We’ve all seen it. You employ a temporary fix for a problem that, next thing you know, becomes a permanent one. Sometimes this is a result of shear laziness (like that one time you duct taped your bumper back on and kept it that way for 6 years), but oftentimes that temporary solution becomes something more. An unexpected innovation that ultimately became a grander, more ubiquitous solution for more than it was intended. Below are a few examples to illustrate the point.
It’s strange to think that just 10 years ago, 90% of US households had a home phone line. Flash forward to today, and that number is down to 50% and declining fast. Why have a home phone when you’ve got an indispensable smartphone in your pocket 24/7? Though we had all begun toting around cell phones wherever we went, that Razor phone of yours never felt like it was truly going to ever be a permanent replacement for your comfortable and familiar home phone line.
Fast forward to today, and the vast majority of us have given up on our home phone all together, despite the fact that calls are easier and more comfortable to take on a landline (remember how easy it was to cradle a home phone between your neck and shoulder? Memories…). In fact, it could be argued that mobile phones have killed our desire to even talking on a phone at all. Thank to Caller ID, all the surprise of who’s calling has been taken away. So there you have it. A device that was created for a very specific purpose (calls on the road) has replaced the main thing. RIP Home Phone.
Wrist watches have been big business for a hundred years. They come in all shapes and sizes, ranging in price from $5 to $12,000. But prior to WW1, the wristwatch was nothing more than a frivolous fashion accessory made for women in high society. But with war looming, and with military leaders developing more sophisticated combat missions, coordination was required from many men in the field — not just commanders with pocket watches. That led to wristwatches aimed at military men in combat zones — a temporary use that has become very permanent.
Plastic has an interesting history. It was originally invented by Leo Baekeland as he searched for a replacement substance for shellac, which was a resin collected from the secretions of the South Asian scale bug (eww). But after observing the mutability of the substance he created, Baekeland began to see other uses for it, and dubbed his invention “Bakelite — The Material of 1,000 Uses” (a thousand… ha! “Zillions” would have been closer to the truth). Along with Bakelite’s descendants — plexiglass, polyester, vinyl, nylon, polyurethane, polycarbonate, and so on — plastics transformed virtually all our stuff from natural to synthetic, a temporary solution for shellac that remade the world. (And while not precisely a “technology product”, without plastic, 98% of the technology gadgets we carry around with us never would have been made).
Yes, the whole thing. In its infancy, the “internet” (then known as ARPAnet) was simply a tool that scientists at labs and universities around the country could use to share information. It wasn’t until 1991 when Tim Berners-Lee introduced us to the World Wide Web. His vision wasn’t just an Internet to simply send files from one place to another. Rather, it was itself a “web” of information that anyone with access could participate with. And that leads us to where we are today: the ultimate time waster chalk full of cat videos, echo chambers and dank memes. Just your average temporary solution that turned into the biggest and most influential developments in the history of the world.
Okay, this one isn’t quite as large as the previous examples, but it’s noteworthy nonetheless. The Goldtouch Go!2 Mobile Keyboard was originally made for people that sought ergonomic solutions while traveling. At home and at the office, they had separate keyboards, ergonomic and otherwise. But a few years later, Goldtouch has seen the Go!2 Mobile become the keyboard of choice everywhere — at home, in the office, and on the road. Just fold it up and throw it in your laptop bag and you’re good to go — no matter where you are. And while you’re at it, throw in a laptop stand and a Goldtouch Comfort Mouse. You’ll have a complete ergonomic set-up wherever your go. Another temporary solution that’s becoming a permanent one.