Sunday, August 26, 2012

Innovators Over Inventors

Well it's been about six months now since my last post. I'd like to say that it was because I was so busy trying to get a teaching job, or that I was busy getting married, but it's simply not true. I just haven't really had anything pressing to write about. I haven't been reading many history books or come across any interesting stories. Plus, I just haven't made time for this blog, as it seems to be the least popular of the three I have. Be that as it may, I still love doing this, and I'll keep doing this until for some reason I can't anymore. That being said, I'll get onto today's subject. Something that I've noticed while reading snippets of history, or by visiting museums, is that we all seem to value innovators, but not inventors. The real kick in the teeth is that we still label them inventors. List off a few inventors that you know off the top of your head. Go ahead, I'll wait. Who did you come up with? Did Edison, Ford, Bell, and the Wright Brothers come up? They didn't invent jack. They did however innovate said things they are known for. Edison gave the electric light its long lasting filament, Ford made the car easy to build and affordable with the assembly line, Bell made the telephone practical, and the Wright Brothers had film and knew how to market themselves. If you walked up to any average Joe and asked them who invented the light bulb, they would say Edison. Sure they'd be wrong, but nobody cares about Humphrey Davy and his first use of an incandescent bulb. He may have "invented" the light bulb, but he sure as hell didn't make it practical.

History is a fickle thing. I've known this for quite some time, but ever since I became a full fledged history nerd, it's been hitting me more often. People only remember those who have basically forced history to remember them. Two things happened to all the so called inventors; either they invented an impractical idea that had potential, or they didn't know how to market their practical idea. Light bulbs, telephones, and cars are all great ideas, but they all started out really impractically. Light bulbs wouldn't stay lit for long at all, telephones hardly worked at all, and cars took a really long time to make and were pretty dang expensive. It took Edison, Bell, and Ford to change the face of these inventions, and in the process, make them their own. Several men claimed to have had successful flights in heavier than air machines before the Wright Brothers in 1903, but even if they did, they lacked something very important: proof. The Wright Brothers were the first ones to get one going and to have photo proof of it. Plus they patented the hell out of the plane design. If you couldn't work the patent system back then, you lost. That's why Edison has so many claims on so many inventions. He knew how to work the system, and there's probably a few inventions of his that aren't even his at all.

When anyone thinks of an MP3 player, they think of an Ipod. Plain and simple. Did Steve Jobs invent the MP3 player? No, but he made an extremely attractive and practical one. Apple knows how to market their products, which is why tablets and MP3 players that are not Apple are almost always considered inferior. Who invented the MP3 player? Who cares, because we have someone that gave us the perfect end product. We celebrate Jobs, Gates, Ford, and Edison, not the no names who truly invented the products. So, if you do end up inventing something, please patent the hell out of it quick, and make sure its so awesome that no one will even try to make it better because it is truly at the zenith. That's right, I finally used zenith in a sentence. Oh, and prepare for lawsuits, because that's exactly what all of the innovators had to go through. People like Bell, Edison, the Wright Brothers, and Eli Whitney all had to go through long court battles just to keep their names in the history book. Oh, and one last thing: Al Gore did not invent the internet, apparently that British guy in the opening ceremony of the Olympics did. So, mystery solved.

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