Sunday, October 31, 2010

Seven Wonders of the Modern World

Some people say the modern world has no wonders to compare to those of the ancient world. We have no Hanging Gardens, no Pyramids, no Colossus, and so forth. People have charged that our modern world is, in some ways, inferior to the ancient past.

While there is some kind of truth to that, I'd like to suggest some wonders of our own age.

  1. Taming electricity - All of the electromagnetic discoveries, really, have been a great advance. Radio, television, cable, cell phones, lighting, air conditioning, microwaves -- our advances have put more power and quality of life in the hands of more people than previous ages.
  2. Atomics - All of the discoveries of atomic and sub-atomic theory, along with the sciences of radiation, are an advance. Yes, atomic weapons must be included here also; not quite all of our advances are benevolent. Still, we include here X-rays, radiation therapy, and other types of medical diagnostics and treatment that were out of reach in previous ages.
  3. Vaccinations - Most of the terrors of childhood illnesses have been removed; unlike my parent's generation, I never had to worry about getting polio, or that my children might.
  4. Antibiotics - Many formerly life-threatening conditions are now minor inconveniences.
  5. Air travel - Not so long ago it was the stuff of fantasy -- only barely possible -- that someone might go around the world in 80 days. Air travel has made around-the-world trips so mundane that we're more likely to be annoyed by the crowds and delays than amazed that we can go around the world. Here we can also include our halting first attempts at space flight, whether the unmanned interplanetary ships we have launched or the close-range manned operations.
  6. The Internet - It would be tempting to make "computing" an entry by itself, with all the power and potential computers have brought to everyday tasks. But that has been left far behind by what we have done with the collected power of millions of computers and the ways they are connected The Internet allows us to get nearly any piece of information in the world instantly. A large percentage of all the recordings or videos ever made, or famous photos ever taken, or works of art ever known are now accessible to us in a few minutes. If a book is in another language, it's not really a problem: there are instant translators. And where the efforts of thousands of scholars might have never found their way to niche audiences affordably, now it happens every day.
  7. Wikipedia - Wikipedia is an example of the new type of wonder that is now possible with the new tools we have available. It is probably one of the largest cooperative efforts in the history of mankind. I do not see it as the crowning achievement of our age; instead, I would compare it to the early manned space flights: it is a vital early step towards realizing what is possible.

We probably under-appreciate the ancient past; but we risk under-appreciating the present as well.

So -- any favorites that I left out?


Paul D. said...

As cool as Wikipedia is, the robotic assembly plant is a much more important invention in my opinion.

Weekend Fisher said...

Ok, that is cool. I have to agree with you there.

Martin LaBar said...

Maybe it's too old, but how about the printing press?

Weekend Fisher said...

The printing press has to get onto the list of historical all-time greats ... though you're right about the timing, it's a little before the window I'm looking at. It's more on "great advances of the Middle Ages" -- the prerequisites for the modern world. Right up there with engines.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF