Wacky inventions that are seemingly useless are the lifeblood of innovation
There are plenty of apps such as Pokemon Go that appear to be impractical, yet experimentation – even failure – are key to coming up with the ‘next big thing’
Our officials are always fretting about the city’s lack of innovation. Of course, everyone loves innovation, until they see some of the results.
What you usually end up with is a lot of useless or even dangerous products. A recent Post article on China’s innovation boom cites such inventions as smart suitcases that follow their owners like puppies; baby bottles that automatically monitor food intake; and blood pressure monitors that send results to the children of elderly patients via a smartphone app.
One mother complains that the smart feeding bottle discharges so much milk her baby almost choked on it. But that seems to be something that can be easily fixed.
The story’s headline: “Is China’s innovation boom producing too many useless inventions?”
Well, that may be so, though a look at some new apps coming out of Silicon Valley and other creative centres in the US make some of those Chinese products look like the height of practicality:
● An app that analyses how good your French kissing is.
● A “smart” zipper that warns you if your fly is down.
● A micro-speaker inserted into the vaginal walls of an expectant mother so the unborn child can listen to music more clearly.
● An app that monitors if you are out of beer and orders delivery if you are.
I like the last app and may be even tempted to download it.
The Japanese have a marvellous word for such inventions: chindogu. It may be roughly translated as un-uselessness. These are inventions that are neither completely useless nor useful, but fall in the no man’s land of questionable utility.
For any society or economy that strives to be innovative, it will inevitably come up with many embarrassing chindogu products. After hundreds or thousands of these inventions fall by the wayside, you get the nuggets of gold like WhatsApp, the iPhone, flat-screen TVs ... and karaoke.
Natural selection of the marketplace will separate the wheat from the chaff.
Now, is Pokemon Go an advance in combining GPS and augmented reality technologies or a chindogu that just happens to attract everyone’s attention?
It’s difficult to cultivate an innovative culture that necessarily needs a high tolerance for failures and duds. Until we do, it’s not such a bad thing to just buy or steal other people’s proven ideas and inventions.