The Engines of Our Ingenuity: An Engineer Looks at Technology and Culture

By John H. Lienhard | Go to book overview

4
The Common Place

A contradiction swirls around invention. While invention flows from an uncommon quarter of the mind, it ultimately comes to rest in the day by day world where we live our lives. Invention defines the commonplace world that we all share. The creative imperative is a unique and wonderful thing, yet it grows in the common clay of coping and of play, and that is also where it comes to rest.

We celebrate the magnificent steam engines, airplanes, and cathedrals. But look around your room for a moment.When I do that I see paper, windowpanes, wood screws, a pencil sharpener, paint, and carpeting. Everything but the cat sleeping on the window ledge came into being after long sequences of invention by many people. Even the cat's subtle gestures and communications may be partly the stuff of my own contrivance.

When we look with the eye of the mind at the everyday world around us, we see how much human imagination has run riot through it. We realize how imagination has invested the basest elements of our lives with possibilities. Try counting the cost of the ordinary world in the coin of human ingenuity. Cartographers who invented the globe on my bookshelf gave me a way to visit Fiji, Chad, and Tibet—places where fortune is unlikely to take me. The simple crank mechanism on my pencil sharpener represents a huge leap of the mind that took place only about twelve hundred years ago (a matter we talk about in Chapter 11). Imagination has enriched every corner of those common places where we all live out our lives.

For example, a hassled secretary hacks out a living on a new IBM typewriter in 1951. The typewriter's ribbon ink leaves nasty smudges

-55-

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The Engines of Our Ingenuity: An Engineer Looks at Technology and Culture
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Preface vii
  • The Engines of Our Ingenuity *
  • 1 - Mirrored by Our Machines 3
  • 2 - God, the Master Craftsman 20
  • 3 - Looking Inside the Inventive Mind 35
  • 4 - The Common Place 55
  • 5 - Science Marries into the Family 70
  • 6 - Industrial Revolution 86
  • 7 - Inventing America 96
  • 8 - Taking Flight 115
  • 9 - Attitudes and Technological Change 126
  • 10 - War and Other Ways to Kill People 139
  • 11 - Major Landmarks 153
  • 12 - Systems, Design, and Production 167
  • 13 - Heroic Materialism 179
  • 14 - Who Got There First? 193
  • 15 - Ever-Present Dangers 209
  • 16 - Technology and Literature 219
  • 17 - Being There 229
  • Correlation of the Text with the Radio Program 241
  • Notes 243
  • Index 255
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