It’s long been said that necessity is the mother of invention. I don’t know who said it first, possibly Benjamin Franklin– it’s the sort of thing he is given credit for, but I can only guess since I’ve misplaced my book of famous quotations. I suspect that all those famous pronouncements weren’t exactly original to Franklin in the first place. It’s more likely that he decided to write down all the wise and apt pronouncements he heard from other people and put them in Poor Richard’s Almanac, thus getting credit for them.
I’ve often wondered if some of those old sayings were repeated because they were generally true, or if they came to be believed because they were said so often. Sort of like the conundrum of which came first, the chicken or the egg. I’ve noticed that children are natural inventors– possibly because the world, and life in general, are basically blank pages to children and, even though many of the things they think up already exist, they didn’t know about them until they “invented” them for themselves.
I remember some of the games my sisters and I invented to fill up boring rainy days or the seemingly endless hours waiting for some special occasion to arrive. One game in particular remains in my mind because it requires no game boards or other equipment and any number can play– even just one person. We never named this game, but we agreed on specific rules and cheaters were automatically losers with no second chances. The game was simply the challenge to see how far we could travel around a room or even the entire house without touching the floor.
If that sounds limited to you, you need to dig out your childhood imagination and get moving. Leap from sofa to chair, climb the stair banister, lay out a trail of “stepping stones” with sofa pillows, magazines, or your own socks. Use your imagination!
Cooking may be one of the most common creative activities that we as humans indulge in. If food were just a matter of nourishment, we would still be hunters and gatherers and Cordon Bleu would be simply a strip of blue fabric. There are probably more cookbooks published than any other form of non-fiction, possibly any other genre that exists today. Yet, every recipe, every variation of every recipe is the result of somebody’s imagination. Whether it started out as a search for new tastes, new ways to use ingredients, a way to satisfy a craving, the necessity of doing something palatable from a limited supply of ingredients, or tempting the general public to flock to your restaurant, each recipe started out as an experiment. Some of us are still experimenting in a sense, when we cook without recipes, making the same basic foods only slightly different each time if for no other reason than that we don’t measure everything carefully.
My dad was an automobile mechanic and he possessed an innate understanding of machines and gadgets. He was just as likely to design and build something he needed as he was to search for it in any store. If he could take a broken toy or appliance apart and see how it was supposed to work, he could repair it so that it worked at least as well as when it was new. And he could see possibilities for other uses in just about any gadget designed for some specific use. An old hand-cranked corn-sheller worked just as well to remove the blackened husks from the black walnuts that fell from our walnut trees. And a small cement mixer that he’d used to build parts of the miniature golf course we operated worked equally well to wash the dozens of golf balls our customers used each summer evening. He’d dump the dusty balls in with water and a little soap powder and tumble them for a few minutes, then pour them out into a wire egg basket, hose off the soapy water, and hang the dripping basket on Mother’s clothesline.
I’m still trying to decide just how many of the things we as humans have devised were actually invented as responses to necessity, and how many have come to be perceived as necessities simply because they were invented. Do we really need electric can-openers? Are weed-whackers essential to our survival? Take those sleep-number beds; wouldn’t you call them luxuries rather than necessities? If necessity is truly the mother of invention, why do we have so many things we only think we need? Could it possibly be because somebody else needed the money you and I paid for those non-essentials and the necessity lay only in the bank balance of the inventor?
It has been said that, upon savoring his first taste of ice cream, Benjamin Franklin remarked “what a pity this isn’t a sin,” implying that the enjoyment would be even greater if it were forbidden. Maybe, just maybe, that’s the reason the human race keeps dreaming up more stuff we don’t need.