7 World-Changing Inventions That People Initially Thought Were Bad Ideas
“Everybody knows that something cannot be done, until somebody shows up not knowing this, and does it” – Albert Einstein (a pretty big deal)
Just because something might be perceived as stupid, doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.
The buzz around artificial intelligence (AI) has started a whole array of conversations about the kind of times we are living in.
Philosophers have weighed in on the subject (to be honest, I didn’t even know we still had those). Cognitive scientists have weighed in on the subject (to be honest, I didn’t even know we ever had those)!
A lot of these debates are around the ethics of artificial intelligence: What happens if AI replaces humans in the workplace? How do we protect AI from hackers? How can we equally distribute the wealth generated by AI?
Yet, when I watch these debates on YouTube, I am reminded of the fact that I am watching these debates on YouTube! A platform that exists in the “cyberspace” of an electronic box (that–for context is younger than my parents), that can somehow teach me How To Make Hand Rolled Rigatoni and give me a WebMD cancer diagnosis, in the same day, for free!
So, we have established the internet is a fantastic tool but also insane — correct?
Well historically speaking, inventors are just as crazy as their inventions. When Tim Berners-Lee was sharing his ideas for the World Wide Web in the ’80s, I’m sure there were people being like “Hey so Tim, you sound nuts, right?”
I’m sure his mom believed in him though, and maybe that’s who we really have to thank (blame) for Instagram Influencers, but I’ll leave that for the “cognitive scientists” to answer.
The trope of the “mad scientist” who everyone dismisses as crazy but is actually on to something (please see: Back To The Future) is a favorite of mine!
And so, I dedicate this list to Doc. Brown.
1. THE LIGHT BULB (1879)
I know right? Idiots.
Thomas Edison could not be stopped. Edison who is singlehandedly responsible for the candlestick recession of 1879, famously had 1,093 invention patents in the US.
The guy seriously loved inventing things.
In response to his haters, Edison fired back with the iconic line, “I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that do not work.” And while this quote might be the official slogan for men still in the friendzone, it’s a testament to his determination.
One notable doubter of Edison’s genius, was a British Parliament Member who said the idea of the lightbulb is good enough for American Idiots [paraphrased] but “unworthy of the practical attention of scientific men.”
I can only hope this Parliament Member stuck to his practical and scientific guns, and continued to solitarily support the Kerosene Industry.
2. COFFEE (1511-ish)
IMAGINE! In The Darkest Timeline (Community reference, get with it)–we all speak German and are waking up and drinking water at various temperatures throughout the day and nothing else! Depressing.
*Tea Drinkers roll their eyes*
*Coffee-fiends shake at the thought and reach for their 8th cup of the morning*
I’ve only been awake for 3 hours and I’ve had 6 cups already. This is my vice and apparently what governments all over the world were worried about when they OUTLAWED COFFEE.
Legend has it, an Ethiopian goatherd named Kaldi, found coffee when he discovered the berries from a certain tree kept his flock energized throughout the night. When Kaldi shared his findings with the local monastery, the abbott found that ingesting these same berries kept the monks’ vigil during the long evening hours of prayer.
Several attempts to ban the hot bean juice have been made throughout history.
The Governor of Mecca, Khair Beg, believed coffee to have similar “intoxicating” effects to wine which was prohibited by the Qur’an. He viewed the drink to possess drug-like properties that would induce “radical” thinking in his subjects. In response to this danger, he banned coffee before the drink became popularized in Europe.
The 16th-century Catholics we equally as confused (shocker there). Clergy members believed coffee would corrupt the people because it, and I quote, “tasted good”. This scored coffee the street rep as a “satanic drink”, obviously only making it that much sexier. Eventually, Pope Clement VIII had a sip, and decided it was so delicious, it had to be holy, and coffee was baptized and rebranded as a “Christian beverage”.
Other notable bans include King Gutsav III of Sweden and Fredrick The Great of Prussia (in favor of beer).
3. THE “TALKIES” (1920s)
World famous silent film star, Charlie Chaplin incorrectly predicted the failure of “talkies” when he told a reporter he’d “give the talkies three years, that’s all” until audiences would become disillusioned with the spectacle.
Another industry critic, Joseph Schenck (President of United Artists) boldly stated: “Talking doesn’t belong in pictures” arguing he felt the dialogue was overrated.
It’s funny to hear how many stars and entertainment execs of the era couldn’t predict the success of the talkies.
In today’s world, thinking about having to sit through a black-and-white Marvel movie on mute would be a different kind of torture, but when you consider how much labor had to go into creating these talkies, the skepticism makes a little more sense.
Talkies required large, noisy, heavy equipment. This big machinery initially limited how cinematographers could shoot. Many of these silent stars were also foreigners! Once the talkies came, audiences would be jarred by the host of languages spoken by their favorite celebrities. With the new addition of audio, there was also the matter of language–would studios have to subtitle all their films? Dub them for every different country the films would ship out to.
