Thursday, October 9, 2008

The invention of the motion movie camera

So I've spent a bit of time reading the class thoughts on Thomas Edison and the controversy over the motion picture camera as well as Milies' work. I have to say I completely understand and sympathize with these men behind the scenes, but from my experience in the business world, that's the way it is, and still is today. I actually contemplated about keeping my trap shut on this one so as not to invoke a word war, but then again, since I've somehow earned the title of "troublemaker", I guess I have to work on establishing my title. ;P

The thing you have to realize about Edison, is that although he was a bright man in a mathematical sense, he was also a visionary and first and foremost an entrepreneur (say that 5 times fast with a mouth full of crackers). By today's standards, work behind the scenes isn't credited to the guy who stumbled upon it, rather the front man and thus gets most of the credit. I find the fact that Dickson is even mentioned as having worked with Edison on this invention an impressive thing by today's standards.

Let's take a look at the world of computers and Bill Gates. Anyone who's seen Pirates of Silicone know that dear Uncle Bill wasn't the first guy that came up with the idea of computers, heck, he's not even the second. It was actually those Apple techs that began to suggest the idea of an operating program for the computer in the first place. Why does Uncle Bill get all the credit? Because he was the first to produce the goods in a manner in which consumers understood and he was smart enough to yank the smart chains to get the product on the market before Apple. Does that make him a bad person? Well, without Uncle Bill, you may still be walking to this class on campus and playing around with a "Lisa" on your free time (google Apple's version of Lisa if you are far too young to remember what a flop this was).

The point is, is that it's all business, and it's not pretty, but without it, we wouldn't have all the amenities we have now. Edison didn't invent the light bulb as many people assume. What he did do was invent a version of the bulb that lasted longer and was able to be produced at a rate and cost that consumers could afford. He didn't invent the first telegraph, he improved the design so that you could send out multiple messages at one time. By all rights, he doesn't deserve the title of "inventor", but because he was first, because he threw his patent card out on the table, and because he was astute enough to seduce the best engineers and designers the world at that time had to offer onto his payroll, his name remains forever legend in our world.

Do I feel sorry for Dickson for not getting rich off of the design of the camera he mostly invented? Absolutely not. Stephen made an excellent point on this. He said something to the fact, and I'm paraphrasing without looking back that "I don't expect to get credit for cleaning up industrial waste, the company I work for does. I don't care I got paid for it". This answer hits the nail on the head. It's hard to look back at that time and envision a world where you worked for an average of $.50 a day and that was good money, but it was reality. Work was sometimes hard to come by, and your family had to be fed. You'd be amazed to see what people will do when it comes to putting groceries on the table - and yes that includes eating a bit of crow to get a paycheck from the jerk that gets to take all the credit for your work. If it's any consolation to all you classmates seething for revenge on this fact, consider that it was often mentioned that Edison was believed to be a "communist": and "atheist", which was about as controversial back then as labeling someone a child molester these days (sorry just couldn't think of a better current analogy to make the connection) - these are issues that "front men" deal with everyday. Something goes wrong, whether you were involved or not, and it's your fault. The idea here is that it's not always a bad thing to be the guy behind the scenes not getting the credit/blame for the company's product.

George Melies I have a bit more sympathy for, but then again, as any good businessman knows, it's a dog eat dog world. If you want to succeed you have to think ahead of your competitors and you have invest some money to make some money. If he sunk all his hope into making it rich off of his film, then he certainly should have knocked on some banker's doors and obtained the funding to copyright the dang thing. Hollywood does this everyday, and as you will all remember, the introduction to "securing rights" to stories for movies. This incident is no different than as it is today. Some guy bigger than you knew it was worth having, sent his "thugs" out to steal the deal and made it happen before you knew what was going on. Certainly a crap of a deal for anyone, but then again, without this process, would the movie making industry be what it is today.

I've also read some remarks about Edison being too cheap to obtain a patent that would prohibit anyone outside the states from working on the invention of the camera. Although, I can see the point now, you again have to consider the world back then. $150.00 was a lot of money back then when the average joe was banking about $.50 a day. By today's standards, I'd imagine (and I'm ball-parking here), that this cost would have exceeded $150,000.00. Also, in the day, as we learned from our text and in class, that the idea of "moving pictures" wasn't immediately embraced as anything more than just a passing fancy. No one really saw the impact it would have on the world, and I don't think it was until the introduction of various camera techniques by savvy cinemaphotographers (remember the soup and child experiment with the emotionless man) that the common welfare started to take notice of it's abilities, therefore why throw money at a fad? I think it is this stumbling along process that perpetually keeps the wheels of technology moving forward.

If anything, I think we have learned from our forefathers the lesson of covering our wide hides. Today people are running out and copyrighting or patenting everything from catch phrases to backpack coolers. Now I really don't think that any of these ideas will grip the world and change it forever, but then again, maybe Edison thought the same thing when he passed by the opportunity to patent the motion picture camera.

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