Hammocks: What Could Be Better?

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What makes hammocks wonderful isn't the flawlessness of the idea but its simplicity, which has allowed for constant innovation.

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akeg/Flickr

What could be better than spending a warm summer afternoon relaxing in a hammock, reading a book, drifting in and out of a nap?

Well, for one, there could be a good place for your drink. And, you know, it wouldn't be such a bad thing if you could switch to a seated position every now and then, and have some decent back support to boot.

Also, while we're at it, could there be room for another person? And could we lie in it together without constantly rolling toward the middle?

Now that would be great.

Solutions to such problems have been developed and patented by generations of American tinkerers. There are thousands and thousands of results for "hammock" in Google's patent search (although many of those are unrelated, for example, this patent for "Rise Promoters for Regulation of Plant Expression," which references a person with the last name Hammock).

Here's a quick tour of some of the innovations:

Some of the inventions captured in hammock patents, including a few pictured above, are overkill. But many are quite useful -- hammock stands that negate the need for well-spaced trees, or wooden rods at the ends that keep the hammock flat and allow for multiple users. The result is that the hammock -- this basic sling of fabric hung between two points -- is available in a diverse range of incarnations: light and portable for camping, wide and bulky for a suburban backyard, and everything in between. What makes hammocks seem so perfect isn't the flawlessness of the idea but its simplicity. That simplicity is what makes them an open platform for innovation and improvement, and why you can end up with one that is so suited to your needs that you might even call it perfect.

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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