Humanity’s Most useful Inventions

I sometimes read the wwwac list. This is the World Wide Web Artists Consortium. Mostly it’s a bunch of artsy Mac users who complain about technical things. I occasionally learn something from the lively correspondence. (If you join the wwwac list make sure that you sign up for the digest version. This group can get quite wordy and it is an email list. If you don’t want a few hundred email messages a day, go for the digest!)

There was a thread recently about useful inventions. This is something that I’ve thought of in a short story context for a while and I have started, but not finished a story or two about how a simple primitive device saves a spaceship. I think low tech solutions to high tech problems are fascinating and a good source of story ideas.

The obvious #1 choice for greatest invention of the 20th century is Duct Tape. But this is so obvious that Canadian comedian Red Green has developed a whole TV comedy show around a group of men who use Duct Tape to solve their problems.

My brother Larry, has voted for the Drywall Screw. These screws are cheap and ubiquitous. The work on wood, plastic, sheet metal and I’ve even used them to attach things to cinder block. The only problem with drywall screws is that I have pulled more than one out of a flat tire over the years. I have to agree with Larry in that the Drywall screw is damn useful.

There was a story in a 1950s Astounding Science Fiction Magazine about an alien who comes to Earth looking for technology and leaves with mankind’s greatest achievement – Paint! I always liked this story of how a smart Yankee was able to sell the rights to something that men have been using for millennia.

The suggestions from the WWWAC list were mundane or dumb or inventive. Here are a few:

bread slicing machine
pasta maker
the straw
the cane
suggestion box
safety pin
the postage stamp

Let’s hear some suggestions for the most useful modern invention from the spec fic writers out there. Ask this question on your blog, too. I am interested in the answers.