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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 each other.

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' lives easier?
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 complex?
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 those polled.

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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