“It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
With that, I started a February 2017 column in this space. My point was that new products or developments can seem like good ideas, but, in time, not so much.
I mentioned an 1867 New York Times story sounding the alarm that elephants were in danger of extinction. Humans used pachyderm’s ivory for all kinds of things including billiard balls. In fact, billiards were so popular that many feared there weren’t enough elephants to provide ivory for the balls. The Times advised that a substitute was imperative.
Then, in the late 1860s, John Wesley Hyatt’s celluloid plastic – derived from cellulose and alcoholized camphor – became a substitute for the ivory-made billiard balls. Unfortunately, they were flammable.
“The first balls Hyatt made produced a loud crack, like a shotgun blast, when they knocked into each other,” Susan Frienkel wrote in the May 2011 issue of Scientific American. “One Colorado saloon keeper wrote Hyatt that ‘he didn’t mind, but every time the balls collided, every man in the room pulled a gun.’”
But it did seem like a good idea at the time.
Today, plastics are pervasive – and thankfully, far less flammable. Now we use plastic for all kinds of things, including as a substitute for all those paper grocery bags that folks argued used too many trees.
But the tables turned: The explosion of plastic now has us rethinking paper because it’s renewable. And plastic? According to HistoryofPlastics.com, every piece of plastic ever made that hasn’t been recycled is still around!
Another seemingly good idea is wind turbines. While they were once heralded as an incredible alternative energy source, now it appears they’re a danger to birds. Plus, those 116-foot-long blades don’t last forever. Where does one dispose of them?
And don’t get me started on those uber-bright headlights. Supposedly, they’re safer since they really light up the highway – a good idea, right? Not so fast. Eye experts point out that those headlamps leave oncoming drivers (like me) “blinded by the light.”
In a Feb. 15, 2019, Scripps Media story, eye doctors, like Tom Chester, clinical manager with the Cleveland Eye Clinic, are concerned about the effect the new, bright lights can have on our vision. “It creates discomfort; it can create irritation. It causes you to want to shy away from it,” Chester says. “As a result, it can cause a lot of reflexes to kind of close the eye, dim the eye and look away.”
Dim the eye and look away? Sure, that’ll be safe – but those lights sure seemed like a good idea at the time.
Finally, that great idea we read and hear about almost daily is EVs, ie, electric vehicles. Naturally, the big advantage is less reliance on fossil fuels, non-renewable resources, and less pollution. Still, there is a downside – a few of them as it turns out.
For instance, an EV costs more than a comparable gas-powered vehicle. Next, while I can spend all of 10 minutes filling my gas tank, it’d take several hours to fully charge an EV. Then, I can only travel 300-400 miles on a charge, and that’s assuming I can find a charging station amongst the dozens of gas stations I’ll pass along the way.
But, hey, it seems like a good idea.