Our use of invention, or the innovation of changing an object or process in new ways, may be what truly defines us as a species. Every now and then something is invented that changes the essence of our lives in a small way. Over time, this made us unique among animals. Although small inventions emerge every day, it is these great inventions that carry us forward, whatever the fate of mankind.
That said, if you consider it a human invention, some animals are known to consume naturally fermented fruits and may even become alcoholic. Alcohol has many uses, but is particularly important as a drink. The alcohol in wine and beer kills most microorganisms, which historically made it safer than water in the ancient world. And without alcohol, we’d have no excuse to explain why we’ve been caught singing karaoke naked.
Due to the relatively short time since its inception, the importance of the Internet has not yet been fully realized. The “Web”, which began as several separate communication networks in the 1970s and 1980s, now converges into a single mass of all data accessible by any connected computer. Information is no longer limited by location and no longer exists only for a privileged few who can afford it. Imagine my surprise when my research revealed that it can be used for things other than porn.
8. Birth control
Although there have been methods of preventing or terminating pregnancy for thousands of years, reliable birth control methods have generally only been available for about a century, with a major rise in effectiveness and popularity beginning about 50 years ago. This allowed women to lead a more predictable and manageable life and allowed them to take on roles and professions that were previously unattainable. Because it allows our community to draw on a broader experience base for our workforce, it benefits everyone, not just men who learn that the pill reduces PMS effects.
Until the late 1870s, when science began to investigate how certain substances inhibited the spread of disease-causing microorganisms, infection and disease were threats to which humanity had little protection. Various diseases could only be treated by keeping the patient comfortable and hoping. Deep tissue damage can be a minor inconvenience or, depending on luck, a death sentence. With antibiotics, we have removed much of the fear of dying from a minor injury or infection.
Along with antibiotics, the development of substances that could kill pain safely and effectively allowed the development of all modern surgery. Surgical procedures were once gruesome and bloody procedures, almost as dangerous as the conditions they were treated for, and often more painful. Now you can just go to sleep and the pain won’t go away until you get the bill.
5. Printing machine
Before old Gutenberg did his thing and set up his revolutionary printing press in 1439, books were all written by hand. This meant that creating and copying them was not only very difficult and time-consuming, but also very expensive. They were limited to personal notes and generally very important texts related to religion or science. Like the later invention of the Internet, the printing press allowed information to be disseminated around the world in a more efficient and inexpensive process. This allowed for the spread of intellectual achievement and written art, followed shortly by trashy novels in supermarket checkout lines.
The ancient Romans can be credited with the development of plumbing, but it didn’t really become popular until the 20th century. Most people these days don’t remember their toilet ever being an outhouse or a bucket in town. Showers and sinks are conveniences, but a system that allows you to live in a house that doesn’t smell like poop is the real beginning of civilization. This improvement was naturally followed by the development of toilet paper, which was later followed by toilet plungers.
Imagine you are stuck in the desert with nothing and you have to survive. What do you do for a living? You are from a “highly advanced” civilization, but most people have no idea how to take advantage of technology from scratch. Because we have tools that are the first technology. A tool is anything you use to build, modify, repair, or destroy something, and it’s the first thing you need to create any other technology. A stone knife will help you skin an animal for clothing or carve wooden weapons. Without tools, we are just slow, clumsy animals.
It may be tempting to include fire as an important human invention, but humans did not invent fire. Fire is always spontaneous. What we did was find out why it was good. Among the most important uses of fire is to sterilize food, making it safer to eat by using heat to kill parasites. Humans have been making it an integral part of our evolution for over a million years. It is also the beginning of the process of survival becoming civilization, as the process of cooking allows us to prepare food as art rather than just food.
It is humanity’s number one innovation for a very good reason: it is, in many ways, the definition of humanity. Our ability to communicate, both verbally and in writing, allows us to connect our minds so that we can transform from groups of individuals into a true culture. All animals communicate in some way, and some are quite complex, but humanity is the king of communication. No one knows how old actual language is, but our brains evolved around it and specialized in its use. No other technology can reliably evolve without a language to teach it to the next generation.