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A Nation of Innovation

Published: August 24, 2009

Twitter, Facebook, iPhones, GPS, digital sound — the endless stream of technological, social, and artistic advances is a modern by-product of one of our country’s greatest assets — American ingenuity.

For two centuries, America has reigned as the most innovative nation on the planet — a force nourished by limitless curiosity, an openness to new ideas, and a system that allows creative minds to flourish.

“Ever since the Founding Fathers hatched a new nation in 1776, the ability to create something new, something revolutionary, has been hailed as an essential part of the American spirit,” notes Elizabeth Svoboda, author of “Profiles in Creativity” (page 40). “Images of Thomas Edison’s first light bulb flickering to life, of Alexander Graham Bell shouting ‘Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you’ into the first telephone receiver, are as much a part of our cultural lexicon as George Washington’s Revolutionary War victories.”

The need for something better spawned the outpouring of creativity that prompted an unparalleled wave of discovery chronicled in our feature story “12 Innovations That Changed Our World.”

“That spirit became part of our national DNA,” historian Frederick Allen writes in his essay “American Ingenuity.”

The process continues. At any given moment, millions of tinkerers and dreamers in garages, basements, and laboratories strive at breakneck speed to create something “better” that will once again change the fabric of our lives.

Consider the e-book. As electronic media enter the market, will print disappear? I like the feel of a book and magazine, enjoy browsing bookstores for intriguing new titles, and eagerly await the arrival of magazines in the mail. Would I appreciate an e-book reader preloaded with my favorite newspapers and magazines while traveling as Paul Smalera suggests in “E-Books: A Good Read”? You bet! As a matter of fact, a plane equipped with a portable reading e-book would be welcome company on my way to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Gone with the Wind — a destination colorfully depicted in this issue.

No one disputes the importance of medical innovation. In “The Post Investigates Cancer Vaccines” (page 56), Sharon Begley reports on new vaccines that harness the power of our own immune system to vanquish tumor cells.

On the lighter side, commentator Charles Osgood offers a poetic view on his lifelong quest to adapt to the ever-changing “American Scene.” As a fisherman, I certainly welcome the electronic gizmos detailed in Bill Vossler’s “The New Fishing: Hook, Line, and Sonar” (page 50) that “do pretty much everything except put the hook in the fish’s mouth.”

Whether you are overwhelmed or overjoyed, we would like you to weigh in on how you are adapting to the scope and pace of change — send me an e-mail or letter. Sorry, I don’t Twitter (yet).

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