Thursday, June 4, 2015
Crow came across this postcard in his files a few days ago. It's one I hadn't seen before and neither of us can remember if it's from his past or his future. I'm hoping the future.
While humans have been inventing things ever since some enterprising homo habilis first knapped a flint then figured out how to rub two sticks together, it's definitely true the pace picked up over the last few hundred years. Crow, who had a front row seat at many discoveries, regaled me with stories about developments he witnessed:
'As I recall, it was nearly five thousand years ago in Sumer, when a bored farmer decided to improve the performance characteristics of his oxen-driven plow by getting rid of the plow and yoking his team up to a platform on wheels. The new vehicle, the first chariot, was a novel source of fun for many centuries until the people began to realize that these chariots would go no faster than an ox could lumber. About 2500 BC, people began importing wild asses from western India and yoking them up to their chariots. The history of the chariot, and non-human powered vehicles in general, has been a steady quest for speed. In the millennia since that time, there have been quite a number of these wild-ass innovations - some, obviously, better than others.'
Here's a brief summary of more recent developments:
1876 and 1886: internal combustion engine, bicycle, electric lightbulb, electric transformer, steam turbine, electric railroad, automobile, telephone, movie camera, phonograph, linotype, roll film, dictaphone, cash register, vaccines, reinforced concrete, flush toilets and the machine gun (the typewriter arrived in 1868)
1890 and 1950: adding machines, automobiles, diesel engines, airplanes, radio, motion pictures, computers, disposable razors, wireless telegraph, frozen food, rockets, air conditioning, submarines, the vacuum tube, jet aircraft, helicopters, television, electron microscope, refrigerators (and a raft of other home appliances), as well as revolutionary advances in manufacturing processes (oops, can't forget The Bomb)
All of that in just 75 years. For some reason what came next doesn't seem all that impressive in comparison. Then again, it's not easy to see the nano in nanotechnolgy.
If you could choose just one of these two inventions, indoor plumbing or the Internet, which would you choose?
I think I know how I would answer.
ps: please let us know if you've seen the postcard previously