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The Self-Stirring Pot and Our Rising Quality of Life

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According to the The Asahi Shimbun, Hideki Watanabe, a dentist from Tobe, Japan, invented the “Kurukuru nabe” (or ‘swirly pot’) to help cooks keep their hands free when preparing dinner. The pan has special groves that makes a small whirlpool when the water is heated, causing the contents inside to spin. Check out the video.

While neat in its own right, the invention and its history tell an important story about the world we live in. Besides the big innovations that change the world dramatically, a steady tide of new gadgets continues to reshape daily life in small ways.

Over time these little changes add up—30 years ago Americans had no Internet, ATMs, laptops, or DVDs. The conventional income comparisons between generations miss this. The richest man in the world couldn’t have bought a smartphone in 1983; today even people of very modest incomes can afford one. Our quality of life has improved much more than income levels suggest.

But there’s another aspect of the story behind the swirly pot that’s worth noticing. Watanabe invented the pot in his kitchen one night when he was struggling with trying to smoke and cook at the same time. When he saw a self-stirring pot could work, he got a patent and posted a video of the product on YouTube:

By May, the clip had racked up more than a million views. E-mail messages flooded in from around the world, from Europe, the United States, even from Israel and Dubai. Watanabe received more than 100 from correspondents offering to help manufacture what they called a marketable product. Most of the messages were in English, but some people took the trouble to write in halting Japanese, doing their best to get their bid understood. Watanabe responded to every inquiry, but had to use translation software.

Watanabe’s story is the perfect example of how technology can radically democratize economic power. Just by posting a video of his product on the Internet, an average Japanese citizen was able to instantly find backers and get the pot to market. This is the kind of thing that could not have happened so easily even ten years ago, and it shows how much technology can empower entrepreneurism.

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