Virulent Word of Mouse

October 7, 2006

Ubiquitous clicks and complements

Filed under: Conundrums in technical progress and economic growth,Essays — Shane Greenstein @ 9:58 pm

One of the most well-known anachronisms in Western literature occurs in the first scene of the second act of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. A public clock strikes three. But the European mechanical clock was invented more than a dozen centuries after Caesar uttered “Et tu, Brute?

I never appreciated this anachronism until I had children. One day I found myself talking with my kids about the Internet in that effusive way in which my grandparents talked about electricity. My kids just shrugged their shoulders at their father’s histrionics. They didn’t care that people in old television programs never went online or played video games, as they do.

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August 8, 2004

The diamond-wafer paradox: A modern mystery

Filed under: Conundrums in technical progress and economic growth,Essays — Shane Greenstein @ 12:42 pm

I confess that I did not intend to take an inventory of the modest wealth my wife and I had accumulated in nine years of married life. But a pair of birds got stuck in the attic, tried to find their way out the rear window, and made a mess of things. It was not as psycho as a Hitchcock movie, but it forced my wife and me to look hard at our belongings.

We found our daughter Rebecca’s baby clothes, several pieces of luggage, and many used electronic gadgets, specifically, two stereos, several old PCs, a very old TV, a college dorm refrigerator, our first video camera, several phones, an answering machine, an old cellular handset, and many of the boxes and instructions for the electronics. There were no Rembrandts.

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February 7, 2004

Why inventors are not famous

Filed under: Conundrums in technical progress and economic growth,Essays — Shane Greenstein @ 10:01 pm

Most inventors are anonymous to the general public. If you don’t believe that, read Inventing the 20th Century: 100 Inventions that Shaped the World by Stephen Van Dulken (New York University Press, 2002). I just did. I make my living studying high-tech firms, and I could not name half of these inventors before reading about them. I tested most of my colleagues, who are professors. They did worse than I did. Many of the inventors are candidates for the final answer on the Jeopardy game show.

This anonymity says something about inventors and the lack of public recognition accorded inventive acts. With rare exception, fame and invention do not mix. Making it onto a top 10 list is often the pinnacle of accomplishment and aspiration, even for inventions that change the world.

So, why aren’t inventors famous?

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August 7, 2003

Moore meets Malthus in multiples

Filed under: Conundrums in technical progress and economic growth,Essays — Shane Greenstein @ 9:38 pm

On the surface, the perspectives of Intel cofounder Gordon Moore and economist Thomas Malthus appear to be worlds apart. On closer inspection, however, there are many surprising parallels between them.

In 1803, Malthus published the second and expanded edition of his divisive “Essay on the Principle of Population.” The first edition had received extensive criticism, so Malthus felt it necessary to revise and update his core thesis. His persistence earned him a place in intellectual history.

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