I'm currently reading The Signal And The Noise by Nate Silver and he pointed out that the most influential invention in the history of mankind was the printing press. Silver gives several reasons why it is so important which can be summed up in 2 points:
- It allowed for free flow and mass consumption of information
- Because of above it greatly changed economics
This led me to think what are the most important inventions in history due to economic or societal impact? I will not include fire, stone tools, the wheel etc. The inventions of antiquity are too old to properly realize how they reshaped society. In fact, I would say the majority of them happened in the past 150 years.
- The printing press-For the reasons stated above.
- Electricity-Every single appliance we have uses this.
- The computer-They allow us access to vast amounts of information, every industry relies heavily on computers and they make all around easier.
- The internet-One can look up anything they could possibly want, it allows for immediate access of information and communication across the globe. Every day new ideas are coming up that reshape society through the internet like facebook and kickstarter.
- The steam engine-It allowed for transportation of culture, people and goods across land (trains) and the oceans (ships). The steam engine is the first time the world is effectively made "smaller" and the first step of globalization.
- Steel-The first of many alloys that will make construction easier and products better. I don't imagine there would be many skyscrapers without steel.
- Gunpowder-We can kill a lot more people quicker. War is changed forever and we are now off to the races in the arms race. One could argue almost all economic expansion is due to war or somehow tied to military production and innovation.
- The atomic bomb-We can destroy ourselves, a new form of power, it gives humanity a much better understanding of science.
- The car-It allows individuals to move about without need of a train. A person no longer has to live close to work, they can just drive instead. Goods are much easier to transport from a centralized location to stub (for instance, from a warehouse to a store).
- The airplane-Anyone can reach any place in the world. Every part of the world is only 20 to 30 hours away. Aid can quickly be given in case of disaster and goods can be transported just as quickly.
- Radio-An individual or group can reach a mass audience at the same time. Ideas and information can be spread much faster. Also, it is the first electronic mode of entertainment.
- Telephone-Individuals can instantly communicate with anyone in the world.
- Television-This is important for the same reasons of the radio. Others might argue that TV will only hinder us. Hopefully Honey Boo Boo will enter a diabetic coma soon.
I tried not to list an invention that only changed one country, i.e. the cotton gin. What ones don't you agree with? Which ones do you agree with? And please don't say antiseptics.