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What did the telephone solve?

Seth Godin states the following:

Here's why people liked the telegraph: It was universal, inexpensive, asynchronous and it left a paper trail.

The telephone offered not one of these four attributes. It was far from universal, and if someone didn't have a phone, you couldn't call them. It was expensive, even before someone called you. It was synchronous--if you weren't home, no call got made. And of course, there was no paper trail.

If the telephone guys had set out to make something that did what the telegraph does, but better, they probably would have failed."

Hmm, am of a different opinion.

When a telegram came into the telegraph office someone had to deliver the message physically. Then someone thought of the idea: why not create a system to notify someone a telegram for them has arrived in the telegraph office so they can come and collect it themselves. Then we have also a better chance - opportunity - to telegraph their answer straight away (instead of the receiver perhaps writing a letter in reply if the messages wasn't too urgent, who wants to walk all the way back to the telegraph office to have the reply send out when it is not an urgent matter?).

That's, according to myth, why and how the telephone was invented: to make life easier for the telegraph office (and create more 'selling' opportunities).

However, someone else saw a different 'use' for this new invention: why send a telegram through the telegraph office when you can relay the message yourself, and get an answer straight away?

It's the new (better) use of the telephone that destroyed the telegraph, not the invention itself.

What other 'invention' do you know of was officially created for something but turned into a completely different 'innovation'?


Arthur M. Gallagher

Hmmm, at the risk of stating the obvious, I could have sworn that the internet was originally designed by the US Defense Department to withstand nuclear holocaust, rather than to allow my daughter to watch Japanese cartoons on YouTube. I could be wrong however, and it may just have needed a few decades to reach critical mass.

Of course, the other thing you touch on is the fact that the invention of technology is a completely different field from identifying a market of people whose needs it could fulfil and delivering it to them. And although the former can bring a lot of satisfaction to the inventor themselves, it is only the latter that brings commercial success.

So are you saying that invention is merely the creation of some technology, but that the innovation is the idea of applying it to a previously unexploited market?

Karin H.

Hi Art!

What a wonderful way to bring more and precise meaning to the intention:

"invention is merely the creation of some technology, but that the innovation is the idea of applying it to a previously unexploited market"

Karin H

At 12:27 09/02/2009, you wrote:

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