1997 INVENTION INDEX™
SECOND ANNUAL INVENTION INDEX SHOWS
VCRS MADE AMERICANS' LIVES EASIEST
CAMBRIDGE, MA (January 1997) — The VCR
is the number one invention which has "made life easier"
for Americans in daily life, according to the Invention Index, a
national survey on inventions and inventors sponsored each year
by the Lemelson-MIT Prize Program, an educational initiative celebrating
American invention and innovation.
This year's Index was compiled in November 1996, by
asking 1,008 adults (ages 18 and older) if certain recent inventions
(VCRs, personal computers, cellular phones, pagers, e-mail, voice-mail,
and the Internet) made their lives easier or more complex. Respondents
were also asked if they would buy potential future inventions (computerized
houses, rapid and fully biodegradable plastics, interactive movies,
driverless cars, a cashless society, an anti-aging pill, and home
teleconferencing) if they were available. Percentages reflect the
proportion of all 1,008 respondents voting on the complexity or
convenience of each invention and their willingness to buy each
potential invention. Respondents were not asked to rank items against
Despite the surge in telecommunications technologies,
large segments of those polled said inventions such as personal
computers, cellular phones, voice mail, pagers, e-mail and the Internet
had no impact on their lives, ranging from a high of 59 percent
for the Internet to a low of 15 percent for VCRs.
"There is a lag between the introduction of an
invention and its acceptance by the public," said Dr. Lester
Thurow, author, professor of Management and Economics at the MIT
Sloan School of Management and chair of the Lemelson-MIT Prize Board.
"Years ago, difficulties in programming VCRs
were so widespread it was a staple of comedians' routines, but Americans
now embrace the technology," said Dr. Thurow. "The wider
acceptance of more recent inventions such as personal computers
and cellular phones in a relatively shorter amount of time indicates
that the lag between introduction and acceptance is lessening. This
survey indicates that inventors must be savvy marketers as well
as innovators to encourage trial of new inventions by the public."
What inventions make Americans'
The VCR led with an 80 percent "easier" rating. Computers
and cellular telephones tied for second place, each with a 50 percent
"makes my life easier" rating. Voice-mail and pagers tied
for third place with 38 percent, followed by e-mail with 31 percent
for inventions making Americans' lives more convenient. The Internet
made life easier for 26 percent of those asked about "the information
superhighway." Urban respondents were almost twice as likely
(28 percent) as non-urban respondents (15 percent) to say the Internet
made their lives more convenient. One in four Americans aged 55
and older said the Internet made their lives easier and more convenient.
What inventions make life more
The Internet received the most votes overall as the invention that
made Americans' lives more complex (12 percent), followed closely
by voice-mail (10 percent). Personal computers came in third (9
percent) in the "made my life more complex" category,
with pagers and e-mail tied for fourth place with 8 percent. Cellular
phones received 5 percent of the "more complex" tally,
with VCRs in last place with 4 percent.
No impact on Americans' lives
The Internet received the most votes in the "no impact"
category at 59 percent, followed by e-mail with 57 percent and pagers
with 53 percent. Voice-mail had no impact on the lives of 49 percent
of respondents. Despite the recent popularity of both personal computers
and cellular telephones, about four in 10 Americans said personal
computers (40 percent) or cellular telephones (44 percent) have
had no effect on their lives. VCRs did not affect 15 percent of
Future inventions to own
The most popular of the seven potential inventions was fully and
rapidly biodegradable plastics, with 22 percent of the vote. One
in six (16 percent) respondents would buy a computerized house,
while 13 percent said they would buy an anti-aging pill. Some 10
percent of respondents wanted a driverless car, and 7 percent were
interested in a cashless or money-free society. Interactive movies
received 6 percent of the tally and 4 percent said they would invest
in home teleconferencing. One in five respondents said they wouldn't
buy any of these products. Men were slightly more interested than
women in purchasing an anti-aging pill (13 percent vs. 12 percent),
while slightly more women than men favored a completely computerized
house (17 percent vs. 15 percent).
About the Lemelson-MIT Program
Based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, the Lemelson-MIT Program was established in 1994
by the late independent inventor Jerome H. Lemelson and his wife,
Dorothy. The Program celebrates inventor/innovator role models through
outreach activities and annual awards including the world's largest
for invention, the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize. The Program encourages
young Americans to pursue careers in the fields of science, engineering,
technology and entrepreneurship. The Lemelson-MIT Program is funded
by the Lemelson Foundation, which supports other invention initiatives
at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, Hampshire
College, the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance
and the University of Nevada, Reno.
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