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Alarm clock hated, but not as much as mobile phones
Posted on 22-Jan-2004 07:58. | Tags Filed under: News.

Alarm clock hated, but not as much as mobile phones
Nearly one in three (30%) adults say the mobile phone is the invention they most hate but cannot live without, according to the eighth annual Lemelson-MIT Invention Index study. The cell phone narrowly beat the alarm clock (25%) and television (23%) for the distinction in the survey, which gauges Americans' attitudes toward invention. Shaving razors, microwaves, coffee pots, computers and vacuum cleaners were also cited as essential, yet despised, inventions.

While the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index found a vast majority of Americans (95%) believe inventions have improved the quality of life in the United States, their strong feelings toward cell phones illustrate both the benefits and unintended consequences of innovation.

"Cell phones have clearly been beneficial in terms of increasing worker productivity and connecting people with family and friends," said Merton Flemings, director of the Lemelson-MIT Program, a non-profit organization that celebrates inventors and inventions. "However, the Invention Index results show that the benefits of an invention sometimes come with a societal cost."

The good news, Flemings added, is that invention is cumulative. "Side-effects or limitations of an invention create new opportunities for further innovations," he said.

In the case of the mobile phone, MIT Media Lab researchers Chris Schmandt and Stefan Marti recognized an opportunity to solve the societal problems by making mobile communication devices socially intelligent.

"Most people dislike cell phones because they either feel tethered to them or they are annoyed by others who use them in inappropriate public places, such as restaurants or movie theaters," Marti said. "We are exploring ways to give these devices human-style social intelligence, which means that they would know what we as owners expect them to do, and especially what not to do, without our having to tell them explicitly every time."

In addition to mobile phones, the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index also looked at the impact of popular inventions such as email, voicemail and credit and debit cards.

Teens overwhelmingly believed e-mail (81%) and voicemail (71%) make life simpler. Adults agreed to a lesser extent. Roughly three out of five said e-mail (59%) and voicemail (58%) have made life easier.

Interestingly, teens have mixed reactions about credit and debit cards. Only 32% said they make life easier, while 26% said they make life more difficult and 39% felt they make life both simpler and more difficult. Half of the adults surveyed said the benefits of credit and debit cards outweigh any disadvantages.

When asked how globally competitive the United States will be 10 years from now in terms of invention, more than half of the adults (57%) and teens (55%) surveyed said America will be losing ground to other countries.

These perceptions support preliminary observations from a recent Lemelson-MIT Program workshop on intellectual property, which found that foreign entities are likely to receive more U.S. patents within the next few years than American entities.

The Lemelson-MIT Invention Index also found that most Americans believe the responsibility for encouraging invention and innovation right now falls equally to industry (26%) and universities (26%). Slightly fewer (21%) Americans thought the responsibility lies with primary schools. Only 14% said government plays a role.

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