[SIGCIS-Members] Debunking the myth of individual genius

David Walden dave.walden.family at gmail.com
Sat Oct 24 03:24:55 PDT 2020


Earlier writing but maybe still relevant

 Abbott Payson Usher. A History of Mechanical Inventions, pages 65–68. Harvard
University Press, 1929, pointed out that pointed out that it was futile to try to
identify the inventor of mechanical printing, or the steam engine, or the
airplane, since cultural achievement is a social accomplishment based on
the accumulation of many small acts of insight by individuals.

John Szarkowski [Photography Until Now, page 11. The Museum of Modern Art,
New York, 1989] quotes Usher in describing the long and complicated prehistory of photography.
The invention of photography, sometimes simplistically credited to Daguerre
in about 1840, as Szarkowski describes was really the result of the efforts of
many people before and after Daguerre. Szarkowski says:
"Inventions—the name by which we call devices that seem fundamentally
new—are almost always born out of a process that is more like farming
than magic. From a complex ecology of ideas and circumstances that
includes the condition of the intellectual soil, the political climate, the state
of technical competence, and the sophistication of the seed, the suggestion
of new possibilities arises."
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