Guess what? The Internet isn’t on this list. Better burst your bubble right now. Where would we be without the Internet? A lot more bored, definitely, but overall OK. But when you get down to it, the technologies that truly changed the way we live were discovered, created or invented long ago, and everything in modern society depends on them. How we communicate, how we get from place to place, and even just how we put food on the table — life would be inconceivable without these technologies. When you think about the following 10 technologies that changed the world, it’s a lot easier to imagine life without Twitter.
Ancient versions of ploughs made from tree branches were used as early as 4,000 B.C., but the birth of the modern plough was in 1837 with John Deere’s saw-blade steel and iron plough. Using a plough is pretty straightforward: turn up and cultivate soil to sow seeds and plant to get better access to the nutrient-rich soil. Originally powered by humans, ploughs really took off when animals were introduced to pull them (mainly oxen and horses. The productivity of farmers skyrocketed. Many modern agricultural tools that farmers still depend on today are based on this technology. We owe a large portion of the world’s food supply to its creation.
Although Thomas Edison did not invent the first electric light bulb, he was responsible for the first commercially practical incandescent light back in 1879. “Commercially practical” meant it wouldn’t burn out in less than a minute, didn’t cost too much money to produce, and wasn’t likely to kill its user. With the need for candles and gas lamps reduced, the demand for the light bulbs skyrocketed and Edison created the first commercial power plant — Edison Electric Illuminating Co. — shortly after. Within the first five years, more than 300,000 general lighting lamps were sold, and the numbers continued to grow. Manufacturers continued to build on Edison’s model, and the types of light bulbs we have today are numerous, but modern electricity can thank that first tiny bulb for its initial spark.
Some say that newspapers are on the out and out, but the idea that you could spread a piece of news widely makes this one of the most important, world-changing technologies out there. German inventor Johannes Gutenberg developed the first printing press in 1450 using movable blocks of letters and pictures. His first undertaking was to make dozens of copies of the Latin Bible. The incredible spread of knowledge and ability for mass communication that resulted from this invention reached far beyond anything Gutenberg could have imagined. His work is credited for helping spur renaissances throughout history. The invention of the printing press lifted restrictions on the circulation of information and allowed revolutionary ideas to transcend borders. It empowered lower classes, and enabled the sharing of language across the globe.
Unless you live in a nudist colony (in which case, more power to you), you’re probably pretty thankful for the sewing machine. Introduced during the first Industrial Revolution in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, it allowed for the efficient and cost-effective mass production of clothing. Not only did it lower the manual labor costs of clothing production, but it also gave rise to some of the world’s first unions, as sweatshop workers began to organize to protect their rights. It also empowered women who worked in the home, as it freed up much of their time that had previously been devoted to mending and making clothes for the family by hand. Other industries also benefitted from its rise, such as cotton producers and metal companies that made the parts needed for the machines.
The Americans would have known the British were coming a whole lot faster if Paul Revere had been able to call a friend and put together an emergency phone tree. Thanks to Alexander Graham Bell, modern communication was revolutionized with the invention of the telephone in 1876. Rather than having to wait for a message via letter, or a man on horseback, people were able to communicate across enormous distances in mere minutes. The telephone quickly became indispensable for businesses, governments and individuals. Bell would probably be pretty shocked if he got a hold of a modern phone (who would be able to seriously explain Snapchat to him?) but his work was a landmark in 1876 for the new way the world was able to communicate.
As much fun it is to drive a horse and buggy (I don’t know anyone who can actually attest to this but it looks fun), the invention of the automobile revolutionized transportation. Although the rail system had already been created allowing people to go long distances in relatively short periods, the idea of a personal automobile was unheard of. There are too many conflicting claims on who created the first automobile to pick just one, but mass production began at the beginning of the 20th century. It allowed people to begin moving out of city centers, to do day trips, and it opened up land that was previously thought uninhabitable. On the downside, we can finger the automobile as contributing to urban sprawl, greenhouse gases, global warming, and the depletion of natural resources. But still, it was important.
If people could talk to each other on the phone via a wire, why couldn’t they talk to whole cities? And with that idea, the radio was born in 1900. Nikola Tesla was awarded two patents that allowed impulses to be transmitted over high frequencies. With this technology, commercial broadcasting began in 1920, initially covering the results of the Harding-Cox presidential election. From there it took off. People were able to get news faster than ever before. Radios became public gathering places. Their use quickly expanded beyond news and into entertainment, with stations for stories, joke-telling, and sports coverage. Radio continues to serve an important purpose, especially in emergencies. Wireless radios can transmit signals without electricity, allowing people access to vital information in a crisis when power is out and cell phones aren’t working.
Video may have killed the radio star, but both make this list of world-changing technologies. Adding the visual medium to broadcasting was an incredible advancement, and TV has been commercially available since the 1920s but it didn’t really gain steam until the 1950s. Perhaps one of the most powerful abilities of TV was enabling people to see the state of affairs overseas, particularly in war zones. Showing graphic images of battle that had previously been described only verbally was a turning point that helped shift public opinion to oppose wars. TV allowed people to glimpse into the lives of others in a way that had never been done before — to walk in someone else’s shoes. TV continues to do so today in shows such as “Teen Mom,” “Jersey Shore,” “The Real World,” and all the other trashy reality shows we can’t seem to stop watching.
Creating a system for the safe and sanitary disposal of human waste was one of the most important health advancements ever. Indoor plumbing directed waste harmful to humans away from their homes and into designated areas, preventing diseases from growing in cities’ water supplies. It also provided an element of safety, reducing the distance people had to walk — day and night in often-dangerous conditions — to access the closest water supply. Sadly, people in many parts of the globe still lack indoor plumbing. For those who have it, be thankful you don’t have to walk outside to a hole in the ground in 20-degree weather at night.
Even with the train, automobile, steamship, bicycle, and better running shoes, it wasn’t until the airplane that international travel truly became a possibility. The Wright Brothers are credited in 1902 with inventing the first “sustained and controlled heavier-than-air powered flight.” But it wasn’t until 1939 that the first jet aircraft was invented in Germany. The implications of the airplane were huge with regard to military combat. Armies were able to attack enemies from afar in a matter of hours. It was even more significant for civilian life. Never before had people been able to walk out of their house and fly clear across the world to another country, furthering the exchange of ideas, cultures, and goods. While air travel remains a luxury for most, its impact is felt by all.
#1 Macroeconomic Newsletter For Black America
"*" indicates required fields