‘There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home,’ Ken Olson, founder of computer company Digital Equipment Corp, is quoted as saying in 1977. Throughout history and in recent years, there have been life-changing inventions. However, at the time of their release, many historic inventions faced public scrutiny and ridicule.
From the lightbulb to the internet to virtual events, here are 8 amazing inventions that nobody thought would be successful.
The lightbulb - 1879
Not everyone was impressed when Thomas Edison started working on the first practical electrical light bulb. Although he wasn’t the first to produce a light bulb, a brief history of the light bulb explains that Edison’s version outlived earlier ones “because of a combination of three factors: an effective incandescent material, a higher vacuum than others were able to achieve and a high resistance that made power distribution from a centralized source economically viable.”
Even though Edison had many patents for previous successful inventions, many scoffed at him when he started researching a light bulb that would serve for practical use. Sir William Preece, engineer-in-chief of the British Post Office is quoted in an excerpt by New Scientist as saying, “sub-division of the electric light is an absolute ignis fatuus,” or a deceptive goal or hope. Fast forward to the present and everyone has light bulbs in their homes.
The Telephone - 1876
When you were taught in fifth grade how the telephone was invented, you came to know about the great Alexander Graham Bell, otherwise known as ‘the father of modern communication’. He was the first person to be granted a patent for the telephone, and his success came as a direct result of trying to improve the telegraph, a previous form of communication.
However, when Bell tried to sell his patents and technology to Western Union, the leading telegraph company at the time, they turned down his request, claiming that they had no use for the device, which was “hardly more than a toy”. Thankfully, Bell received support and funds from other investors and he was able to continue working on his product. Years later, telephones have evolved into the smartphones that we can’t live without.
Personal Computer - 1975
We all know the history of the first computer and how it was so enormous that it needed an entire room for space. Understandably, it wasn’t practical or feasible for everyone to own one when they were just starting out.
Nevertheless, as these valuable pieces of technology evolved into smaller, faster, and more efficient models, they became more popular and widely used, so much so, that in 1975, the first personal computer was invented.
Yet, even though personal computers meant that people could handle certain types of work more efficiently, the device still had its naysayers, making its commercial appeal limited.
One such critic was Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation and one of the giants in the tech industry at the time. In 1977, Ken Olsen is quoted as saying, “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” Sadly, his failure to foresee the rise of the microcomputer meant that his business quickly became obsolete. Now, almost everyone does indeed own a personal computer.
The Internet - 1983
Life without the internet is unimaginable today! In our digital era, we can work, learn, play, shop, and meet new people without leaving our homes, all thanks to the internet. Many of us have witnessed how it evolved and how it continues to do so today. A short history of the internet reveals that it was not just one person who invented it. It went through various stages of processing and development until it became what we know it as today.
However, the internet was already up and running when it started receiving negative scrutiny. Who would have thought that what the U.N. labeled in their resolution as a basic human right was once the object of ridicule and failed predictions? That’s exactly what happened when Robert Metcalfe, a pioneer himself of the internet, said in 1995, “I predict the Internet [...] will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.” How happy we are that this turned out to be a failed prediction and nothing more.
E-commerce - 1994
Although online shopping had been in the making since 1979, an early timeline of e-commerce explains that the first online transaction didn’t actually occur until 1994, after the internet was introduced to the public, when a sale of a Sting CD occurred between two friends.
Of course, now it’s a trillion dollar industry, but in its early stages, there was a lot of skepticism around online shopping. For instance, The Financial Post (Canada) dismissed online shopping, calling it “the latest fad.” Additionally, an essay written by TIME in 1966 made this amusing prediction, “remote shopping, while entirely feasible, will flop - because women like to get out of the house, like to handle the merchandise, like to be able to change their minds.” Again, their negative assumptions seem quite comical now that e-commerce is growing at a much faster rate than traditional retail.
Netflix - 1997
When it comes to online streaming services, Netflix is a streaming giant. It is currently the leading service, with over 200 million subscribers. Although, when it started out, as many of you may recall, it was a DVD rental service that was going out of business. In fact, the origin story of Netflix claims that in 2000, both co-founders offered the company to Blockbuster, proposing that Netflix become Blockbuster’s streaming service and buy out their shares for $50 million. Needless to say, Blockbuster passed on the offer.
