Juli 17, 2009

Is Invention Connected To Youth?

I have stumbled across two quotes that both seem to convey a deeply accessible truth. When I was reading each it immediately hit me that the respectable authors had managed to grasp characterstics of mankind. Only while rereading one of them recently I suddenly realized that they were not compatible. One comments on the inadequacy of young people’s self-consciousness, while the other emphasizes the human tendency to become less and less open to innovative inventions when growing older. How can it be that both seem so convincing in their own right?

“Young people are so infernally convinced that they are absolutely right about everything. [...N]o, like all young people, you are quite sure that you alone feel and think, you alone recognize danger” (J.K. Rowling, 2003 438).

“I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1) Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just an ordinary part of the way the world works.
2) Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3) Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things” (Adams, 2002 95).

It seems certainly true that with advancing age the human ability to cope with alien circumstances and technologies abates. Yet, it is not incorrect that young people, especially teenagers, tend to be so preoccupied with themselves that they do not openly see their environment. Moreover, as far as I know, all famous inventions and discoveries have been made by people under the age of thirty-five.

Is it a curious intermediate age in which human beings possess the faculties of unbiased perception as well as unbiased reflection? Can human perception ever be unbiased? Or are we talking about the moment after someone has more or less received and processed all her community’s vital cultural facts and before she totally conforms to them? Will individuals ever absolutely conform to their communities?

It seems as though there is a connection between the advancing adaption to a certain community or society and the ability to add a new creation to it. On the one hand, members have to be acclimatized enough to be able to produce inventions (they need sufficient command over the tools). This refers to the habituation with the respective cultural concepts as well as to the fact that innovation might not be accepted or even perceived as such by the community when it does not conform to conventions to a decisive extent. On the other hand, one apparently gets too used to one’s cultural concepts to want to change or decisively alter them after some time.

The abatement of the desire to seriously change the existing culture might also be linked to a certain modesty or wisdom of age. The older a person gets, the more she might be able to understand that cultural concepts cannot easily be changed in their core. Whatever innovations might be added to the existing conventions, the lasting effect on the foundations of a society is usually rather small. Therefore, a true inventor needs the youthfull over-estimation of herself to be able to develop the necessary motivation to see the often tedious process of creating something new out.

Adams, Douglas. The Salmon of Doubt – Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time. Ney York: Ballantine, 2002.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. London: Bloomsbury, 2003.

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