We human beings tend to forget how far we've come as a species in a relatively short period of time.
In the 1870's, we had the first house that was lighted with electricity. Cars just started to become available 100 years ago. Charles Lindbergh made the first transatlantic flight in 1927. Televisions didn't become widely available until after WWII. In other words, the advances humankind has made in a relatively short period of time -- thanks to men like Edison, Bell, Tesla, Einstein, Franklin, Salk, and the Wright Brothers -- have been nothing short of extraordinary.
Perhaps just as extraordinary is how we tend to simply adapt to these incredible changes, not realizing how completely our world has been altered in a short amount of time. With that in mind, it seems worth looking back at some of the amazing scientific advances we've made in the last few decades.
7) Cell phones: Phones have been around since the late 1800s, but cell phones only started to become widely available in the seventies. Today, by some estimates, more than 90% of Americans and more than 4.6 billion people worldwide have mobile phones. Anything that useful, that spreads that fast, has to be considered one of the greatest inventions of all time. Of course, it has also made it possible for jerks to talk on the phone in the movie theater, but every leap forward has a price.
6) The Artificial Heart: There is nothing that piques the interest of a human being quite as much as living a longer life. Implanting a person with an artificial heart in 1982 was an extraordinary step towards increasing the human lifespan, even if the initial patient lived for only 112 days. One day, more advanced versions of artificial organs will likely allow us to live much longer, more productive lives. When we get there, we'll owe a lot to Robert Jarvik's artificial heart. It also opens up the possibility that we might be able, for the first time, to provide union bosses across the country with an organ that they’ve been missing all their lives.
5) The Personal Computer: Today, we take for granted that we have one machine that allows us to access the Internet, do word processing, use a calculator, watch TV, and play games. But, the personal computer only became widely available to consumers in 1974. Things really took off when Microsoft Windows became available in 1985 and it's good that it did; without the prevalence of personal computers, the Internet wouldn't have had nearly as big an impact. We’d also have been denied all those smug Apple commercials, which would be a terrible tragedy for people who absolutely love condescension.
4) The First Communications Satellite: In 1962, the first satellite capable of sending and receiving data was sent into orbit. Today, we use satellites for GPS, TV, radio, weather tracking, military surveillance, space exploration and global communications among other things. It also gives paranoid men one more thing to spend their time worrying about instead of plotting to get revenge on the neighbors down the street for “hiring the people who follow me around all the time.”
3) The Moon Landing: The first man landed on the moon in 1969, a feat that was so fantastic that there are still conspiracy theorists who insist it couldn't be possible. Putting a man on the moon is perhaps man's most inspiring accomplishment; it opened the door to future space travel and led to a number of spin-off inventions including flame resistant textiles used by firefighters, invisible braces, improved satellite dishes, and better medical imaging. Sadly, the moon didn’t turn out to be made of cheese, which did prevent the Democrats from engaging in the world’s most expensive welfare cheese giveaway.
2) The Internet/World Wide Web: The ARPANET (The first Internet) was invented in 1969 and the public only had access to the World Wide Web starting in 1993. Today, less than 20 years later, the web has revolutionized the dissemination of news, has created a new multi-trillion dollar economic phenomenon, has played a role in revolutions, and has interconnected much of the globe. It has also made it possible for spammers all over the planet to reach out and touch someone, but no invention is perfect.
1) The Microchip: The forerunner to the microchip was invented back in 1959, but it didn't really start to take off until the 1980s. Since then, incredible advances in microchips have made it possible for them to be cheaply and efficiently used for calculators, personal computers, pet identification, automatic teller machines, satellites, pacemakers, cell phones, and microwave ovens among many, many other products. As the century goes on, expect microchips to end up in just about anything and everything -- including you, if you live long enough.