“Multiple developments precipitate this shift, starting with Gutenberg’s press, which begins to have a material impact on secular research a century and a half after the first bible hits” pg. 228
The printing press is a remarkable invention which has greatly helped millions of people. During the 1400’s a very basic for of printing existed. Letters or images were cut out on blocks of wood, the wood would be dipped in inc and put on paper. A German man named Johann Gutenberg observed this and realized he could make printing bigger and better. He wanted to make a machine and instead of using wood he chose to use metal. Today the printers are electronic and take the forms of the words with ink and transfers it to the paper. The printing press has been a wonderful invention because people can have tangible books, magazines, newspapers etc.
After reading the chapter, The Fourth Quadrant, I thought it was very interesting that Johnson displayed the sort of evolution of innovations through a four quadrant system. After reading, it made me understand the relationship between platforms and stacks and the development of innovations from one another. Essentially, over periods of time, those stacks open the doors for new innovations to occur and reach the fourth quadrant. Johnson touches upon this ideas when describing the type of environment in which innovations occur. Johnson states,
“Because innovation is subject to historical changes – many of which are themselves the result of influential innovations in the transmission of information – the four quadrants display distinct shapes at different historical periods” (p 226).
Essentially, what Johnson is saying is that to reach the fourth quadrant innovations come from the building of ideas on innovations that were already presented as the stage for further development. This clearly relates to platforms and ideas that were previously presented that allowed innovations to develop over time. This suggests that innovations reach the fourth quadrant from an environment in which ideas are constantly developing.
This idea also correlates to evolution and things I have learned in my Evolution course. Essentially, evolution is change over time, but over time new ideas or traits come about from things presented prior. This relates back to coral reefs in which Johnson talked extensively about again in this last chapter. Over an historical time period, new developments came about from observing the coral reefs.
“In Darwin’s language, the open connections of the tangled bank have been just as generative as the war of nature. Stephen Jay Gould makes this point powerfully in the allegory of his sandal collection: ‘The wedge of competition has been, ever since Darwin, the canonical argument for progress in normal times.’ he writes. ‘But I will claim that the wheel of quirky and unpredictable functional shift (the tire-to-sandals-principle) is the major source of what we call progress at all scales” -Johnson 239
I really agree here with Gould’s second point, that the tire-to-sandals-principle is “true” progress. I think that the most innovative and useful for moving human life forward are the principles that rely on what we have in excess or even whatever we have just lying around. Johnson illustrated this with the incubators which were made out of car parts in poorer countries where car parts were all over and easily accessible. Not only was this an efficient way of building new beneficial technology, but it ensured that it would be fixable and reliable when the time came.
Personally, I think that humans have a much greater potential for innovations such as these (sandals made from tires or the incubators made from car parts). I think that the former point made by Gould is the reason why these innovations are not made more often (or we are not made aware of them). I think part of our capitalist society is the motivation to get ahead, and so innovators, even from the fourth quadrant, tend to be focused on advancing this country, and not focused on benefiting poorer nations and people. This is obviously not necessarily always the case, as there are tons of inventions from and in developed countries that have and can help out poorer nations. But I think the focus is usually on making a prosperous country more prosperous, and finding more efficient ways to do this. I think with a cooperative effort from many prosperous nations and the creative minds within, by creating networks that are much more international and internationally accessible, we can greatly expand the “wheel of quirky and unpredictable functional shift [that] we call progress at all scales”.
In the final chapter, Johnson writes about why the “fourth quadrant” has seen great success in innovation. Throughout the book so far we have looked at the importance of working environments, also the crediting of ideas, or patents. In class we have discussed who should get credit for certain ideas that have been built upon, but in this chapter Johnson shows a clear connection to the open flow of ideas and their relative success. Johnson writes about the restrictions on private-sector firms, how they try to protect and profit off old ideas thus hindering innovation. While those in the fourth quadrant are able to come up with new ideas because they do not focus on the potential profits. In the closing chapter, Johnson collects the ideas he wrote about throughout the book and applies them to the big picture. This forces me to question the ideals behind private firms. The world has become filled with greed, so much so, that companies have lost sight of the fourth quadrant. Ideas should be “challenged, enlarged, exapted, and recycled in countless ways” (Johnson 234) and this will spur new innovations. So why have economic incentives casted a shadow over the fourth quadrant way of thinking? Johnson has clearly shown that the open flow of ideas and information leads to innovation, yet today people are so focused on finding a way to profit off what already exists. If the world was less greedy, outlandish as that may be, imagine what we would be able to accomplish.