Written by Eduardo Karas and Sai
Throughout history, there have been many inventions that have changed the course of history and the lives of people. These creations are, most likely, a normal part of our lives today, but when they first appeared they were truly extraordinary. This list is by no means complete, it will just try to show how 5 things we take for granted today came to be and what were the immediate effects it had on people. So, let’s start?
- Sandwich (Written by Sai): Imagine this: You are hungry, but it’s not quite dinner time yet. What do you eat? For most people, the answer would be ‘a sandwich’. The invention of condiments between two slices of bread revolutionised the food scene, especially in the West. For a very long time, in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, flatbread has been eaten with some sort of topping. In the Jewish tradition, it is said that Hillel the Elder ate Paschal Lamb wrapped in soft Matzah, a meal like the modern wrap. However, the strict idea of something layered between two slices of soft bread didn’t appear in Europe until the late middle ages. In the Netherlands and parts of Germany, people ate belegde broodjes, or “Covered bread”, which was usually one slice of bread with a topping of one’s choice, but it’s unlikely that nobody ever thought of layering two together. The term ‘sandwich’ however is attributed to John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. In the 18th century, it was common for men of his standing to enjoy a friendly game of cards, and as one does, the earl wished to eat whilst playing. However, he did not want to get the cards dirty, and so he asked his chef to prepare some meat, tucked between two layers of bread. Even though he was not the first one to invent this, his friends asked to have ‘the same as sandwich’ and so the name was born. Whether this account is completely accurate or not, the Sandwich has for sure become a vital part of our culinary life, and I personally could not imagine them not being around.
- Uber: While the company was founded in 2009, the app as we know it was released in 2011, exclusive to San Francisco and with only the UberBLACK option. Its most commonly used format, UberX was introduced in 2012. Since then, the company services have expanded greatly, including research in self-driving cars and food delivery. However, UberX is the core of its services. By itself, it has greatly influenced the manner through which people move in cities, allowing for greater freedom at a lower price than a traditional taxi. Uber has become a common tool for people on night’s out, travelers exploring a new city and simply people going about their businesses. This has many positives: traveling in a city has never been easier, especially in places that have no effective means of public transportation, and it has decreased incidences of drunk driving and accidents as a result. Not to say of a safer path home at night, as you are dropped off at your door, instead of a nearby bus stop. Some issues have escalated as a result of it, however. The most apparent one is the poor quality of life it awards the workers, who tend to earn little more than the minimum wage while working many hours a day. Moreover, they are formally recognized as independent contractors or self-employed, depending on the country, which means they lack benefits. This has since expanded into other sectors of the service industry, being known as “uberisation”.
- Planes: With the first unassisted, sustained and controlled flight being achieved in the early 20th century, planes quickly turned from fantasy to normal in everyday life. In 1903, the Wright brothers famously flew for the first time, being assisted by a catapult. In 1947, the Bell X-1, a US-made jet, was the first to surpass the speed of sound. Today, one can book a flight for the same price as a meal, depending on the deals. This shows the incredible growth of this technology, but what does it mean for us? Together with other technologies, such as the internet, it is a big reason for a more connected world. Before planes, it took about two months to travel from the Americas to Europe. After commercial flights started, it was now possible to do the same in more or less half a day. This ease of travel means that getting to know new places or even immigrating has become much more accessible. At the same time, this brought about many different issues. As their motors require fuel, planes are active in pollution, accounting for about 3% of the US’s CO2 emissions, which is the worlds 2nd highest polluter. Second, aircraft are also a highly effective weapon. Recently, with the development of unmanned drones, they have been further weaponised. Unfortunately, something that can be so good, has been used for violence.
- Sterilisation: Following the advancements of Pasteur in France, Joseph Lister first implemented sterilisation of surgical instruments and wounds in at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary. This was done with carbolic acid, extracted from coal tar. Moreover, he also was the first to recommend that surgeons wear gloves and wash their hands when conducting an operation. Today, the fact that they didn’t do that beforehand seems ridiculous. At the time, this revolutionary idea was judged as ridiculous by other doctors. It is insane to think of a world where washing your hands is seen as useless, but that is how things rolled back then. Further, the practices implemented by Lister greatly reduced post-operational infections and made surgery safer in general. This served to reduce mortality rates, especially during wars, as infections became less common as well. It is impossible to say how many people were saved by Lister’s findings, but it certainly numbers in the millions at a minimum.
- Irrigation: Few inventions have been as life-changing as the development of irrigation for human societies. While not as fun or exciting as the others, it fulfills the same requirement. First, irrigation refers to watering of crops at certain intervals, as needed, for them to produce either food or raw goods. In other words, it is agriculture that does not rely exclusively on rainfall. This was the key element that allowed ancient civilizations, such as Egypt and Mesopotamia, to exist. Because it is such an old creation, it is impossible to pinpoint an inventor. Instead, groups had to come up with forms of that best suited their needs and resources, such as terrace irrigation in the Andes and basin irrigation in Egypt. This development increased the production of food, reducing risks of famine as well as further concentrating people. Eventually, this leads to the creation of cities. Similarly, it was possible even to produce food at a surplus, meaning this “product” could then be sold or traded, giving start to commerce. Finally, certain kinds of irrigation system relied on establishing a reservoir of water, meaning that food could even be produced in dry seasons.