Humankind’s Ten Most Life-Changing Innovations

The human race is awesome. We’ve come up with a lot of cool stuff during our reign in this planet of ours. Sure, we’ve made some real stinkers like wars, genocides, hate crimes, and other atrocities, but all things considered, we actually did quite well for ourselves. 

We’ve got tons of great inventions to show for, but some have really made a profound impact and have influenced how we live our lives today. Here are ten innovations that changed our world.

1 - Farming

Farming has been around even before recorded history, so its invention can’t be attributed to any one person or country. It is believed to have been developed simultaneously in various regions of the world. 

This was one of our earliest attempts to control nature. Not content on just getting what grows naturally on mother earth, we figured out ways to plant, cultivate, and fertilize, so we can get more of what we need.

How It Changed Our Lives

It would be safe to say that without farming, our world population wouldn’t even be close to the huge number that it is right now. It gave us sustenance that was only limited by our willingness to till the land. It could very well be the one big thing that allowed us to multiply, evolve, and flourish.

How We’d Be Without It

We wouldn’t even think about having corn, rice, fruits, and vegetables in grocery stores if we didn’t have farming, and we might not even be here at all. Our race could’ve succumbed to famine centuries ago.

2 – Cooking

Like farming, cooking predates recorded history, and is believed to have been invented more than two million years ago, perhaps not long after humans learned to control fire.

It’s easy to take cooking for granted these days, and because our focus has been on taste and texture, it’s very tempting to consider it a luxury. But it’s a basic necessity because it kills bacteria in raw food that could otherwise give us problems if they enter our system.

How It Changed Our Lives

Cooking made our food safer, and thus made our lives longer. It made eating an enjoyable experience, and made us dine not just for survival, but also for pleasure.

How We’d Be Without It

Not only would we have a shorter life expectancy without cooking, but we probably wouldn’t be as intelligent as we are now. Preparing dishes allowed us to be conscious of the right amounts and ideal balance of the nutrients our body needs, and that played a crucial role in the evolution of our species.

3 – Education

Imagine cavemen teaching their young back in prehistoric times, sharing what they learned in hunting, how to gather more fruits in less time, and not to go too far east if they don’t want that big animal to eat them. The lessons are limited but those skills and information are all that they really needed in their lives. This was the earliest form of education.

Truth be told, organized education is a bit outdated now, because it was designed during the industrial revolution as a means of producing competent workers. Students were taught to fall in line, blend in, and do as they’re told. If they do, they will be rewarded.

Education has undoubtedly been a game changer in our history, but it should evolve to fulfill what is needed in our particular time. Now that we’re in the middle of the information age, schools should think about redesigning general subjects (what use does an aspiring writer have for advanced trigonometry?) and teach our youth to stand out and think more critically.

How It Changed Our Lives

Education enabled us to gain valuable knowledge and pursue careers. It paved the way for the advancement of culture, science, and technology.

How We’d Be Without It

Without the formal institutions, education would’ve probably been limited to casual mentoring within families. No one knows exactly where that would’ve led us, but perhaps it’s safe to say that we wouldn’t be as evolved as we are if there were no schools.

4 – Medicine

Medicine is all about life: prolonging it, improving it, and more recently, even creating it. In the simplest terms, medicine was invented to make us well, and generally it has done a great job.

From the boiling leaves of our ancestors, to the organ transplants of today, medicine has had a long rich history, though not everything about it was to be proud of. We’d all rather forget the lobotomies meant to “heal” crazy people, and the electrocutions meant to “cure” homosexuality.

We may have yet to conquer longtime conundrums like cancer and AIDS, but medicine has made great strides throughout the ages that it has dramatically increased life expectancy. It might not be an uncommon thing in the near future for us to live a normal life at more than a hundred fifty years old.

How It Changed Our Lives

Thanks to the doctors we see and the pills we pop, we live longer, healthier lives. And thanks to cosmetic surgery, we look younger and prettier, too.

How We’d Be Without It

Sick. Weak. Disabled. Dead.

One can even argue that without medicine, humankind could’ve long been extinct.

