Sunday, November 27, 2005

Old Men And Inventions

While spending time with the outlaws over Thanksgiving, I heard my wife's grandfather, a man of 82 years, utter something I never thought I'd actually hear someone say. The two of us were sitting in his living room, and my wife had just unplugged her digital camera from the TV and taken it to another room. He looked at me, shook his head and asked, "What do you think they'll come up with next?" Now, this isn't the shocking part. Before I could answer, he went on, "I think they've invented just about everything that's going to be invented."

When I heard this, I was floored. As I said, this man is 82 years old. He lived through WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, both Iraq wars and a plethora of other military dustups. He has seen the invention of the quartz crystal watch, bubble gum, Scotch tape, FM radio, the helicopter, the computer, silly putty, the microwave oven, holography, Velcro, the credit card, Kevlar, LCD screens, Post-It notes, the Internet, Viagra, the birth control patch and translucent concrete, among other things. How could someone who has seen this ever-expanding pool of stuff really believe that there's an already-reached limit to what humanity is going to come up with?

Now, I know that he's from a semi-rural area of West Virginia, and to be honest, technological penetration lags behind in places like that, so maybe he's never heard of translucent concrete. Big whoop! I would think the bubble gum-to-Viagra continuum would be enough to show that we upright apes are good tool users and good tool innovators. He has a wood-working shop himself where he spent years looking at nifty little toys and gadgets that could be made with a few simple tools. He showed me some carved wooden chains, that he had made himself, cut from a solid block of wood. How can someone who does that kind of thing for fun not realize that the plethora of modern tools available to researchers and technologists will continue to spew out new things?

Is it an age thing? Or is it a lack of imagination? Has he just seen so much that he can't envision anything else? I don't have an answer. I didn't want to offend him by asking.

Plus, he's hard of hearing, and I didn't think shouting at an old man about new technology the day after Thanksgiving was a good way to endear myself to my wife's family.

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"Loyalty to petrified opinion never broke a chain or freed a human soul..." -- Mark Twain

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Fire does not wait for the sun to be hot,

Nor the wind for the moon, to be cool.

-- the Zenrin Kushu