Thursday, February 2, 2012

What is the Most Important Invention in History?

The World's Most Important Invention
There are many devices and techniques that have been highlighted as important advancements in human history, but it seems to me that every contrivance ever made for humankind’s benefit has also been turned into a tool for destruction. So what invention really deserves the honor as the most important advancement in human history?

The agricultural revolution is a good contender; we no longer had to live as hunter/gatherers and could live in one place without having to be continually following our food, whether it be migrating herds or ripening fruits and tubers. Agriculture meant that we could, with fair certainty, grow enough food to feed us all year by storing it for use all through the year. We could also grow enough food to feed the animals we had convinced to be docile enough to keep us company until it was time to eat them. All of the new agricultural tools and techniques allowed us to settle down in one place and form communities for mutual benefit. But the list of unintended consequences soon became long; food was locked up and what used to be free for the taking was now far from home, living in large communities also produced of a whole lot of shit in the streets that you couldn’t ignore or move away from, and caused a big stink and was favorable for diseases to breed in, and worst of all, living so close each other all the time led to the creation of tyrannical despots, bureaucracy, politics and organized religion. These eventually led to wars for gaining control of water and fertile land, then larger territories, then slaves to do the work for free, then wives. Eventually, the spread of civilization led to ruining the environment and threatening the way of life that we spilled so much blood to attain. We are faced with possible widespread catastrophes, which may lead to an eventual mass die off of many species of plants, animals, humans, or even least disrupt the parts supply for our electronic essentials.

The wheel is the mother-of-all labor-saving uses and can claim credit for building empires, it was also non-existent in the New World and they seemed to get along well without it. My biggest argument against the wheel is the role (no pun intended) that it has played, and continues to play in war as a transporter of weapons and as incorporated in weapons, thus contributing to thousands of years of bloodshed. Even outside of the arena of war it has contributed to wasteful consumption. The wheel has also brought about a multitude of speed related fatalities, and not just deer caught in the headlights. And last but not least, the wheel in integral to some absolutely abominable auto designs—the Pacer and the VW Thing are at the top of my list.

As a bibliophile I should vote for the printing press as the most beneficial technological leap for it made books affordable to most people, along with widespread literacy. It also contributed to the advancement of knowledge and has even unified peoples. Unfortunately, it has also been used to spread hate and disinformation to deceive and control nations and peoples. Too often people will believe what they read without questioning the sources, truthfulness, or rationality of the pamphlet, advertisement, or email. Other unintended consequences are junk mail filled with miracle health cures; get rich quick testimonials; how to get 100 mpg; celebrity gossip magazines; romance novels; and third-rate novelists who have captured the money of lazy readers.

So, after examining many of mankind’s greatest hits, I nominate the humble toothbrush as the single most important technological invention ever introduced to humankind. It not only contributes to the better health of the teeth, but also to the whole body, and it makes face to face communication so much more pleasant. It is rarely ever used as a weapon, indeed, a very poor choice to those who have tried. In fact, I have yet to hear of any instance where it was confiscated at an airport by an overly cautious TSA agent (you know the type, the guys wearing both a belt and suspenders), even if it had a sharp rubbery tip. It is very portable and easy to tuck in a pocket or behind an ear, thus we never need be without this most important invention in the history of humankind.

FYI: the photo at top is an ancient toothbrush.