“Why can’t I see it now?” Or why it pays to listen to your most demanding customer


Oh the impatience of youth!

The first time one of my sons pressed the button on a non-digital camera, he turned to me and asked “where can I see the picture?”

I knew at once it was a significant moment, but I was all wrong about the reason why.

How cute, I thought, he’s so steeped in the digital age that he expects the image to be displayed instantly, just like on our digital camera.

Yet it turns out that the expectation of photographic instant gratification was not the preserve of the digital natives at all.

The evidence is here in this vignette from the 1940s family life of Edwin Land:

… on a family vacation in California, Land took a picture of a burro for his three-year old daughter, Jennifer. When the little girl impatiently asked, “Why can’t I see it now?”

Clearly Edwin Land was no ordinary father. Where most would have dismissed the request as childish naivity, he set to work on a startling answer: and within an hour came up with a concept that seemed revolutionary to grown-ups the world over…

It took Polaroid scientists nearly five years to make Land’s vision into a reality. By the fall of 1948, the Land 95 camera, priced at $89.95, was ready for the public. On the day after Thanksgiving, a sales and demonstration crew arrived at Boston’s Jordan Marsh Department Store. As astonished customers witnessed the first instant photos being made, cameras flew off the shelves. The demonstration ended early when the entire stock of cameras sold out.

I love the story of the Polaroid camera because it makes me wonder. What other innovations are out there, under our noses, so blindingly obvious that it takes a three-year-old to demand, and an attentive parent to deliver?

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