Inventions That Should Die

Awarding Bad Idea scores for those that truly deserve them

Allan Milne Lees

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Image credit: CNN

Our modern technological world surrounds us with marvels. In a great many cases, these marvels make our lives easier. Elderly people living in tall buildings don’t need to struggle up and down stairs but can ride instead in elevators. We don’t need to walk great distances anymore, because we can drive or (in many countries outside the USA) take readily available public transportation. When a friend or family member moves away we can keep in touch easily via Internet-enabled devices that allow us to videocall at any time of the day or night. And when we go shopping we don’t need to carry large wallets stuffed with cash and pockets filled with heavy coins because we can pay for our purchases electronically. Technology has made our lives easier in so many different ways.

And yet, along with the good it seems there must always be some bad. In our enthusiasm to utilize technology we not infrequently create “solutions” that are poorly-considered and can generate more problems than they solve.

As we’ve been inventing technologies at an ever-increasing pace since the dawn of the industrial revolution more than two centuries ago, the list of accidentally terrible inventions is necessarily rather long. Instead of being a comprehensive list, therefore, this article will simply reveal a few of my personal favorite terrible ideas, taken from various walks of life. But although seemingly different and almost always well-intentioned, they all have one underlying similarity: no one thought through the consequences of real-world use at scale.

We will begin with leaf blowers. For readers who don’t live in North America, a quick explanation may be required: a leaf blower is a device, almost always powered by a small highly polluting and extremely noisy two-stroke petrol engine, that blows leaves from one place to the next. Instead of requiring the use of a rake to push dead leaves into piles, the leaf blower allows the user to exert minimal effort. Unfortunately, the end result (a pile of leaves) is achieved by generating a lot of harmful externalities (pollution and stressful noise) and the slightest gust of wind will undo its work in an instant. As a typical two-stroke leaf blower generates as much pollution as around 300…

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Allan Milne Lees

Anyone who enjoys my articles here on Medium may be interested in my books Why Democracy Failed and The Praying Ape, both available from Amazon.