The Segway symbolizes everything that is wrong with the American economy.
As the tech bubble was bursting, one of the cleverest inventors in the land, backed by A-list Silicon Valley investors, set out to produce a top secret device that would "change the world as we know it."
The result -- we now know -- was a machine that serves as a substitute for foot or bicycle as means of transportation.
Knowingly or not, Dean Kamen and his flock of investors had set out to solve America's "walking problem." In addition, they also appeared set on solving the "bicycling problem." (Everyone knows Americans spend far too much time walking and bicycling.)
The Segway only adds 80 lbs and $4,300 to the price of a quality bicycle. But on a Segway you have your hands free (almost), so arguably the Segway is more comparable to walking, except that you don't get any exercise.
The Segway can best be compared to the unicycle. It even looks a bit like one.
Of course, a unicycle weighs less, and costs even less than a good bike (one wheel being less expensive than two).* One difference is that it takes about eight hours of practice before you can ride anywhere on a unicycle; and it will take another eight hours of practice before you can navigate various obstacles. I speak from experience, have taught more than a dozen people to ride a unicycle. On the other hand, a Segway can be mastered in under an hour. My advice to anyone serious about investing in a Segway is to pay themselves $281.25 an hour for the 16 hours it will take them to learn to get around on a unicycle.
Unlike buying a Segway, acquiring unicycle skills is an investment -- one that will pay compounded dividends over time. Not only in terms of your health. As your unicycling skills improve over time, you will be able to go places on your unicycle -- up hills, down stairs, over bumps -- where no Segway will ever go. (Again, I speak from experience. I was among the first practitioners of a sport that has come to be known as "mountain unicycling." Try that on a Segway.)
Unbelievably, American investors pumped an estimated $100 million into developing the Segway. In so far as the Segway is just another expensive solution to a non-existent problem, the Segway is the perfect symbol for everything that is wrong with American economy.
someone must convince them diplomacy is for wimps.
What important problem was the financial industry trying to solve when it invented mortgage-backed derivatives?
The lamest innovations have always led to new, unforeseen problems. The Iraq War, the Viox recall debacle, are but the most visible side-effects of America's most egregious bad investments. Even the Segway has had unwanted side-effects: As Segways proliferate at popular American sight-seeing venues, one can no longer walk down some sidewalks without fearing collision with a very large body traveling at a high velocity on a rental. Worse may be yet to come.
CNN reports (h/t J-P) Segway inventor Kamen has a new vision. This time Kamen is proposing to solve an actual problem. Namely, the shortage of clean drinking water which afflicts many parts of the developing world. Kamen calls his new invention the Slingshot.
Had American inventors and their bankers not been so preoccupied with solving non-problems, many real-world problems would have been solved by now.
Photos by Jotman.
* Before you blow $4,500 on a new Segway, check out your other options at Unicycles.com.