I first took the “nothing new under the sun” proverb to heart while I was still in elementary school. Midway through the summer of 1994, after watching Back To The Future: Part II again, I decided to plan my fifth grade science project. I wanted to build cars that could fly. At 10-years-old though, I didn’t have any knowledge about engineering or technology, but I did have a dream. And my answer came from such an ordinary place: magnets. I realized that the way they push from each other could be used as an excellent way to make cars float; and that’s how I would make my cars fly.
I stole magnets from the bottom of our shower curtain, from refrigerator clips, children’s toys—any place I could find the little black tablets and strips—then I glued some on the bottoms of a pair of HotWheels racecars and lined more magnets on a section of rubber racetrack. My cars wobbled at first push. Oftentimes they floated off the track because the side walls were too low. Nonetheless, my idea was there: the cars flew. I had discovered something new and wondrous and imagined I would one day be famous for inventing a flying car highway system!
Grinning over my idea, I came back inside the house for a break and received a rude shock. Airing on the living room TV was a short advertisement for Disney World’s Epcot Center and a new form of transportation called…the maglev train. Here was my invention already thought out, already cool…and already life-sized. I rushed into the living room in horror, grabbed the ‘M’ encyclopedia from a shelf, and flipped through the entries until I hit the word “Maglev”. Maglev. Magnetic Levitation. The technology had already been designed and implemented over 20 years before me.
At the time, I was so crushed at the realization that I didn’t invent something new, but now when I look back at that day I can laugh. In my naïveté, I didn’t consider that with nearly six billion other people on this earth there are probably many who come up with the same ideas.
I never did pursue a career in engineering and technology, though. Eventually, I discovered that my passion is in telling stories through visual narratives: writing, TV, and film. I’m 25 now, but I still carry a certain outlook with me from that event. I believe old ideas and old tales are recycled again and again—even in the “creative” field of storytelling. Novels use master plots; films use cinematic tropes; stories recycle familiar types of characters. In truth, I no longer measure ideas by their “newness” or “novelty”. Instead, I now I simply desire for them to be insightful.
The same goes for inventions. I celebrate innovators who recycle the same old resources, the same ideas, but who demonstrate an innate ability to use them and accomplish more than what was previously achieved. That, in my mind, makes them amazing.
Maybe there really isn’t anything new under the sun, but I still believe there is a chance…for greatness.