Sunday, 27 April 2008

Top 10 Inventions: Because Sliced Bread Ain't All That

When people are particularly impressed with a particular invention, they often say "wow, that's the best thing since sliced bread".

I've never understood this, as sliced bread really isn't that amazing when you think about it.

We've had bread for millennia , and knives too. We can easily slice the old-fashioned non-sliced bread should we so wish - it doesn't require lengthy training or unusually advanced manual dexterity.

In short, we've had the capability to achieve a slice of bread for thousands of years (although for cultural reasons people generally didn't bother until recently - they often used bread as a kind of edible plate - no washing up to do, genius! I suppose we have the Earl of Sandwich* to blame for the fact we now have to eat our bread off flat discs of baked clay).

The only advantage humanity has gained from the invention of (pre) sliced bread is that we can now make sandwiches slightly faster.

Hardly earth-shattering I think you'll agree, unless you're a caterer or a parent who has to make sandwiches for a dozen kids each day (in which case you might want to learn more about the invention of contraception, see below).

Since sliced-bread is a distinctly disappointing invention, I will present 10 of the greatest inventions of all time, so as not to leave you with a cynical attitude to inventions in general.

1 - Sanitation - Specifically soft toilet paper , clean running water and flushable toilets. A world without these is just too unbearable to think about. Shudder. Bears may do it in the woods, but thankfully we can do it in the privacy of a locked room, with a scent of our choice in the air and maybe a newspaper too.

And we can clean up afterwards without having to first find a suitable bunch of leaves and then evict any lurking insects from them. Truly one of humanity's finest inventions!

2 - World of Warcraft - because male teen-aged loners need people skills too! Members of this demographic are statistically unlikely to venture out into the world until their twenties, however much you try and coerce them to.

But when they do finally get dragged kicking and screaming into the World Out There, they'll need people skills. How can they get these when they spend their formative years with minimal contact with people outside their immediate family?

World of Warcraft, that's how! It may only be a virtual world, but the players are real people, and they can talk to each other. Hell, they might even encounter members of the opposite sex..truly a broadening of their life-experience!

There may be a few downsides when these WoW-raised chaps are released into the wild world, such as getting into trouble when they ask a new female colleague at the office if she wants to join up for a "5-man" later, but such minor problems are insignificant when compared to the social and organisational skills that can stealthily be ingrained in them through WoW.

3 - Effective contraception - because love is important, and like all important things, it needs to be made right.

A badly made car won't get you where you want to go. The same applies to badly made love.

Contraception (especially barrier methods which also protect from STDs) allows us to practice, without worrying too much about unwanted consequences. Practice makes perfect, and perfectly made love is groovy baby yeah!

As an added bonus in our over-crowded world, its good that we only bring new people in when we're ready and willing to make a good job of raising them.

4 - The Internet - because its good to share ideas. Even silly ones. Silly ones can then be shown to be silly, and we can keep the good ones (until a better one comes along of course!).

Also, it helps people communicate with others outside their normal groups, and might one day help us overcome our local and national prejudices and actually stand together for a better world. Super!

5 - Comfy chairs - in the days before we invented chairs (and stools, sofas etc) you had to either remain standing all the time, or sit on the ground, which in most places is bumpy, muddy or otherwise quite unpleasant.
You'll notice that in the popular picture of the ascent (actually the descent) of man, all our ape ancestors were standing and walking along.Now we can stop all that nonsense and have a nice sit down in a comfy chair!

And maybe a cup of tea as well. We can now do all of this whilst wearing clothes too!
That's what I call progress!

6 - Cups of tea - although the full power of tea to resolve any crisis and remove all stress seems to work only on the English (who can't function more than about 3 hours without a cup of this delightful infusion), tea is one of those things that is both healthy AND tasty.

Mmm, feel those anti-oxidants surging through your system!
When an Englishman comes back from a hard day at the office, he can relax in the knowledge that a nice cup of tea and a sit down will make it all better. Listen to this song about tea to learn how lovely a cuppa is. If there's a biscuit with it, so much the better!

7 - Cooking - this covers all kinds of food (and drink) preparation, from heating to mixing, blending and maybe even adding just a touch of lime.

Imagine if we could only eat truly natural food - that would give us raw meat, raw vegetables and raw fruit if you were lucky. All washed down with a nice sip of river water.

Unless you are a hard-core salad or sushi fanatic, this would be distinctly unpleasant!

Luckily for us, we have access to the wonders of cooking - biscuits, cakes, soups, pasta, roasted meat,cooked potatoes and all kinds of other good things. Yummy!

8 - Electricity - because its the closest we can get to magic. It makes almost everything in our modern world possible. If we want light, heat, music or interactive computer games, hey presto - flick a switch and there you have it, no effort (and only a modest fee) required. Its not magic, but it's not far off!

9 - The Discovery Channel - because there's just so much to learn about sharks and Nazis!

10 - Top 10s / Top 100s - these are a fantastic invention. For those who compile them, its a quick n easy way to make content, be it a tv show, a music chart or even an article on the Internet (cough).

For the viewers / listeners / readers, its a nice light piece of entertainment to while away a few minutes or hours. Winners all round! At least until they become recursive....eek!

Right, that's my Top 10 I've gotta grab a quick sarnie and run to catch a bus... thank goodness for sliced bread!

P.S. for those of you (the hard of understanding) who've been complaining that these things aren't really the most important inventions**, and crying because important things like the wheel, medicine, transport etc have been missed seems that, alas, I must point out that this top 10 isn't entirely serious.

Those who complain that the whole thing appears to have been knocked together in 15 minutes are of course entirely correct, and the inherent laziness in producing "Top 10" articles is laid bare in item number 10 of this very Top 10 ;-)

* Actually the Earl of Sandwich didn't invent the sandwich, but our name for it did come from his title.

** indeed, they aren't technically all inventions at all, at least one is a discovery.

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