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The Cassette Tape Changed the World … but It Was Also Created Out of Spite

(Photo by Brian Kostiuk on Unsplash)

This week, we lost the creator of the cassette tape. Interestingly, Lou Ottens freely admitted that he made it out of spite … and he’s certainly not alone.


According to the pages of history, there are two types of inventors: those who create something for the benefit of mankind, and those who invent something to spite it.

This week, we lost Lou Ottens, the inventor of the cassette tape. A quick departure, one internet humorist suggested that we shouldn’t mourn the 94-year-old’s passing, as he could be brought back to life with the twist of a pencil. However, Ottens invention may have changed the world, but it was also motivated by petty spite.

In 1963, Ottens presented his invention for the very first time, putting the cassette in his breast pocket, claiming that the invention should be no larger than that. He later admitted that “the compact cassette was actually invented out of spite against the tape recorder, easy as that.”

It would go on to sell 100 billion units. However, he’s merely the tip of a very petty iceberg.


Perhaps the most contemporary (and ubiquitous) example would be Steve Jobs, who purportedly created the iPhone to spite someone who worked at Microsoft.

As Highsnobiety wrote, “Scott Forstall — a designer who led Apple’s iOS software division under Steve Jobs, explained how Jobs was driven on to create the device after growing tired of a loudmouth executive at Microsoft. The unnamed acquaintance, said to be the husband of a friend of Jobs’s wife, would continually bombard the Apple exec with braggadocio about Microsoft and what they were planning to do. That, ultimately, would prove a costly mistake.

“‘It began because Steve hated this guy at Microsoft,’ Forstall said. ‘Any time Steve had any interaction with the guy, he’d come back pissed off.’

“‘He just shoved it in Steve’s face — the way they were going to rule the world with their new tablets with their pens. He came in on Monday with a set of expletives and then was like ‘let’s show them how it’s really done.’

“Buoyed by resentment and an almost pathological hatred of styluses, Jobs and his team got to work on creating the prototype of a working multitouch display. Said display, eventually, would go on to serve as a touchpoint for future iPhone designs.

“Steve said, ‘do you think you could take that demo that we’re doing with the tablet and the multitouch and shrink it down to something small enough to fit in your pocket?’ We went back to the design team and they took it and they carved out a corner of it.’

“Steve saw it and said ‘put the tablet on hold, let’s build a phone.’ And that’s what we did.”


Back in the 1880s, Almon Brown Strowger had a problem. His undertaking business was hamstrung by nepotism. As the story goes, the telephone operator was the wife of a competitor, so any calls that would come through the exchange asking for an undertaker would be put through to her husband. The result was the first automatic telephone exchange, known as the Strowger switch, which was initially advertised as the “girl-less, cuss-less, out-of-order-less, wait-less telephone.”

It, seemingly, was also the first recorded use of a mortician applying salt on living tissue.


But, to close, the final word should go to Yi-Fei Chen, a Design Academy Eindhoven graduate, who after an altercation with her tutor, decided to invent a gun that fires her own frozen tears.

Talking to Deezen in 2016, Yi-Fei Chen said “I was stage stuck and did not know how to react, but I did not say my thoughts aloud,” she said. “Furthermore, the reason he (the tutor) was angry was that I might have misunderstood him … I was too emotional to control myself, I could not hold my tears so I cried,” she said. “I turned my back to the others, because I did not want people to see me crying.”

As the publication explained, the gun works “in three stages. The user first puts on a mask with a silicon cup that catches the tears. The tears are frozen in a bottle, which is then loaded onto the gun – allowing the frozen tears to be fired.”



Hilariously, Yi-Fei Chen had the opportunity to use the gun on her tutor at her graduation. Apparently, she absolutely did.


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