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Since I don’t have a full response to Vox yet, I thought I’d post something completely different.
I am not really what you would call a visionary, at least with dollars.
So, just as an example, if I had been a millionaire a hundred years ago and someone had asked me to invest in a new electric company before electricity was widely used I would have been all –
Me: “Okay, my interest is piqued. It looks like this technology is pretty interesting. But you’re saying you could make money with it. How, exactly?
Inventor: Well eventually it could have many uses.
Me: Like what?
Inventor:Um . . electric lights for example. When you walked into a new room that happened to be dark, you could just flip some kind of switch and the room would be light. . . . I have a sample switch here.
Me: But that’s what oil lamps are for. We just bring it from the last room we were in.
Inventor: But this way you could light many rooms.
Me: Yeah, . . . or . . . I could just by more lamps.
Inventor: But this way the light turns on immediately. With a switch like this, see?
Me: Yeah, I see. But it only takes me about five seconds to light a lamp.
Inventor: Well, . . .
Me: I mean, it’s not like, every time I light a lamp I’m thinking “Boy, I wish this would go faster!”
Inventor: Okay, but. –
Me: Or if I’m late to something, I don’t think ‘Oh curse that lamp! If it hadn’t taken so much time, I might be on time!’
Inventor: Okay, but you wouldn’t just use it for lamps. You could potentially use it for other things.
Me: Like what?
Inventor: Well, anything that requires heat.
Me: Well, an iron requires heat.
Inventor: An Iron?
Me: Yeah, you know, to take the wrinkles out of clothes.
Inventor: I see, yeah, that could very easily be built to use electricity.
Me: And it would be hot immediately? That is something I have to wait for.
Inventor: Well, no. To get something with that much mass hot would probably require a few minutes.
Me: A few minutes? But that’s what it takes now!
Inventor: But it would be more simple, and you wouldn’t need a fire.
Me: I always have a fire! That’s how we cook and keep our house warm!
Inventor: Well, –
Me: And you keep talking about this like it’s in the future. Can’t we get an electric iron now?
Inventor: Well, I must admit, I haven’t seen one before. But I’m sure that in a few years, someone will build them and sell them and . .
Me: In a few years? You mean like in twenty years, I bet. So you are hoping that people will get this electristy –
Me: Whatever, and they will just have to wait until people invent, build and sell them products that will make it useful.
Inventor: I’m pretty sure it won’t take twenty years.
Me: Again. Whatever. Okay, so how would a home get electri-ci-ty.
Inventor: Okay, I’m glad you asked. That’s one reason we need investors. In order for a home to get electricity there has to be a wire from the home all the way to the electric company. And that will be somewhat expensive, so . . .
Me: What? You never mentioned this! A wire all that way? Just laying on the ground? So that any fool with an ax could just some around and screw everything up?
Inventor: Well, we were thinking about putting them up on some kind of pole. Besides, we would mark the cables as dangerous, so they wouldn’t –
Me: Dangerous? You never said anything about dangerous!
Inventor: Well, an open wire could shoot sparks or –
Me: Shoot sparks. . . . Hmmm . . . Here, let me ask you a question. . . . Did you know that homes are made out of wood?
Inventor: Well, yes
Me: And that a few sparks could take down a whole building.
Inventor: Yes, but –
Me: And you want this to be wired in every room of a house? Excuse me, every room where I want to save five seconds to get some light in there?
Inventor: The wire would be insulated and . . . and in the house the power wouldn’t be as strong.
Me: Yes, I’m sure that will be a comfort to all the home owners as they wait for their house to suddenly combust. While they’re sleeping. In very flammable beds.
Inventor: I CAN ASSURE YOU . . . . I can assure you, it’s quite safe in homes.
Me: Okay, let’s assume for the sake of the argument that it’s “safe”.<Here I would lift up my fingers and do the quotation mark thing> Let’s get back to this wire on poles idea.
Inventor: Yes, let’s. We have drawn up the plans –
Me: Wires from the electric company to every home?
Inventor: Every home with electricity, yes.
Me: Even to homes in large towns.
Inventor: . . . . Yes. And we’ve already-
Me: I’m sure the towns will just love that!
Inventor: Well, . . .
Me: Miles of unsightly, “dangerous” wire, flowing through every part of their town. I’m sure the town council members, when asked for permission to do this, will just say “Sound’s great! Assuming that less than fifty people are killed by these wires next year and assuming that our population only drops by less than five or ten percent because of how ugly they are, we’re sure to get re-elected next fall!”
Inventor: There’s no way that fifty people are going to –
Me: Okay, 40, then. No, Trust me on this one. This is not going to take off. Thirty years from now, we’ll still be lighting lamps and throwing irons into the fire. Electricity is going to be a passing trend. . . .
It’s a little scary to think what would have happened throughout history if people like me had had the money.