Vaclav Smil of The American explains that he isn't here to dismiss Steve Jobs nor what he has done for Apple, its shareholders or the millions of brainwashed minions "who are incurably addicted to incessantly checking their tiny Apple phones or washing their brains with endless streams of music."
However, Vaclav wants to make one thing clear: despite what people have been calling him, Steve Jobs is no Thomas Edison.
Any student of the history of technical progress must be struck by the difference between the epochal, first-order innovations that take place only infrequently and at unpredictable times and the myriad of subsequent second-order inventions, improvements, and perfections that could not have taken place without such a breakthrough and that both accompany and follow (sometimes with great rapidity, often rather tardily) the commercial maturation of that fundamental enabling advance. The oldest example of such a technical saltation was when our hominin ancestors began using stones to fashion other stones into sharp tools (axes, knives, and arrows). And there has been no more fundamental, epoch-making modern innovation than the large-scale commercial generation, transmission, distribution, and conversion of electricity.
I thought that perhaps the best way to illustrate the importance of electricity in modern civilization was to ask what we would not have without it:
"The answer is just about everything in the modern world. We use electricity to power our lights, a universe of electronic devices (from cell phones to supercomputers), a panoply of converters ranging from hand-held hair dryers to the world's fastest trains, and almost every life saver (modern synthesis and production of pharmaceuticals is unthinkable without electricity: vaccines need refrigeration, hearts are checked by electrocardiograms, and during operations are bypassed by electric pumps), and most of our food is produced, processed, distributed, and cooked with the help of electric machines and devices."
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