What would Thomas Edison be working on if he were alive today?

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I recently discovered the great 10 Golden Rules of Internet Marketing podcast. If you have listened to the podcast, I highly recommend it. As an aside, I originally discovered Jay Berkowitz of 10 Golden Rules from an interview on Cliff Ravenscraft’s Podcast Answer Man podcast.

In episode 17, Jay interviewed Sarah Miller Caldicott, great-grand niece of Thomas Edison, and co-author of Innovate Like Edison: The Success System of America’s Greatest Inventor. I’ve been a huge, huge fan of Thomas Edison for more than 20 years. I distinctly remember reading a voluminous biography of Edison in high school. At the time, a lot of the background about Edison’s business dealings, contracts, negotiations, litigation, flew right over my head, but Edison’s passion for knowledge and invention certainly captured my attention. Since then, I’ve read several other Edison biographies, and I’ve had a copy of Innovate Like Edison: The Success System of America’s Greatest Inventor in my To Be Read pile for ages.

In the podcast, Jay asked Sarah Miller Caldicott what Edison would be working on if he were alive today, and that question immediately captured my attention. Caldicott mentioned social networking (because Thomas Edison was known for cultivating friendships and working relationships with people he could learn from), and she also mentioned Edison would probably use the Web to keep track of international scientific experiments and developments, because even when he was alive he tried to stay abreast of what European inventors were working on.

I also wonder what Edison would be interested in and working on today.

Here’s what I think:

thomas_edison2

Twitter – Yes, Twitter has jumped the shark twice this week alone. Yet, Edison would have been fascinated by the communication implications of Twitter. Edison got his start first as a telegraph operator, and his first inventions were telegraph related.

Semantic web – I think Edison would look at the Web today, and inevitably ask, what’s next. He would want to figure out some way to easily structure the data already on the web – text, video, and audio – so that computers could act on that data and lead to web-based apps we can’t even dream of today.

Electric vehicles – Edison would almost certainly be ringing up Elon Musk, head of Tesla Motors for a lunch or dinner meeting. Only months before his death Edison oversaw the introduction of electric trains on the Lackawanna Railroad in suburban New Jersey.

3-D movie technology – Edison invented the kinetoscope, an early motion picture exhibition device. Edison would be fascinated with current 3-D movie technology and would be interested in how he could improve and expand on the 3-D technology.

Smartphones – While most people associate Edison with inventing the incandescent lightbulb, he also invented the phonograph and recorded sound. I think he’d be fascinated with smartphones and the computing power that can be held literally in one hand.

What do you think Thomas Edison would be working on if he were alive today?

  • Jeff:

    Thanks for the kind words about the Ten Golden Rules of Internet Marketing Podcast. Sarah was a great interview! Don't miss some other pioneers of the web including Craig Newmark founder of Craig's List, Tim Westergren founder of Pandora.com, Steve Krug Author of the best web design book 'Don't Make Me Think' and Jason Calacanis founder of Mahalo.com.

    I love your comments about what Edison would be doing today. I agree completely that he would be looking at electric cars and green technology and the semantic web, many of us believe that is the next big thing for the internet.

  • Jeff:

    Thanks for the kind words about the Ten Golden Rules of Internet Marketing Podcast. Sarah was a great interview! Don't miss some other pioneers of the web including Craig Newmark founder of Craig's List, Tim Westergren founder of Pandora.com, Steve Krug Author of the best web design book 'Don't Make Me Think' and Jason Calacanis founder of Mahalo.com.

    I love your comments about what Edison would be doing today. I agree completely that he would be looking at electric cars and green technology and the semantic web, many of us believe that is the next big thing for the internet.

  • Pingback: What would Edward Bernays be doing if he were alive today and working in PR? — Public media relations social media strategy for growing your business()

  • Frontier_teg

    Since Edison was more interested in DC than AC (Which Nikola Tesla invented), Edison probably would be making mistakes like Digital Equipment (“there is no use in the home for a computer, the PC is a fad”).

    Edison stole much of his technology from Tesla.
    I find it Ironic that you say he would be having lunch with Elon Musk, head of Tesla Motors. He probably would be trying to steal the battery tech.

    Keep the rose colored history coming.

  • BIX

    if you did any research you might find out that Edison hated Tesla (the inventor). tesla threatened and eventually succeeded in taking the electricity business and invention of a more efficient electricity. but those cars are awsome…

  • BIX

    if you did any research you might find out that Edison hated Tesla (the inventor). tesla threatened and eventually succeeded in taking the electricity business and invention of a more efficient electricity. but those cars are awsome…

  • I think he wood be working on cold fusion or an efficient way to make hydrogen, so we could run our cars off of saltwater !!!

  • I was traveling last week when traffic to my blog post re: Thomas Edison exploded. I wanted to weigh in. @Frontier, you might think I’m viewing history through rose colored glasses.

    I’m definitely aware of Edison’s less-than-savory habits that have been glossed over in many histories – he routinely crossed business partners and thought nothing of walking away from his debts. And a lot more.

    @Bix Yes, there was the well-documented rivalry between Edison and Tesla. But, I certainly think Edison, if he were around today, would be fascinated by hybrid and all-electric vehicles. Maybe, he’d engineer a board room coup and push Elon Musk out of Tesla Motors and take over.

    I also wonder what he’d think of the proliferation of 3D movies these days.

  • Also, re: Tesla

    Tesla beats expectations as revenue — and losses — grow
    http://www.siliconvalley.com/news/ci_17395740?nclick_check=1

  • Mia

    I agree with all your points. This really helped me on my assignment. Thanks!