Fortunately, the CEOs at Netflix were quick thinkers and they started offering various services and acquiring different investors. Despite their few rocky years, in 2007, the company began to move away from DVD rentals and introduced video on demand via the Internet. Netflix’s new streaming service directly affected DVD rental giants like Blockbuster, forcing the company to close down and file for bankruptcy in 2010.
Contrary to popular belief, remote work dates back two centuries, with people making crafts at home and selling them for gain. However, the term “telecommuting” wasn’t coined until 1973 by Jack Nilles, a NASA engineer. From there, remote work began to take off as startups were formed in people’s garages and more companies saw the advantages in lower overhead costs by having their employees work from home. Recently, when the pandemic broke out, it prompted a widespread shift to remote work, causing an indelible mark in the future of work trends.
However, even though remote workers are thriving in the new world of work, there are many managers who are doing everything in their power to force their employees to return to the office. An article by BBC points out that “72% of managers currently supervising remote workers would prefer all their subordinates to be in office.”
These managers clearly had a harder time adjusting to the remote work culture and are desperately trying to regain control of their staff’s time, energy, and attention. Others simply don’t trust that their employees are capable of doing the work without supervision, and some have gone as far as threatening their staff with pay cuts or with letting them go if they refuse to return to the office.
How are employees responding to such hostility? Given that there are countless benefits to working from home, most employees are pushing back and holding their ground. A recent poll by Morning Consult found that 55% of employees would rather quit their jobs than return to work in person. Workers are not willing to give up the advantages of remote work, such as: less time traveling, greater productivity, more job satisfaction, and more time for important things like family, fitness, and health.
Since most employees prefer staying home for work, and they aren’t willing to give up their work-from-home benefits, it’s certain that forward-thinking managers will start to realize that the only way to find and retain top talent is to provide their employees with a smooth transition to a remote work or hybrid model. In the long run, remote work will also be beneficial to companies, since happy employees mean increased employee engagement and greater productivity.
Virtual events have been around for quite some time, even before the pandemic forced many companies to abruptly shift their major in-person events to a virtual setting. Understandably, people could no longer meet in-person due to government restrictions and travel bans. The need for companies to turn to virtual events to keep providing customers with valuable resources led event organizers to see the real value of digital components.
For one, online events tend to have an increased attendee count. Since there is no traveling involved, attendees can join from wherever they are. This is especially appealing to introverts, who tend to be more timid in large crowds. Apparently, introverts make up between 25% to 40% of the population. Therefore, by refusing to add virtual elements to their events, companies are basically repelling an entire demographic!
Digital events also translate to significantly reduced expenses, as well as greater flexibility, for both hosts and attendees. There are additional costs associated with physical events, including venue charges, travel and meal costs, and stall setup charges. However, if event planners opt for a virtual event platform, they can use their savings to hire a professional tech team to give their audience a better attendee experience. More savings, coupled with greater flexibility for attendees to choose which sessions to attend and participate in and which to watch at a later time, make virtual events a very valuable asset in our increasingly digital world.
Nevertheless, with travel bans and restrictions being lifted, some naysayers are predicting that as in-person events return, online events will be done away with. While it’s true that many are looking forward to attending physical events again, this is by no means an indicator that its digital counterpart will cease to exist. Virtual events offer more reach, more flexibility and more convenience than in-person events. Ultimately, there are so many advantages to hosting online events or adding a virtual component to a physical event, that the only believable outcome is that virtual events are here to stay.
Unlike the other amazing inventions on this list, remote work and virtual events are still facing harsh objections by people in these industries, but if there’s anything history has taught us, it’s that technology is always evolving and those who don’t readily adapt to changes don’t stand a chance. An article by Business Insider advises, “Never bet against technology that’s more convenient than what’s readily available.”
Remote work has been proven to be more effective and efficient than working in an office. Not only does it allow employees a better work-life balance, but it also increases employee engagement and productivity, which, in turn, improves a company’s profitability and competitiveness. Similarly, no one can deny the convenience of online events. Higher attendance, reduced expenses, and greater flexibility make virtual experiences more appealing to attendees and hosts.
Without a doubt, more companies will turn to remote work, and virtual events will absolutely not only outlive the pandemic, but also increase exponentially in the years to come.