Thursday, September 29, 2011

Invention of the Day: Toaster.

I started reading Adapt, by Tim Harford, a book about problem-solving in a complex world. In the introduction he shows that even simple devices like toaster are made up of mind-boggling number of technologies we take for granted. Re-inventing the toaster from scratch is a daunting task.

I agree with his thought, but we must understand that today's toaster and the toaster as it was originally invented over a hundred years ago are very different devices. Re-inventing is a totally different task than inventing, just like synthesizing a baby in a vat is different from conceiving and giving birth to one. The outcome sought in both cases is the same, but background technologies used for achieving it are at different levels of maturity. 

Below is the picture of one of the first commercially successful toasters created by General Electric. Note the screw-in "plug" at the end of the wire. It's a piece of Edison's lasting legacy in the world of electric appliances (see my earlier post).

Thirty years from now the USB wire connector on the iPhone will probably look as ridiculous as the light bulb plug on the toaster.

tags: invention, problem, solution, interface, tool

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