Life has changed quite a bit in the last decade or so, and it seems to move so fast that it’s hard to keep up with what’s happening. I actually remember the first time I typed in a web address (sans Google) to check out a fan site back in the early 90s. Now, internet use is as rudimentary as putting socks on in the morning. Change soon becomes second nature, but it’s always worth reflecting on what is going on in the world around us. Here are 10 innovations that changed the way we live:
- The Plow
It’s important to understand that innovations don’t come from a single mind creating a single invention. To illustrate this, I decided to go back in time a bit (okay, a lot) to the modification of farming tools. Not much of its origin is known, but the plow probably developed independently in several regions as it appears throughout all recorded history. It’s the most important agricultural tool ever. Before we started to plow, we were hunter/gatherers or subsistence farmers — any attempts to grow food were laborious and time-consuming.
After the plow, we could farm more comfortably with less time and effort. This led to harvests that provided more food than a people needed, which led to trade and markets, which led to free time and energy beyond survival, which lead to thoughts about language, numbers, and additional services, which led to the development of civilization as we know it.
Yep! We wouldn’t be going anywhere fast without the plow. We certainly wouldn’t have the internet or fidget spinners. Now that you understand that you wouldn’t be reading this if it wasn’t for the plow, let’s fast-forward to modern times!
- Motor Cars
It is widely accepted that Karl Benz’s 1885 Motorwagen was the first proper “car,” but at that stage, nobody in the real world could afford them. It was the Ford Model T in 1908 that opened up the market, and by the time of its discontinuation in 1927, 15 million had been produced, costing as low as $260.
The car industry has changed everything. Not only did cars provide modern man with a fast and convenient (albeit expensive) way to get around, they also led to the development of modern roads, encouraged commerce and business, and opened up the country to anyone who had one. Jobs were no longer confined to local areas. Uber gave us a car service that even a comatose chimp could make use of after a night out on the town.
- Airline Transport
In 1914, the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line ran its first scheduled passenger airline service. The first ticket was sold at an auction for $400 to a man named Pheil, who accompanied the pilot Jannus across the 21-mile bay in 23 minutes. The service went on to offer standard fairs of $5, but only lasted four months.
This early embarking did pave the way for commercial flights as we know them and gave way to a new level of transport. If the car gave us access to our nations, flights gave us access to the world. It’s now possible to travel pretty much anywhere on the globe in under 24 hours. That’s pretty crazy if you think about it, that we once roamed on foot only, and later by donkey.
In 1928, Alexander Fleming discovered that certain molds fight bacteria. This eventually led to the production and wide use of antibiotics in medicine. In my opinion, and recent studies have confirmed this, antibiotics should be used only when absolutely necessary. Overuse can make them ineffective over time, and germs can adapt to them, too. But before antibiotics were around, a simple infection from a scratch or a case of the common cold could be the end of you. Penicillin changed medicine forever.
- Renewable Energy
Nuclear power is widely considered to be the biggest changing force in terms of our energy output and consumption. The first commercial plant was opened by the Queen at Calder Hall in London in 1956 and was praised for providing clean and cheap energy in amounts that coal couldn’t match.
Later, meltdowns and disasters showed us the other side of the story, so I’m going to be a little bit edgy and daresay that renewables are our single greatest innovation in energy, or at least have the potential to be. If the world was run on renewables, we might have half a chance of a sustainable existence while enjoying the benefits of modern technology. Thankfully, renewables are gaining traction. For example, wind energy now provides the second largest power output in Europe.
- Electronic Funds Transfers
In 1972, The Federal Reserve made a paperless transfer system in their L.A. branch. By 1980, banks, insurance companies, and financial institutions were transferring millions of dollars electronically. The result for us is that we can access our money whenever we want. From ATMs to card payments to PayPal transfers, buying stuff is pretty convenient. Maybe too convenient…
- The Roulette Wheel
This kind of gaming has been around for a long time. People have always looked for a medium with which to wager. When Blaise Pascal attempted to create a perpetual motion machine — a machine that would continue to spin without any assistance — he unknowingly became an early innovator for modern casinos. His motion machine developed into the roulette wheel, which quickly became one of the most popular games going for patrons around Europe and America.
Gaming has changed our lives in big ways. If electronic funds transfers gave us easy access to cash, the roulette wheel gave us an easy way to spend it, for fun and for the opportunity to win big.
- Sony Walkman
You might laugh at the thought of walking around with a Walkman, but these things were the pinnacle of technology when they were released back in 1979 and were a game changer for sure. Although production stopped in 2010, they set the scene (technologically and socially) for carrying music around with you.
Since the Walkman, we have seen portable CD players, and then the rise of digital music, starting with the old MP3 players and advancing on to iPods in 2001, as well as modern phones and devices. The upside: I can listen to “Rhythm is a Dancer” wherever I am and whenever I want. The downside: we get a little bit cut-off from what’s around us. It’s a common theme with modern tech…
- PCs and Mobile Phones
The evolution of communication technology was really kickstarted when Samuel Morse invented the electric telegraph in 1836. It was a huge leap from live Morse code to actual voices and telephones, and naturally to radio and television.
But these days it’s all about mobiles, isn’t it? Mine is a “classic” style that would have looked small and cool enough back in the 90s, but these days, smartphones are all of the rage. They have definitely changed the way we live. We now have access to instant communications with our friends with phone calls and texts, and instant communication with strangers who we call friends via social media. We have the internet at our fingertips.
Which reminds me…
- The Internet
Arguably the single biggest game changer of our lifetime, the world wide web of information includes just about anything and everything that you could ever think of, ever. Want to learn how to cook the Turkish egg-based dish shakshuka? No problem! Want to watch a dog chase its own tail or a cat doing backflips? Be my guest. Welcome to the internet.
Far from being a tool for watching cute animals, the internet is the world’s largest library, having given us global news; social media; any service imaginable; digital media including audio, movies, and documentaries; text; pictures; and the ability to create, edit, share, copy, and store information in an instant. Wow. That’s pretty mind-blowing, isn’t it?
But like all technology, how we choose to use the internet will determine its long-term effects on our society and on our tiny individual brains. So, choose wisely, eh. Now, back to watching giraffes falling over on YouTube…