San Francisco-born Reuben Garrett Lucius “Rube” Goldberg, an American cartoonist, sculptor, author, engineer, and inventor, best known for satirical cartoons that depicted complicated devices that performed simple tasks in creatively complex ways.
But Goldberg, born on July 4, 1883, was also a visionary, who saw the impact of personalized communications decades before it occurred. His Forbes cover,“After Color TV: The Future of Home Entertainment,” from March 15, 1967 (below) depicts a family with each member engaged with its own mostly flat screen and targeted content – including the baby and cat. Recall that in 1967 the idea of the color TV, aka “talking furniture,” was still relatively new.
Future Family: Alone Together
Note the types of content, the different screens and the interactive controller used by the father. The baby’s wind-up truck does not have a chance.
The Fun of Getting There
Goldberg is associated with popular cartoons depicting gadgets that perform simple tasks in indirect or complicated but imaginative ways, giving rise to the term “Rube Goldberg machine” for s similar gadget or process. Goldberg received many honors in his lifetime, including a Pulitzer Prize for his political cartooning in 1948.
He is the inspiration for various international competitions, known as Rube Goldberg Machine Contests, which challenge participants to make a complicated machine to perform a simple task (kind of the opposite of an invention, which attempts to solve a problem or improve efficiency).
The contest, in which college or high school students build devices to complete a simple task in a minimum of twenty steps in the style of Goldberg, is held throughout the United States, and local winners are eligible to compete in the national contest.
Rube Goldberg reminds us that how a simple problem gets solved can be as fascinating as the solution.