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The greatest inventions. October 31, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. The November issue of The Atlantic featured the 50 greatest inventions since the wheel. Or so they claimed. Sure, there were the printing press, paper, the moldboard plow (thank you, Jethro Tull!), the combustion engine, the internet, the personal computer, and so on. But they seem to have forgotten the real boons that enabled us all to flourish.

I’m referring, of course, to plumbing, toilet paper, soap, and deodorant. Toilets and an ample supply of hot and cold water on demand date back to ancient Rome; feudal Japan under the Shoguns had toilet paper and hot-water baths. I can’t imagine anything that changed society more and made living more pleasurable. Except, perhaps, soap, shampoo, combs, antipersperant, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and body lotion.

The list did include air conditioning, that wonderful relief from hot, humid, agonizing weather. And it included electricity, which brought safe, bright, affordable illumination into our homes, and glasses, which enabled those with impaired vision to read and participate in society. But it left out glass windows, stoves (though it included refrigeration), and coinage and currency, which enabled society to move beyond the barter system and assign abstract values to everything (for better or worse). “I’ll give you this fish for that bunch of grapes” became “I’ll sell you this fish” and “I’ll sell you these grapes.”

Plenty of other great inventions failed to make the list of 50, which is a pretty small number if you’re counting down from the wheel. Which inventions do you feel changed society or human history for the better?

‘Til next time,




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