The Greatest Inventions – One of the curious facts about Lee Kuan Yew, the extraordinary “father” of the Singapore nation who has just died, is that when asked what he thought was the greatest invention of the 20th century, he replied: “The airconditioner.”
Logic Behind Greatest Inventions
The logic behind this choice was provided by his environment minister, Lim Swee Say: “Airconditioning plays a crucial role in our economy. Without it, many of our rank-and-file workers would probably be sitting under coconut trees to escape from the heat and humidity, instead of working in high-tech factories.”
Others have their own – more conventional – ideas about what were the greatest inventions of that century.
Here is a sensible list compiled by the American author Jeff Danelek, in his order of importance:
Radio. For more than half the century, it was vital to family life before being overtaken by television, the computer, the microwave and the mobile phone.
The Internet transformed the computer into a device that spreads information at the speed of light, “gives anyone the ability to buy and sell almost anything, find and torment old school mates, watch the latest You-Tube videos, and even find the perfect life partner, all for a few bucks a month.”
Television. It’s “society’s baby-sitter, news source, teacher, entertainer and story-teller.
Antibiotics. They have saved lives, extended life-spans, ended scourges of the past such as smallpox, typhoid, syphilis.
The submarine. The master of all naval warfare.
Rockets. They are more than weapons of war. They “place satellites into orbit around our planet.” Without them we “wouldn’t be able to use GPS, predict the weather, make international calls or, for the most part, even use our cell phones much of the time.”
The automobile. More than revolutionizing transportation, it has given everyone “a degree of mobility and personal freedom our forefathers could only dream of.”
The aeroplane. It allows us to get anywhere on earth quickly and safely, and has made possible services such as crop dusting, fighting forest fire and overnight delivery of packages – as well as turning warfare into a long-range affair.
The personal computer. It’s changed our way of life. We use it to keep track of our finances, write books, design logos, sell real estate, and it’s rapidly becoming the means to entertain us with music, movies and games.
Nuclear power. It’s a game changer. It’s a power source that doesn’t pollute, is efficient, and has practically unlimited potential. But it’s also the most destructive weapon in history, whose very existence threatens human survival.
My own nomination for “the greatest” will surprise you. It’s birth control.
In my lifetime it has:
- Liberated women from the greatest constraint on their lives — the near-inevitability of producing children, without any choice in the matter, as the consequence of a normal happy lifestyle;
- Made it possible for women to shape their lives to achieve financial independence and to pursue successful careers;
- Destroyed much of the near-universal dominance of men over women in heterosexual partnerships.
Half of humanity (women) have been granted a degree of personal freedom they have never known, while the other half (men) find themselves in a new world where they lack much of their traditional power in gender relationships.
Societies are still adapting to the realities of the increasing impact of women in realms newly-opened to them, such as business and warfare; and of men deprived of need for their traditional roles as providers of physical strength and family sustenance.
Populations are growing more slowly as birth control spreads, and in some countries have actually started to contract as women are no longer willing to sacrifice their lives to the duties of raising large families. In advanced countries women outnumber men in universities and increasingly dominate professions where they have natural advantages. They are increasingly able to deploy their political power.
Invention of machines has been important in delivering greater wealth, but it cannot compare with the way birth control has brought personal freedom and is delivering massive changes in societies.
CopyRight – OnTarget 2015 by Martin Spring