Some inventions rewrite the world. When they do, methods and assumptions that lasted for thousands of years are meaningless. This type of change is both complicated and messy, and it doesn’t happen seamlessly for anyone. Eventually, though, each transformation becomes an integral part of human history.
Creating a world without certain key events or inventions has become the crux of many time travel movies. These stories grapple with big questions and unpredictable ripple effects. For instance, what would happen if World War II never occurred? The results are an endless spool of questions. If the 70 million soldier and civilian casualties of the Holocaust and World War II combined had lived, how would their descendants have impacted the world? Without the war, how long would the Great Depression have lasted? These questions can only be explored in fictional alternate realities. There’s never a guarantee that changing tragic events would play out positively in the long run.
However, when it comes to technological events, it’s much easier to see how our world would be different. Change is the main constant element in human history, born out of need or curiosity. Many innovations were kickstarted by a need to create an orderly, productive society—human language, moral codes, and economic systems. Inventions, however, were birthed from the type of curiosity that requires a better way to accomplish something.
The invention of the printing press, Johannes Gutenberg’s starring moment, changed the world. What would our 21st-century world be like without it? Since Gutenberg’s priority was mass-producing the Bible, many changes stem from organized religion. Before the Gutenberg Bible, it was easy for authoritarian religious figures to keep a stranglehold on information. Once books were readily available, literacy rates skyrocketed. The combo of available texts and literacy rates promoted freethinking. That freethinking mindset led to an explosion of doctrines, factions, and independent learning. Without being spoon-fed biased information, social concepts of religion and truth exploded.
The availability of information had major political ramifications, too. The American Revolution, for instance, relied on the spread of information. Without newspaper articles, the Federalist Papers, or reproductions of the Boston Massacre, the revolution and resulting democratic-republic might have never occurred. If we were limited to handwritten copies, many revolutions and political transformations across the world would have failed.
It’s impossible to imagine modern life without steam power, either. As a major catalyst of the Industrial Revolution, steam power resulted in factories, railroads, and more. Rather than one person owning the process of creating a shirt from start to finish, the Industrial Revolution changed all that. With mass-produced, conveyor belt goods, the Industrial Revolution launched Western nations into mass capitalism and production-oriented economies. With improved transportation, steam-powered trains altered the way goods were transported and wars were waged.
However, the most important facet of the Industrial Revolution is the messy, complicated processes involved. The transition was painful. From entire professions being eradicated and replaced with employer-employee dynamics, to new economic systems, it was difficult. The Industrial Revolution also introduced as many concerns as it solved. This is why the creation of the Internet in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee is comparable to the printing press, the Industrial Revolution, and every other major innovation that’s permanently altered human history.
The real question is why the above inventions were important. You could list lives saved, the democratization of information, increased public safety, and drastic spikes in the quality of day-to-life. Just like the invention of electricity, the Internet has facilitated each of those things.
In the chaos of this sleek, glossy age, it’s sometimes hard to realize that we too are in the middle of a technological revolution. Even messier and exciting than the Industrial Revolution, we’re still learning to use the wings the Internet gave us. From that perspective, it’s understandable why so many people are confused and frustrated by personal technology and the Internet. No one automatically knew what to do with the printing press, either. With the use of steam power or the invention of the printing press, the average layperson didn’t have to directly interact with these technologies. If you wanted to take advantage of the printing press, you only needed to know how to read. To use the Internet and personal technology devices, it seems that it’s not enough to be a passive consumer. You seemingly have to be a tech expert.
However, as challenging as that seems, it’s exciting to realize our power. Imagine history with the Internet. What if Abraham Lincoln had been able to tweet his policies, getting global attention in an instant? The world would be a different place. Lincoln lived in a world where battles were fought after peace treaties had been signed because no one yet knew the war was over. With the Internet, countless lives would have been saved.
What would have happened when immigration from European nations was at an all-time high? Many people came to America knowing they would never see their families again. These immigrants would never know an up-to-date version of what was happening with their families across the ocean. Travel was so expensive that moving was an irreversible decision. During the days of an unreliable and slow postal service, it could be months between letters. Imagine immigrants being able to email their families back home and keeping those connections alive.
Most importantly, what would have happened if disenfranchised people had access to the Internet? Today, we can take our voices for granted, even though they can get lost in the cacophony of the Internet. But what if Japenese-Americans in internment camps could have spoken out via Instagram or Twitter about what was happening to them? The legacy of Manzanar might have been different.
The Internet’s formidable power is often underappreciated. As the catalyst of a technological revolution, it can be confusing and overwhelming. But the best part is, the World Wide Web is boring compared to where we’re headed. As the kickstart to a tech-focused future, we can expect our wildest dreams to come true.
Have you ever wanted to visit space? In future decades, there’s a chance that you can take a space elevator. It will span thousands upon thousands of miles, and mimic taking you from the first floor to the tenth floor of a NYC skyscraper.
Have you ever wanted to read someone’s mind? Scientists are predicting the future of ‘neurohacking’ by decoding the brain’s electrical activity and brain waves.
Have you ever wanted to take a spin in a self-driving car? They’re already starting to gain popularity.
In 1989, another kind of Big Bang produced the Internet. It’s going to be a wild ride from here, in a futuristic world that no one could have predicted. In this crazy new world, it can feel overwhelming. To help with this, GroovyTek provides in-home and over-the-phone personal technology training. We fill the gaps when folks aren’t provided with basic information to help them learn how to use technology on their own terms. GroovyTek’s goal and mission is to serve as a guide to help folks become independent, confident, and empowered when navigating their personal technology.
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Wardynski, D. (June, 2016). 11 Ideas About to Happen That Will Change How We See the Technology of the Future. Brainspire. Retrieved October, 2019 from https://info.brainspire.com/blog/technology-of-the-future-11-ideas-about-to-transpire
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