A few weeks ago, for various reasons I changed my mobile phone (Make and model withheld for this is not the place for advertising) I readily admit it is quite an amazing piece of modern technology. Holding my new toy; I reflected how inventions have changed human society. I was curious what ten inventions most changed our world. Now of course you will have your preferences. After a brief research on the Internet (World Wide Web) I selected the following:
10. The Plough:
No one knows who is credited with such a simple invention, yet it changed the way human society functioned and sustained itself.
9. The Wheel:
Like the plough, the inventor of the wheel is lost in the annals of time, but the oldest wheel is dated around 3100 BCE in Ljubljana, Slovenia. The wheel is more than a means to assist transportation; it forms the basis of many subsequent inventions.
8. The Printing Press:
This invention is attributed to Johan Guttenberg 1430’s. Imagine how this revolutionised society. From parchment and quill to type, the printing press ushered in social and cultural change. It was one of the seeds of the Protestant Reformation.
It seems the concept of refrigeration was widely known and gradually improved over the course of 200 years. Some point to Carl Von Linde’s 1876 design as the precursor of the modern refrigerator. Imagine a world without refrigeration?
The world of communication changed forever with Samuel Morse’s invention of the telegraphy in 1836. Pause for a moment and consider how communication technology has changed in your lifetime? How about the humble telegram, the harbinger for many of good and bad news?
5. Steam Engine:
Ah, the romance of steam trains, evoking memories of a bygone era. Yet its inventor crediting with harnessing the power of the steam engine is Thomas Newcomen in 1712. The steam engine was literally the driving force of the Industrial Revolution which changed the then known world for ever.
I remember my first car it was an Austin Cambridge 1961 saloon. I thought it was wonderful to drive where I wanted to go, without waiting for public transport. Of course it did have the obligatory crank handle for emergencies. What was your first car? You may be interested to know that Karl Benz’s 1885 Motorwagen, powered by an internal combustion engine of his own design is considered the first automobile. Cars of course bring great freedom but also increase pollution upon our planet.
3. Light Bulbs:
Even though Thomas Edison is widely credited with discovering a filament that would take electricity and not explode. The research was already taking place in both Europe and US where dozens of people were working on similar ideas in the 1870’s when Edison developed his incandescent bulb. Imagine our life without electric light?
No single inventor can be accredited with inventing the computer, but mathematician Alan Turing is widely accepted as one of the founding fathers of computer technology. Believe it or not mechanical computers are believed to have been used in Ancient Greece for astronomical forecasting. Computers have changed the way we live; there is no part of our modern society that is not influenced and dependent upon computers. How do you see your life being influenced for good and not so good by computers and information technology?
- 1. The Internet (World Wide Web):
An organisation called DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency) which is the research and development arm of the US Military. They created ARPANET in the late 1960’ which was a network of computer – to computer connections intended for military and academic research. This was the forerunner of our modern World Wide Web. For those of you who use the WWW daily, imagine your life without it, what changes would you need to make?
The above list of course is not exhaustive, but what needs to be taken into account with any invention, is the inventor seeks to improve, to build upon other previous ideas and creations, to develop something more effective and efficient. It is often through apparent ‘failure’ that success and new creations comes forth. Inventions change the way society evolves, how humans function and interact with their environment and each other.
The current pace of change in particular communication technology and in medical science is breathtaking and we may wonder what life will be like in say 20 or 50 years from now. Some future writers imagine a time when every ailment and disease will be cured and utopia will be ushered in, like the swipe of a hand upon a touch screen or the click of a mouse. I read somewhere that there is an expectation that within a very short time, if a particular body part fails ie a kidney, you will go into a hospital and receive a new one grown in a laboratory. Welcome to the future!!!
Alas, despite the massive advances in technology, there is still immense suffering and poverty in our world along with record numbers of child abuse cases here in New Zealand.
When it comes to social issues there is no invention that I know of that takes away human responsibility in decision making. That can abdicate human – kind from being morally responsible for the pain and suffering we may contribute in our world.
There is no invention able to make us more compassionate, more loving, more open and communicative with those around us. These require a conscious decision of the will to actually take responsibility for our attitudes and behaviours and were appropriate seek to change. Once more we find ourselves with the prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
This prayer leads us away from the world of inventions into the world of interventions of taking responsibility for our own life; this requires no invention or money in our purse or wallet, rather courage and determination.
A man whose life journey has inspired me is Victor Frankl. He was an Austrian Jew, and a trained Psychiatrist. During WW2 along with his family he was imprisoned in the death camps of Nazi Germany. We can only imagine the repugnant things he experienced. His parents, his brother and along with his wife died in the camps, except for his sister his whole family perished. Frankl himself suffered torture and innumerable indignities, never knowing from one moment to the next if his path would lead him to the ovens, or among the saved, who remove the bodies or shovel out the ashes from the furnaces. One day, naked and alone in a small room, he began to be aware of what later he would call the “last of the human freedoms” – the freedom his Nazi captors could not take away. They could control his environment, they could do what they wanted to his body, but Victor Frankl himself was a self – aware human being who looked as an observer at his ongoing situation. His basic identity was intact – He became aware that he could decide within himself how all of this was going to affect him. Between what was happening to him, if you like the stimulus and his response to it, was his freedom or power to choose that response.
Through a series of disciplines – mental, emotional and moral, principally using memory and imagination – he exercised his small embryonic freedom until it grew, until he saw that he had more freedom than his captors. They had more liberty more options to choose from within in their environment, but he had more freedom, more internal power to exercise his options. He became an inspiration to others; he helped his fellow prisoners find meaning in their suffering and dignity in their prison existence. Within that place of death, and degradation, he became self aware of the fundamental principle of the nature of us humans, namely we have the freedom to choose our response to how what we experience in our life will affect us.
Nothing has yet been invented that can take away that most basic of human freedoms to choose our responses about how things will affect us.
I leave you with these words from Reinhold Niebuhr:
“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.
Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history;
therefore we must be saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.
No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint.
Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love
which is forgiveness.”
Meanwhile Peace and Courage