What Air Conditioning Can Teach Us About Innovation and Laziness

In a think piece for Vice’s Motherboard Ernie Smith argues that the invention of air conditioning in 1902 has had a big impact on the innovation we’ve made since. Smith, citing several studies and articles on the matter, states that it is because of air conditioners that we have things like skyscrapers, clean rooms for building advanced computer chips, shopping malls, and multiplexes. But on the other hand, air conditioners have somewhat limited our creativity in home and office designing. From the article:See, prior to the air conditioner reaching homes around the country, architects had to think more creatively about keeping people cool when options were more limited. This meant taking advantage of breezes, room design, and dimensional layout in a way that maximized the heat when it was necessary kept things cool when it wasn’t. And it meant taking advantage of foliage around the home to build in some natural shade, as well as to build porches, which were often much cooler than the insides of homes during warm days.The article, among other things, also mentions that we are currently looking for ways to curtail the energy wastage that incurs because of ACs. But Smith points out that it took us a while — generations, actually — before we started to see a problem and began working on it. From the article:”One of the many ways in which we have become cognitively lazy is to accept our initial impression of the problem that [we encounter]. Once we settle on an initial perspective we don’t seek alternative ways of looking at the problem,” author Michael Michalko wrote. “Like our first impressions of people, our initial perspective on problems and situations are apt to be narrow and superficial. We see no more than we expect to see based on our past experiences in life, education and work.” […] It’s hard to even get mad at architects who chose simple efficiency over complexity, or (to highlight a contemporary example) early carmakers that went with gasoline instead of something better for the environment. Because of human nature, it just makes sense that despite all the other advantages that came with air conditioning, the more challenging things that came with the invention — the fact that conservation and efficiency still have their place — didn’t initially get their due.

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