The importance of a tweet

by eskokilpi

Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin to replace the laborious hand cleaning of cotton in 1794. James Watt invented the steam engine in 1769 to solve the problem of pumping water out of British coal mines. Most inventions however, are not responses to voiced needs. In many cases the work of the inventors produce a solution that needs to seek a problem.This is still the case today. Inventions in search of a use are the norm when it comes to most technological breakthroughs. When Thomas Edison built his first phonograph in 1877, he suggested ten uses to which his invention would be suited. At the top of the list were preserving the last words of dying people and announcing the time of the day.

Music was not on his first list of uses. As historians write, It took twenty years for Edison to reluctantly admit that the main use of his phonograph was to record and play music.

It is almost impossible to know beforehand where the primary use for an invention is going to be in the long run. The inventor has in many cases, been totally wrong in his early assessments of where the best combination of a solution to a problem might be. Although James Watt had originally put his steam engine to work in the coalmines, the true revolution of steam power began only after steam had started to be used to propel trains and ships, which he never thought of.

James Watt did not see the future but he saw the past. Researchers claim that Watt actually got the idea for his version of the steam engine while repairing an engine designed by Thomas Newcomen, who had invented it almost sixty years earlier. Over one hundred of these had already been manufactured. Newcomen’s engine was based in turn on the patent awarded to Thomas Savary in 1689. The chain of discovery of the steam engine goes back further to Denis Papin in France, Christian Huygens in Holland and others. Similar histories can be seen in all modern inventions that are well documented.

There are very few isolated geniuses. But there are many bright people who have continued and improved the work of others. There is a need for a new vocabulary for the creative era: all capable people have capable predecessors, who should get the credit they deserve. The key concept  in the knowledge-based future is acknowledgment, giving credit, beyond what we have been used to. In a sense, creative people are more remixers of other peoples’ ideas, than inventors. Technology and development are not isolated acts by great independent thinkers, but a complex storyline, where the storytellers, the developers and remixers, are more important than the heroic inventors, if there ever were any. We never know how the story develops, but it cannot develop unless it continues. The new challenge for the creative economy is to understand the importance of attribution and giving credit. The first thing is to acknowledge the vital role of the curator/messenger and the huge importance of the tweet and the retweet.

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Thank you @euan @oscarberg @venessamiemis @Lessig and Jared Diamond