Tag Archives: desktop publishing

Invention is the Mother of Necessity

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, but in our world these days, it’s often actually exactly in reverse: invention is the mother of necessity.

broken light bulbFor example, before we had cell phones we survived without being able to call from anywhere to anywhere at any time. Phone calls happened only when we were at home, or in the office, or, in an emergency, from phone booths. And, amazingly enough, we all survived. And lived to tell the tale.

And yet today, now, we can’t live without cell phones. Try leaving yours at home or in the office some day, and getting through your day without it. Can you? Of course not. Invention is the mother of necessity.

The same  is true with email, SMS text messaging, even the Web connection. I shudder to even think of being cut off from the Web for an hour, let alone a day or longer. Perish the thought. And yet, amazingly enough, back in the 1980s and earlier we survived without the Web. See what I mean?

Spreadsheets, when they first came out in the early 1980s, made extensive budgeting and financial analysis relatively easy. Now we take spreadsheets for granted, and demand a lot more budgeting and analysis than we used to.

The early laser printers and page layout software made something we called “desktop publishing” suddenly accessible to the masses. Then it was unusual. Today we absolutely demand desktop publishing in everything we do, as a matter of course.

Invention is the mother of necessity.

(Image: snail race via Flickr cc)

Invention vs. Necessity, Upside Down

You know the phrase:

Necessity is the mother of invention.

Right? You hear it a lot.

But what if, in fact, invention is the mother of necessity. Once the technology exists,  we then complicate things, demand more, and use up the productivity gain in raising the quality bar.

Take budgets, for example. I realize it’s hard for most people to imagine a world without ready access to spreadsheets (you’d almost have to be a baby boomer, since spreadsheets and personal computing burst onto the scene in the early 1980s). But spreadsheets changed what we expect of budgets and budgeting. The invention changed what we define as necessity. We can do the numbers now, so we demand more numbers.

Or word processing, and then, a few years later, desktop publishing. The combination completely changed what we expect of business correspondence. You’ll probably find this hard to believe, but there was a time when we wrote letters and memos and mailed them. Yes, I mean using the post office, and postage stamps. Back then, we didn’t get hundreds of letters to answer every day. The invention changed the necessity. We can email now (or tweet, or blog), so the world demands more communication.

And cell phones.  Ah yes, lots of us remember the world before cell phones. We didn’t bug each other nearly as much, back before cell phones, as we do now; we didn’t expect phone calls checking in, updating each other, nearly as much. Less communication was acceptable.

Are we more productive? Who knows? Do we have a choice on the matter? No. Technology goes one way. Whether we like it or not.