Friday, October 7, 2011

A Symbol Passing

There will soon come a day when one of our progeny will come across a curious symbol in the course of their explorations. It is a symbol of something that happens to each individual at least several times a day. Your dear wee one will ask about it, and you will be amazed at their ignorance until it dawns on you that it doesn’t exist anymore--something they would have no knowledge of unless you told them about it.

The light bulb will soon become a thing of the past. An invention that revolutionized our society in the same seismic manner as the computer. Such a desired and needed product, it spawned a cartel (the Phoebus cartel) to wring maximum profit from its sale. It brightened our world and made it more interesting and will soon, by law, be replaced by different, more efficient types of lighting. It was fifty years after the light bulb was invented by Thomas Alva Edison that it became a symbol for having an idea.

One of the early cartoonists, Walt Disney or Pat Sullivan (Felix the Cat), introduced the visual trope in the late 1920’s through their cartoons. It immediately became a cliche we never seem to tire of. It will soon have no relevance. What we use to light our future may look nothing like the shiny bulb with the over-sized metal threads.

It has suffered from its association with the cornball idea and idiosyncratic personality. Perhaps we need a replacement, something more relevant. The recent passing of Steve Jobs is as significant an event as the passing of Thomas Alva Edison. It brings home the torrid pace of technological change, the uncertainty of the future, and the relentless pressure of time itself; a commodity so precious Steve Jobs admonished us not to waste it. Perhaps we could borrow something from his legacy to replace the lightbulb and immortalize Steve. Somehow, an iphone over someone’s head with radial dashes around it just doesn’t seem appropriate, and I think even Steve would have agreed.

Perhaps we’ll simply keep the light bulb symbol as a comforting tie to the past, to a time when things were slower and simpler. It will always mean what it means--somebody having an idea--but perhaps we can think of it differently. Let’s think of Steve Jobs whenever we see that old, cliched light bulb over someone’s head. We’ll think to ourselves, That person is having a Steve Jobs moment. We can begin thinking about innovation differently and, perhaps in some small way, emulate the person responsible for our wonderful toys and the ease with which we manipulate technology. We will invent a wonderful future for ourselves and our children.

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