American cinema emerged from the silent era, into the age of the “talkies” stronger than ever. The American entertainment industry edged many competing countries that had done well in the silent era, for a monopoly of the film industry in the new age of talking cinema.
4. THE PRINTING PRESS (1440)
I don’t know what’s funnier to think–that experts said electricity would never take off or that that they rejected what is universally recognized as the greatest invention of all time: the printing press.
While archaeologists have discovered evidence of the earliest workings of a printing press hailing from China around 868 A.D. The novel invention was popularized by inventor Johannes Gutenberg in 1440.
Church official Johannes Trithemius was a printing-press-denier. Trithemius claimed printed materials wouldn’t stand the test of time, favoring traditional parchment-inscribed writing methods.
Other critics complained that printed books would stir “political chaos.” In reality, it seems the leaders of the church (who basically ran the show at that time) were more concerned about how this would affect their business.
Before the printing press, only monks and other church leaders were literate, but when Gutenberg’s Bible was published it changed Europe. It marked the start of the “Gutenberg Revolution” and the age of printed books in the West.
5. THE UMBRELLA (1750s)
I don’t know what people were doing before the umbrella when it rained. Staying indoors? Wigs?? Buckets over their head??? Who’s to say?
But apparently, society was so incensed by the umbrella, considering it to be an effeminate accessory–that the first recorded man to parade an umbrella in London was accosted in the streets! We’re talking pelted with rubbish and charged at by a coachman!
But maybe you’re picking up on a pattern here?
The outspoken naysayer always seems to have a vested interest in the un-changing of the times.
I see you coachmans!
If umbrellas took London by storm, pun intended (London rains approx. 40% of the year) then pedestrians could walk everywhere! Which would threaten the coachman business at large. Get the horses to charge at men carrying umbrellas, that’ll do it.
Give it 140 years coachman. Your rain of terror is coming to an end via The Ford Brothers!
Oh, the drama.
In Summary: As a curly-haired Italian with a flat-iron addiction, I shake my fist at our bigoted past! The prejudice! The imposition of bad hair days?? How dare they.
6. BICYCLES, CARS, LAPTOPS, EMAILS, and THE INTERNET aka The Entire Backbone of This Nation
I’m putting all these bad boys in one heading, because even though anatomically they are not the same thing at all, metaphorically they are all the same thing.
Basically, anything we’ve ever cared about–“people” (still don’t quite know who these people are) were like “that’s a dumb idea”.
It’s like everyone who told Ray Kroc aka McDonald’s Founder aka America’s Greatest Export Michael Keaton — that “fast food” was a bad idea. I suspect these “people” were probably all proprietors of slow food. They caught wind of McDonalds and the restauranteurs of Main Street called a City Hall Meeting at once! This fast stuff..it’s too fast! Hamburgers? In bags?? THEY SCOFFED. It’ll never take off. This is what I imagine the 1950s was like, leave me be.
But of course, it wasn’t a bad idea. It was a pretty above-average idea actually. That is, if you think that having an annual revenue of 23.4 Billion dollars, is indicative of a “good idea”.
They dismissed bikes as a “silly little craze”. They thought the wheel was weird.
Imagine when they heard about cars! Four wheels. Insanity! “A horseless carriage”, they called it. Who would ever be interested in such a thing?? The horse is here to stay they said confidently.
AT&T predicted the cell phone would be a “strictly niche device”. At this point, people were like “shouting at each other across the street works just fine”!
New York Times tech writer Erik Sandberg-Diment wrote in 1985 the “portable computer” aka the laptop (which I’m writing on right now) would be a pain to lug around (mine weighs 2.7 pounds) and the average user would not take to the machine.
They basically copy and pasted this sentiment again and again. The internet? Won’t catch on! Emails? Weird way to use the internet!
7. Daylight Savings (1918)
When New Zealand scientist George Vernon Hudson proposed daylight savings as a solution to a problem after 10 minutes of researching, I’m still not really clear on–his peers laughed in his face.
Fellow scientists called the proposition preposterous claiming it was “out of the question to think of altering a system that had been in use for thousands of years!
Critics called the suggestion of turning the clocks back and forth throughout the year “unscientific and impractical” and you know what?
His critics were right.
Daylight Savings is the worst.
I am a Daylight Savings denier.
If it were up to me, I’d never have to interact with the concept of time travel in such an intimate way, ever.
People are always like “it’s so great when you get to sleep in an extra hour!”
To which I’m always like: “but we also have to wake up an hour early and just pretend we’re not mad about it?? Why can’t we just do neither??”
I don’t subscribe.
Twice I year, I have to google how to manually change the time on my kitchen stove, and that my friends, is two times too many.
So What Have We Learned?
Nothing we didn’t already know.
Humans are bad at guessing endings. That’s why The Sixth Sense blew our f*cking minds!
If you have an idea, and people around you say: “That’s a good idea”, scrap it. It’s obviously a bad idea.
If they say “that’s a bad idea”, maybe then you’re on to something! Stick with it and then mail me my royalties for my good advice.
Stick with your good idea today — you’re on to something.