Ideas Having Sex: How prosperity and innovation exceeded the expectations of John Stuart Mill and Adam Smith
Innovators are in the business of sharing. It is the most important thing they do, for unless they share their innovation it can have no benefit for them or for anybody else. And the one activity that got much easier to do after about 1800, and has gotten dramatically easier recently, is sharing. Travel and communication disseminated information much faster and further.
[…] When Hero of Alexandria invented a steam engine in the first century A.D. and employed it in opening temple doors, news of his invention spread so slowly and to so few people that it may never have reached the ears of cart designers. Ptolemaic astronomy was ingenious and precise, if not quite accurate, but it was never used for navigation because astronomers and sailors did not meet. The secret of the modern world is its gigantic interconnectedness. Ideas are having sex with other ideas from all over the planet with ever-increasing promiscuity. The telephone had sex with the computer and spawned the Internet.
Technologies emerge from the coming together of existing technologies into wholes that are greater than the sum of their parts. Henry Ford once candidly admitted that he had invented nothing new: He had “simply assembled into a car the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work.” Inventors like to deny their ancestors, exaggerating the unfathered nature of their breakthroughs, the better to claim the full glory (and sometimes the patents) for themselves.
[…] We may soon be living in a post-capitalist, post-corporate world where individuals are free to come together in temporary aggregations to share, collaborate, and innovate, and where websites enable people to find employers, employees, customers, and clients anywhere in the world. This is also, as the evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller reminds us, a world that will put “infinite production ability in the service of infinite human lust, gluttony, sloth, wrath, greed, envy, and pride.” But that is roughly what the elite said about cars, cotton factories, and (I’m guessing) wheat and hand axes too.
Read the full text, it’s worth it.