Maybe not ever. Let's put some parameters on this. Any invention from the last 100 years. Basically going back to the beginning of the 20th Century. So, no wheel, no fire, no electricity. Obviously, the car, the oven and the computer would not exist without those prior.
Going back to the beginning of last century, we have to keep in mind how much life has changed. How much the world, through a variety of technologies, has shrunk. Life has been extended and improved.
Let's start with the categories.
Do you think Travel technology has been the most important? The airplane, the jet engine?
Medical: Penicillin, defibrillator.
Communications: TV, Internet, Cell Phones.
Productivity: Computers, assembly lines.
Financial: Credit Cards, ATM (haha, yea right!)
Food storage or preparation: Refrigerator, Microwave Oven.
Household: Washing Machine, Vacuum cleaner, Air conditioning.
I'm not sure all of my examples were 20th century inventions, and my list of categories is certainly not complete. Think about a few of your own. Let me know your opinion. If you don't want to be inadvertently influenced by my opinion, stop reading.
Here's my take. I think that which has reduced the size of our world is always the most significant technology. A couple of hundred years ago the clear majority of people born in the world, even the modern world, never traveled further than a couple of miles from their birthplace to their death. They lived and worked on a farm. School, if any, was usually at home with their large number of siblings. And to travel more than a few miles meant a significant venture on horseback or wagon. Only a very small percentage of the world's population had been on a boat. Life expectancies were short.
A variety of technologies has changed that. Through these technologies, not only are we able to see and experience more of the world, but the barriers between countries has been reduced significantly. Make no mistake, much work is still to be done. But most of that is the differences between people's beliefs and prejudices.
Technology has done it's part. It has introduced us to each other.
It is through the travel and communication technologies that we have all met. Yes, I realize that much of the world's population does not have access to these technologies. Without the Internet, the TV and the airplane, however, we would know little about other people. We would probably assume that life as we know it, is life as everyone knows it. What reason would you have to think anything else?
Because I believe that the society of the world someday coming together in a way that we can't even imagine right now is the most important goal for all of mankind, I have to say that the Internet and the still largely unharnessed power therein, will someday prove to be the most significant invention of the 20th Century.
But let me ask you this. If you had to give up all but one which would it be:
- The Internet
- Modern Medicine in all its forms
- or Air Conditioning
On a personal level, it's a different question. For me, the answer to this is obvious: modern medicine. I want to live! But on a larger scale, which is more important, the extension of life, or the connection of lives?