It’s Hard to Think of Simple Things, Like My Screen Door
This summer, for whatever reason, fruit flies were out in full force. If you opened your back door only briefly, you would be swatting those nasty things for days. It was so bad for me that I dreaded opening the door at all.
Why doesn’t a screen door keep them out? It might have but I had no screen door. Because of the shape of the frame, I didn’t think there was any prospect of getting one.
Then one Sunday afternoon, I was at a backyard barbecue and saw the most amazing screen door I’ve ever witnessed. I was stunned. I marvelled at its brilliance.
A Mesh Door
Let me see if I can describe it. It is not a door at all. It is a piece of mesh that fits over the whole opening of the door. It opens in the middle, not with a handle but just by pushing apart the fabric. You walk through and magnets from the top to the bottom bring the opening back together again.
Pets figure out how they work quickly, so they can go in and out easily.
I immediately bought one from Amazon. It installed in minutes, with velcro and thumbtacks. The fit was flawless. It stays up and works perfectly. To my astonishment, I now have something better than an old-fashioned screen door. And guess what? It cost $16. True story.
It seems to work like magic. I would say that the engineering is top notch, but there really is no engineering here at all. It’s just two mesh pieces held together with magnets. Anyone could make such a thing.
The real capital of this genius thing is an extremely simple idea. No one in history thought of it, and then suddenly someone did.
It’s so simple. Inevitable. But is it really? Why do we only have access to these now? Why weren’t they around when I was a kid? I’ve been dealing with the slamming sound of screen doors my whole life. I recall the one at my childhood home had a hole in the steel screen, which was never repaired. It was too expensive to buy a new one.
Later I remember installing one at my home. I had to go to the hardware store and get exactly the right one to fit the space. It didn’t fit. So I had to cut and sand the thing. Then I had to hang it, which is not easy if you have never done it before. The entire job took the whole weekend.
Now I have a screen door — more elegant, more functional and no slamming sounds — in minutes and for the price of lunch and a beer.
Genius is Simple
The point is that the real capital of this genius thing is an extremely simple idea. That’s the real value here. No one in history thought of it, and then suddenly someone did.
I see here that there was a patent award for the idea in 2007.
The utility model discloses a curtain type window screen (door) comprising a curtain type window screen (door) mesh part and a magnetic material positioned on a soft material on a window edge (door edge) and on the periphery of the curtain type window screen (door) mesh part. The periphery of the curtain type window screen (door) mesh part (2) is provided with the soft material (3), and a corresponding place of the soft material (3) on the periphery of the curtain type window screen (door) mesh part (2) is provided with the magnetic material (4) with corresponding weight. The window edge (door edge) is provided with a magnetic material (1). The window screen is opened or closed through the utilization of the magnetic materials (1) and (4). The curtain type window screen (door) has simple structure and is convenient to be installed and easy to be cleaned. Due to the full use of the physical properties of the magnetic materials, the use can be more convenient and natural.
The entry says that the patent expired September 5, 2012. A patent is an industrial monopoly that prevents companies from applying the lessons from the success or failure of others. It literally puts competitive history on hold. I suppose it took a few years for manufacturers to realize the marketing potential here. Now there are dozens of companies selling the same core thing.
A very simple thing. A brilliant thing. Actually, simple and brilliant often go together. It’s hard to think of the simple thing. And once you do, the cat is out of the bag, so to speak. The great idea enters into consciousness and history is never the same.
How valuable is an idea? It can upend life on earth. I was just reading a comment by Deirdre McCloskey on her core thesis of where modern prosperity came from. Her trilogy systematically refutes all prevailing theories. Prosperity came not from “diligence, saving rates, transportation improvements, empire, science, slavery” or any other technical change. It came from one source: “human creativity released from ancient trammels.”
Today we speak of the sharing economy as if it were a particular sector, but in truth there is no economy at all without sharing.
That’s the whole issue. Civilization needs people to think of new things and there must be the freedom to act on them (with as few trammels as possible).
The Real Sharing Economy
My new screen door is an example of that. But look around you right where you are. You are surrounded by the products of thousands upon thousands of great ideas made real, all for the purpose of improving your life. Think how gifted that makes you. You didn’t have to think of these ideas yourself. The existence of the commercial marketplace assures that you can benefit from the tested ideas of others.
Today we speak of the sharing economy as if it were a particular sector, but in truth there is no economy at all without sharing. Mostly what we share is ideas, which happen to be the most shareable thing in the world. Ideas do not experience capital depreciation. They can be multiplied without end and without diminishing the value of any single unit. They can be ported from place to place and move in unexpected ways. They are malleable so that any holder of an idea can manipulate it at will.
Ideas are like an invisible layer of oxygen that surrounds us always and makes life worth living.
Someone thought of this amazing screen door. Now it hangs at my back door. Too bad, fruit flies: you are just going to hang out in nature where you belong. Because of one simple idea, the indoors is more habitable than ever before.
This article was originally published on FEE.org.