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If Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Then what is the mother of perfection?

by Rita Ayers
July 11, 2007

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If Necessity is the Mother of Invention
Do you remember elementary school when social studies class seemed to consist of the dates of all the wars and the names of all the inventors? That's what I recall. Remember questions like "Who invented the cotton gin?" and "Who invented the first steamboat?" (Eli Whitney and Robert Fulton, respectively, just in case you've forgotten).
I never learned about further developments of the cotton gin or the steamboat – at least, not in history class. It makes me wonder what the children of tomorrow may learn about some of the more recent inventions that I've watched come to fruition in my lifetime.
Take, for example, the dishwasher. What a great idea! I distinctly remember my grandfather installing the first one I ever saw under the countertop in my grandmother's kitchen. She ran it once – after having first washed all the dishes by hand, of course – and then never used it again. She said she was saving it for special occasions.
I use my dishwasher almost daily, and it does a fine job of cleaning my dishes. What makes me crazy, however, is the way the two shelves are designed. The top one is too close to the top; the silly thing will not accommodate any of my normal sized glasses. I can only squeeze in coffee cups and juice glasses. The bottom one is planned so poorly that bowls will not fit between two wired posts, and if you place a single pot in the bottom, it more than likely will jam up something during the wash cycle. Once two items have become wedged together, neither of them is cleaned. 
What does this mean? It means I still do the same thing my grandmother did. I wash everything by hand that won't fit in the dishwasher, and I rinse things that will fit in there so thoroughly that I may as well just finish the job myself. We also never start the thing until we go to bed; it's too loud to hear yourself think.
I'm well aware that the dishwasher was around long before I was born. However, it did not become a standard feature in home kitchens until the 1970's. I think that's about the time they stopped tweaking them as well. Please, will someone make me a simple dishwasher that I can put more than three dishes in? And, while you're at it, put a little more noise barrier stuffing around the outside.
Here's another of my favorite recent inventions – the cell phone. Do I need to even write anything else here? I'll bet with the very mention of the phrase "cell phone" the hair on the back of your neck stood up. I don't even have to talk about teeny-weeny little buttons or dropped calls or exorbitant bills or phones designed to fail after six months. We all know the story by now. 
During a trip to Greece in 1998, a beautiful ferry ride across the sparkling Aegean Sea was disrupted by a guy using a cell phone. I kept thinking to myself, "What could possibly be so important that he can't just wait until we dock to make this call? Why can't he just enjoy this fabulous scenery?" Little did I know that within a few short years, even my trips to the grocery store would be punctuated by people having what should be very private conversations – quite loudly – right in the middle of the coffee aisle. I can't even let my mind drift away as I sniff the hazelnut and Irish cream.
You'll be surprised to hear me say this, but the cell phone is really one invention I could have done completely without. I can't have a conversation with my husband without his cell ringing off the hook, no matter where we might be. And if I had but one nickel for every time I've said "Can you hear me now?" ….
On the other hand, caller ID is awesome! In my view, they've pretty much honed that to perfection. Thanks!
I'm happy with the microwave, but would still like someone to come up with a microfreeze. We run out of ice far too often around here, especially during these hot months.
Hooray for digital cameras! The money I've saved on film and developing makes me smile. I will refrain from asking for any new refinements, as I can clearly see that the resolution keeps improving while the price keeps dropping. Who could ask for anything more?
No, if I have to ask for any improvements from the technology world, I'll ask for a printer which has ink that costs less than the printer itself. Ridiculous! A mechanic who repaired my car once told me that he just bought a new printer every time it needed ink cartridges to save money. And just try to get any sort of service or repair on a printer. It won't happen. You're better served to just save your breath and go back to the store for another.
I'm saving my last comments for two quite diverse items, because they deserve a special mention of the positive variety.
The first is Dawn dishwashing liquid. Yes, you heard me. Dawn does exactly what it said it would do – it really does cut grease. Compared to the watery thin junk my mom used to buy years ago, it's incredible. People have found all sorts of other uses for it, too. For example, if you have sore muscles, you can freeze it in a zip-lock bag and make a longer-lasting ice pack out of it. Dawn was used to clean the oil from wildlife exposed to the Exxon Valdez mess; it became so well known that Dawn launched a campaign to get others involved in saving our animals from the waste humans create. I haven't bought a single bottle of any other brand since I first used Dawn and never will.
I am also a devoted customer of Netflix. A friend introduced me to this great concept in 2003; it proved to be a perfect fit for my lifestyle. It seemed to me that I would go rent movies and then, for one reason or another, not find the time to watch them before they were due. There were times when I would hop in the car, fly to Movie Gallery or Blockbuster, only to arrive five minutes late and be charged a fee that was higher than the original rental cost. 
Netflix changed all that. I don't have to go pick out the movies; they send them to my doorstep.  I can pick out movies online in the comfort of my own home. I can keep them as long as I want and watch them as many times as I want and never be charged a late fee. There has never been one single time when the movie I wanted to see was not available, unlike the local stores which sport empty shelves where the latest releases should be.
All of this would be enough to keep me coming back for more, but Netflix secured my loyalty for life when they sent me an email shortly after Hurricane Katrina. It simply said they had temporarily suspended my account until such time as I wrote back to start the movies coming again. They knew that many people in my area had no interest in movies at the time, and in some cases, no means to watch them. Loss of power – or worse, loss of home – meant that entertainment was the farthest thing from the minds of Gulf Coast residents. 
When life returned to normal for us, I dropped Netflix an email and asked them to send the next three movies in my queue. They did, and didn't charge me for the first month. Such a simple idea, but it meant so much to me. In comparison to the fights with insurance companies and roofing contractors, it was a welcome little oasis. I won't forget it. It even aggravates me that Blockbuster jumped on the Netflix bandwagon, especially since they were the prime culprits of the "Let's stick-it-to-em" late fee program. My husband tried to point out that we could go into a Blockbuster store and get a movie right then. To that, I say, "So what? Do I absolutely have to see this movie this moment?" Nah, I don't. I'll wait for the little red envelope to arrive in my mailbox.
It's easy for me to sit back and make comments on the ideas and inventions of others. I know I've never had the creativity to develop something that changes the way we do things. I just wish that once the idea is out there, it wouldn't be abandoned until it's perfected!

Comments (1)

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Janet from Virginia writes:
July 11, 2007
Hi Rita,
You've provided another interesting and fun article for our amusement and edification. We're definitely on the same page. I, too, hate it when cell phone conversations invade my space. I love the microwave, digital cameras, and Dawn. I love knowing that Netflix treated you right.

My latest love is my new Toyota Prius hybrid, which gets twice as much gas mileage as my Honda Accord, and spews out absolutely no exhaust when stopped at a red light or waiting in line at McDonald's drive-through. When I step on the brake to slow down, the kinetic energy is used to recharge the electric motor battery.

On one point we diverge, however: my new dishwasher is quiet (for a price)!
Keep your comments coming - I always look forward to your thoughts!

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