Telephones, lightbulbs, steam engines and airplanes are inventions that changed the way we live. Inventing things like the cam, horseshoes, and pottery separated the men from the boys, and from the animals. Still, if you think the wheel was the ultimate killer app you may want to consider the following ten world changing innovations.
2. Pointed stick
3. Broken rock
4. Watching the grass grow
5. Living with animals
6. Processed food
8. Two plus two equals four
9. Metal discs
10. Imaginary metal discs
1. Talking We can talk because somewhere along the line we invented language. Think about it, without language you couldn’t, well, think about it. At least not in the way you think now. After all, animals don’t have internal monologs to think about how much better things would be if they could just talk us out of eating them.
If we couldn’t talk we’d have to communicate by waving our hands and making faces or playing charades and pictionary. What would mankind be without language? No conversation, no education, no civilization, no politics, no talk shows. We’d all be savages, I tell you, savages! The best thing about this invention is little children learn it more-or-less on their own just by listening to adults talk. Kids talk before they set one foot in school to be confused by any theories of how they did it.
2. Pointed stick A stick with a point is much more effective for hunting a mastodon than a stick without a point. In which case you’d have to beat it into submission, which would probably just make a mastodon angry. The longer the stick the farther away you can be when you jab it while it gets angry. If you can throw it like a spear while hiding behind a big rock, even better.
Pointed sticks eventually became spears, then arrows, then bullets. Nowadays it is safer and easier than ever to hunt mastodons, though there aren’t any around. Probably because the ancients with pointed sticks ate them all.
3. Broken rock When you break up certain types of rocks you get a sharp edge, which is what we’re really after here. The first sharpened edges on rocks begat the stone age as there’s not much difference between a stone and a rock. If you’ve ever tried to chop down a tree with a dull ax or cut a mastodon steak with a butter knife you know how important a sharp edge can be.
The sharpened edge might be the greatest time saving invention ever. Otherwise you’d have to wait for trees to fall over on their own to build a hut. Which could be quite some time, especially since trees can outlive people by a hundred years. Also, sharpened edges can be used to make pointed sticks which don’t grow on trees. Admit it, the sharpened edge is the ultimate cutting edge technology.
4. Watching the grass grow The grass in question being plants like wheat, rice and barley. The watching being tending, as in farming. Planning a vegetarian menu was an iffy proposition before farming was thought of.
Farming took more work up front with all the plowing and whatnot, but it saved legwork finding food to gather because you knew where it was since you planted it there. Plus you could grow lots of the tastier plants and avoid supplementing your diet by eating nasty weeds and tree bark just because they’re close at hand. Farming meant people could finally settle down in settlements, villages, towns, cities and eventually megalopolises where we watch the grass grow but don’t eat it.
5. Living with animals The best way to have tasty meat on the hoof without having to chase it down hither and yon with a pointed stick is herding. With sheep herding you get wool. If you herd chickens you get eggs, if that’s actually herding. From goats and cows you get milk for butter, cheese and for pouring on your cereal you made from all that farming done above.
Hook your bigger, more co-operative types of beasts to a plow or wagon and the farming part gets a lot easier. Provided some clever sort invented a wheel somewhere along the line. While we don’t actually herd dogs, they’re great to have around as best friends who’ll do some of the herding work for us at very low pay. Cats, on the other hand…
6. Processed food By processing I mean chopping and mixing things up and tossing it into a fire. In other words, cooking. This is how all that farming and herding pays off by making the resulting food more yummy. Let’s face it, an apple pie beats chomping on celery stalks and hamburgers are much tastier than freshly dug grubs.
Cooking also softens up foods into mush so you won’t starve even if you lose your teeth, which was likely in days of yore since stone-age dentists were few and far between. Raw meat and vegetables are fine for tigers and squirrels, but then they don’t build civilizations and so have no need for restaurants, cafes, chefs or cooking shows on TV.
7. Recording Not cds, tapes or vinyl discs, but the earliest type of recording we call writing. What would we be without reading and writing? Illiterate, of course.
Modern life depends on literacy. Without which there’d be no instruction manuals and we’d have to memorize everything. Who could memorize how to build a car? It makes passing around recipes easier so we can all eat delicious pies instead of bland celery stalks. Then again, there’d be no diet books to help us trim down from eating all those pies. Not only that, web content would have to be delivered word of mouth door to door. I mean, how could you even write the code?
8. Two plus two equals four Which means more than basic math, but basically numbers themselves. You can keep track of things easier with numbers than without. Otherwise if you wanted to trade ten fish for three chickens you’d have to say, “I’ll give you a fish, a fish, a fish, a fish, a fish, a fish, a fish, a fish, a fish, and a fish for a chicken, a chicken and a chicken.” Even then, once you got past ten you run out of fingers to keep track of how many times you said fish. Math makes it possible to more easily figure the exchange rate of fish to chickens, soup to nuts, and dollars to donuts.
9. Metal discs If you’d really rather not break rocks or process food yourself you can buy them or pay somebody to do the work for you. For that we have little metal discs called coins, also known as money. This beats toting around all the fish and chickens you’d need to buy a car. Besides, fish stink after three days while coins remain fresh as a daisy for lengthy periods.
If you’re a rich venture capitalist you can even pay folks to invent new things. They might not be great inventions, but they could make you more money, an already great invention. While money can’t buy you love or happiness, neither will poverty.
10. Imaginary metal discs If you don’t have any money, you can still buy things with the promise of money which we call credit. In that case you don’t have to carry little metal discs around. Though you will have to carry debt.
Basically, debt is promised money which represents chickens counted before they hatch. Credit was invented by bankers a long time ago so buyer’s agents could travel light. Though if you’ve read the news lately, you know they really haven’t worked out all the bugs yet. The problem with imaginary money is some folks let their imaginations run away with them.
Whether these are the ten greatest inventions, or can actually be classified as inventions, I suppose is debatable. Be that as it may, despite how modern and clever we may be, how many of us could come up with something as earth shaking as any of them?
© Terry Colon, 2009