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Posts Tagged ‘inventions’

The other theme that came out of the film The Social Network was this: Facebook is not just an inevitable consequence of new technology; it’s a result of someone coming up with a really big and really simple idea that no-one had thought of before.

The technology was already there: the internet, the web, a few algorithms that had been used in other situations before. (What are these ‘algorithms’? They always pop up in stories about geeks taking over the world.) All it took was someone like Mark Zuckerberg to think of something new and wonderful to create with these tools.

As is so often the case, it was the cross-fertilization between two worlds that allowed the hybrid idea to emerge – or at least that’s how it was presented. When you combine the exclusivity and shared intimacy of a college ‘frat’ (a social club), with the real-time communication and computational power of the internet – you get Facebook.

The power of a Really Big Idea. This is why Dragons’ Den is such good TV. It’s not the money; it’s whether an ordinary person can convince a team of savvy investors that they really do have the germ of a decent idea.

Ever since watching the film on Friday evening, I’ve been trying to create a Zuckerberg moment for myself, to come up with that Big Idea that’s going to change the world. It hasn’t happened yet. But you will be the first to hear about it when it comes! (Unless I need to talk to my investors first…)

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Back in May I posted about the 100 greatest inventions of all time. I’ve just read an article by Alice Rawsthorn about an exhibition at the Vitra Design Museum in Germany with the title “Hidden Heroes: The Genius of Everyday Things”.

The focus here is not just on inventiveness or novelty, but the way a simple idea, when combined with a good design, can become a central part of ordinary life that we couldn’t imagine living without.

We don’t reflect enough on the genius of these objects: the corkscrew, paper clip, clothes pin, rubber band, egg carton, shipping container; together with the thirty other useful and familiar objects contained in this exhibition. It’s only when something as mundane as a paper clip is put in a display cabinet in a museum that you appreciate it’s value and beauty.

“They’re the sort of products that every designer dreams of making — very simple, very ingenious items that we use on a daily basis,” said Jochen Eisenbrand, who curated the exhibition. “They’ve continued to exist for decades without changing very much, because they haven’t needed to.”

Some of the objects in the show were devised by amateur inventors like the hapless Mr. Henshall. One is the glass preserving jar, a forerunner of the tin can, which was dreamed up in 1809 by a Paris chef, Nicolas Appert, as the winning entry of a competition launched by Napoleon Bonaparte to improve the French Army’s food. Another is the clothes hanger, which dates back to 1903 when Albert J. Parkhouse arrived for work at a lampshade frame factory in Jackson, Michigan, only to find that all of the coat hooks were taken. He made something to hang his coat on by bending a piece of wire into an elongated triangle and twisting the ends into a hook.

Other “Hidden Heroes” stemmed from sudden flashes of inspiration. The German pharmacist Maximilian Negwer hit upon his 1907 idea of cushioning wax ear plugs with cotton wool when reading Homer’s “The Odyssey.” Untangling burrs from his dog’s fur after an Alpine hunting trip prompted the Swiss engineer George de Mestral to develop Velcro fabric fastener in the 1940s and 1950s.

Air bubble film, or bubble wrap, was conceived in the 1950s after a Swiss inventor, Marc Chavannes, noticed how the clouds seemed to cushion an airplane as it descended, and realized that a similar effect could be achieved in packaging by sealing air inside plastic film. An American scientist, Art Fry, dreamed up the Post-it note in the late 1970s when singing in a church choir. He couldn’t find the right page in his hymn book because the paper bookmark kept slipping out.

The modesty of the “Hidden Heroes” is particularly appealing at a time when we’ve become bored by the brashness of what’s been called “Design-with-a-capital-D.” (Remember the lamp mounted on an 18-karat-gold-plated Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle by the French designer, Philippe Starck? That was the peak/nadir of “Design.”) Designers, the thoughtful ones, at least, are increasingly absorbed by the ontology of objects, or the abstract qualities that define them, rather than aesthetics.

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Tesco Mobile carried out a survey of 4,000 consumers recently to find out what people think are the greatest inventions of all time. No, the lightbulb didn’t come top – but I loved this image.

The wheel was voted as the most important invention in history, with the aeroplane in second place, the lightbulb third, the worldwide web fourth and computers fifth.

Other inventions to make the top ten included Graham Bell’s telephone in sixth place, followed by Sir Alexander Flemming’s discovery of Penicillin.

The iPhone came eighth, while Thomas Crapper’s flushing toilet was ninth. The internal combustion engine came tenth.

Central heating (13th), painkillers (15th) and the steam engine (16th) also made the grade, while spectacles finished off the top 20.  

I’ve pasted the complete results below. What would you put at number 1? What would you add to the list of one hundred?

1. Wheel 2. Aeroplane 3. Light bulb 4. Internet 5. PCs 6. Telephone 7. Penicillin 8. iPhone 9. Flushing toilet 10. Combustion engine 11. Contraceptive pill 12. Washing machine 13. Central heating 14. Fridge 15. Pain killers 16. Steam engine 17. Freezer 18. Camera 19. Cars 20. Spectacles 21. Mobile phones 22. Toilet paper 23. Hoover 24. Trains 25. Google 26. Microwave 27. Email 28. The pen 29. Hot water 30. Shoe 31. Compass 32. Ibuprofen 33. Toothbrush 34. Hair straighteners 35. Laptops 36. Knife and fork 37. Scissors 38. Paper 39. Space travel 40. Kettle 41. Calculator 42. Bed 43. Remote control 44. Roof 45. Air conditioning 46. SAT NAV 47. Wi-Fi 48. Cats-eyes 49. Matches 50. Power steering 51. Tumble dryer 52. Bicycle 53. Sky+ 54. Tea bags 55. Umbrella 56. iPod 57. Taps 58. Crash helmet 59. Wristwatch 60. eBay 61. DVD player 62. Nappies 63. Ladder 64. Sun tan lotion 65. Lawnmower 66. Make-up 67. Chairs 68. Sunglasses 69. The game of football 70. Sliced bread 71. Sofa 72. Razor blades 73. Screwdriver 74. Motorways 75. Head/ear phones 76. Towels 77. Push-up bra 78. Binoculars 79. WD40 80. Mascara 81. Hair dryer 82. Facebook 83. Escalator 84. Hair dye 85. Wellington boots 86. Spell check 87. Calendars 88. Cheese grater 89. Buses 90. Post-it notes 91. Gloves 92. Satellite discs 93. Pedestrian crossing 94. Baby’s dummy 95. Curtains 96. Bottle opener 97. Food blender 98. Dustpan and brush 99. Desks 100. Clothes peg

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