For all of humanity’s achievements, the past hundred years or so witnessed incredible acceleration of technology that put unparalleled access of transportation and information at our fingertips. While the speed of life arguably got a little out of control, who can argue that it didn’t get a little easier at the same time? Let’s take a look back at some of the innovations that defined the final century of humankind and the collective mark we’ve left on history. Not that anyone will be around to remember anyway …
During the course of human history, no time period was as innovative and flooded the senses more than the 20th century. Sure, there was that whole Industrial Revolution thing, but seriously, does anybody still use anything powered by a steam engine? And is anything even made out of iron anymore? There was that whole increase in child labor, which frankly needs to come back, but that’s a different discussion for another time. Yes, the 20th century, and it all started here with the car. Yes folks, the automobile. Without it, normal everyday things like polluting the air on your 45-minute morning commute and throwing trash out your window on the highway just wouldn’t be possible. In fact, just thinking about all the things that wouldn’t be around today without the invention of this hunk of junk is downright scary. Fast food drive-thrus, for one, would be nonexistent, and that’s just a thought that’s too troubling to comment on right now. So yes, the car. From here, the advances in technology just got bigger and better, but they still aren’t flying yet. Well, I suppose some dreams should just be left in the mind.
Ah, radio. Besides the cheeseburger, it’s one of America’s most beloved and cherished institutions. Who wouldn’t want to sit next to a cozy fire with your mom and your dad and your brother and your sister and listen to how aliens are taking over the world? To me, that sounds like the perfect way to end a day of playing catch with dad and delivering the local newspaper … oh wait, I forgot, nobody subscribes to newspapers anymore. And when’s the last time you saw some guy playing catch with a young boy and did not get a little creeped out? Well, besides this, radio also helped improve the job market tremendously. Now, it didn’t matter what you looked like. Anyone can be on radio! The possibilities were endless, that is, until people actually stopped listening to the radio.
At the beginning of the 20th century, filmmaking was just taking its first baby steps. Who would have known at the time that eventually one day we wouldn’t even need all of those pesky, money-grubbing actors and actresses, all of those expensive sets and props, and instead would be able to just whip up a computer-animated sequence of people and places and send it off without ever leaving the comfort of your own iMac? Yes, film has come a long way since the early stages, and now it’s bigger than ever. Some say the “Golden Age of Hollywood” has passed us, but I’d say we’re living it now, baby! It’s just a shame the world won’t be able to see Hollywood release that one ultimate blockbuster they’ve been trying to crack for about a hundred years now.
Alright, screw film. Television, now that’s the real deal. I mean c’mon, who actually wants to leave their house and go to a movie theatre when they can just watch television instead? Who wants to get ready and put on real clothes and go out in public to the movies? Do you know how many gross germs and bacteria are festering in those theatres? It’s appalling, so yeah I’ll just stick to the tube. Plus, I hate watching movies, and would much rather watch another episode of “Dancing With the Stars” instead. Yep, as the world ends and we’re all getting blown up into tiny microscopic particles, I’m going to be right there hugging my 62-inch flat screen for dear life, watching the latest group of B-list celebrities dance their little hearts out. Since the days of black-and-white to now, all we’ve ever really wanted to do as human beings is to watch other human beings do stuff while we simultaneously do nothing. It’s in our DNA, and thanks to television we got to enjoy a little bit of that while in our pajamas. It’s been a great run. Too bad it’s all over now. Where’s the remote?
Ever since the earliest humans picked up whatever devices were lying about and discovered the communal aspect of music, each society has developed new instruments and contexts in which to bang a gong, as it were. With the advent of recorded music, however, the social and communal aspects of music took on new roles, reaching a cultural zenith in the local record store. Sure, going in to find obscure releases in the bins can be a rewarding individual effort, but running into a like-minded enthusiast and sharing your respective bounties bonds like little else. Let’s not underestimate, however, the Socratic wisdom imparted by your resident record store clerk, whose irreproachable knowledge of all things auditory lights the way for all seekers of the grail. Admit it: the record store stands as the greatest cultural outpost in the democratic world. Where else can you exercise your pursuit of happiness while simultaneously coming face-to-face with the stark realization that no matter the lengths to which you pursue your goal of having the perfect record collection, some guy or girl will always have that one elusive disc that you will NEVER find.
To imagine human history without fire is, well, just stupid. How would we eat? How could we stay warm? How could we see in the dark? How are we gonna smoke all this … whatever it is … It is simply impossible to attempt to envision our world without the mastery of fire. Although fire remained at the core of our evolution as social beings, in this past century our ability to mobilize the torch, commandeer the flint and stone and subject the spark to our whims stands as the pinnacle of our humanity. Where would our social skills stand without the constant opportunity to display kindness by sparking up a nearby stranger? Just think of all the failed pyromaniacs throughout history that could only dare to dream of such ease to ignite. Certainly, in days past, great feats of flames were left to the likes of Nero. How sad. Today, you stop into your nearest convenience store and connect to the earliest caveman with the flick of a Bic (or any number of suitable lighters). Even better, you need not worry about saving the flame when the fuel runs out. How’s that for evolution, baby?
With computers, the game changed completely. The gloves were off, the cages were up, and blood began spewing from one direction to another. OK, so maybe it wasn’t an all-out war, but seriously, the world would never again be the same as it was before computers. Sure, the earliest ENIAC computers took up the space of houses to do basic mathematical computations, but today’s computers are not only lightweight and portable, but have the capacity to process information well beyond the reach of most humans. Can you imagine a time when you actually had to ask another person for directions, the definition of a word or the lyrics to a song you’ve had stuck in your head for weeks but can’t seem to remember who it was sung by? Seriously, it’s painful to remember a pre-Google existence. With an infinite amount of information all at a person’s fingertips, the possibilities were endless, and sometimes quite frightening. If the wrong information got into the wrong hands, the results could be devastating. Just look at YouTube, and all of the god-awful crap that’s on there these days. Or take any one Internet video that’s been popular in the public eye over the last five or six years. Yeah, they’re funny for like a day or two, but then it just gets a little annoying. Try watching that same video a year later and tell me if you still think it merits sending it to everyone in your contact list, even those you haven’t spoken with in ages. Chances are it won’t be, and when the end of the world comes I’ll know that it wasn’t the Mayans, or aliens or any other crackpot theory that’s floating around out there. I’ll know the truth. It was all because of “Chocolate Rain,” “Peanut Butter Jelly Time,” the Star Wars kid and that damn dancing baby.
Sure, technology seemed pretty cool as it rolled out one by one, yet another amazing invention you couldn’t believe we ever lived without before. Obviously, things like refrigeration, vaccinations and space exploration changed the collective nature of our existence. So, as we stand at the edge of the Apocalypse, all one can do is look back and say, “Pretty cool, huh?”