distinction between what you need, what you like and what is socially expected of you.
Back to the Iron Man, no one can deny that Jarvis is uber-cool tech and amazingly intelligent and today most people (a.k.a. everyone) live without it. But once we get hold of it, can we detach from it? Will it reveal a necessity? Or it will be a trinket?!? carefull! Before answering, think about the light bulb: No one lived in the darkness before it, but once invented it became a “must have” everywhere.
To conclude I would like to leave a question: Man always needed energy, but how useful would be atomic energy on the industrial revolution?!?