5 – Money

Though it would seem like Cyndi Lauper was onto something when she sang that “Money Changes Everything”, it was actually in a different context. But what she meant—for money to have an absolute effect on our lives by mere possession of it, speaks volumes on the role it plays in our society.

Money was invented to streamline exchanges between people, which before would probably be something like: “I will give you my orange in exchange for your apple. But my goat is worth more than a chicken, so for that, you will give me two chickens.”

Assigning value to goods can be highly subjective and arbitrary. With money, everything is easier. It represents purchasing power, so in theory, the more of it you have, the more things you can buy. It’s a concept so advanced yet so simple, its profound ingenuity is matched only by its ubiquity and practicality.

How It Changed Our Lives

It revolutionized trading, especially between countries. It created the socio-economic classes that we have today. It also made stealing simpler.

How We’d Be Without It

Can you imagine us doing the barter system today?

Also, without money, there would be no concepts of banking, investment, loans, credit cards, and the stock market. 

6 – Indoor Plumbing

If a house doesn’t have running water, a shower or a toilet, we deem it unlivable.

That’s how much indoor plumbing is ingrained in our lives. It may be hard for you to imagine life centuries ago, when you’d pee and poo, and have no way of flushing. Yet, even as you read this, there are still some areas in developing countries that have no indoor plumbing whatsoever. Our so-called absolute necessity is a luxury some people don’t even know exists. Imagine that.

How It Changed Our Lives

You may consider indoor plumbing as just a convenience anyone could easily live without, but consider the health implications. Not only was it an easier way for us to attend to our biological urges, it was also a more efficient way of disposing of our bodily waste materials, and it considerably mitigated the risk of disease.

How We’d Be Without It

We would probably be sick more often. And stinky.

7 – Electricity

Was there ever any doubt that electricity wouldn’t be included in this list? If you ever need a demonstration how dependent we are on electricity, just imagine how we’d be if there was suddenly a worldwide blackout. We’d all be lost, confused, and petrified, and the world would probably plunge into chaos.

How It Changed Our Lives

Electricity made an impact in our world by changing it in so many ways: it made us see at night, it froze our food, it gave us home entertainment, it brought new life-saving equipment to hospitals, it gave us computers and the internet—the list can go on and on.

How We’d Be Without It

If there was no such thing as electricity, we would have no house lights, heaters, fans, refrigerators, traffic lights, elevators, radios, TV’s, computers, tablets, and mobile phones, among others. In other words, it would be just like the 18th century.

8 – Transportation

We walked, then we rode horses, then we slipped inside carriages, then we boarded ships, then we drove cars, then we flew in airplanes.

We’ve gone through land, sea, and air to bend distance to our will, and journey to every nook and cranny of the earth. Now, we’re even going beyond it, as we gear up for the first commercial flights to Mars. Could teleportation be next?

How It Changed Our Lives

Transportation made exploration possible, which allowed us to travel to other countries and set up trade routes.

Cars made cross country trips possible and created millions of jobs with the implementation of the assembly line.

Commercial flights made travel fast, enabling us to accomplish more with less time.

How We’d Be Without It

If it weren’t for ships, there wouldn’t have been any world exploration and conquest, which is an integral part of world history. How the world would look like if nobody invaded anybody is anyone’s guess.

Without any form of transportation, we would just live in the vicinity of where we were born and would most probably die there. 

9 – Telecommunication

Thanks to Alexander Graham Bell, we’ve come a long way from cans and strings.

From Morse codes, to landlines, to walkie-talkies, to telegrams, to pagers, to mobile phones, to video calls, interacting with fellow human beings, either for business or pleasure, has always been a priority. Now that telecommunication can be done in real time, it looks like its technology has hit its ceiling. The next incarnation could be the hologram, but that’s just bells and whistles.

How It Changed Our Lives 

Whereas before it took days, even weeks, to deliver news from one country to another, we now do it in real time, in person, face to face.

How We’d Be Without It 

The main essence of communication is exchange of information, so without it, we’d all be in the dark, uninformed, generally dumber. 

10 – The Internet

Here’s a concept: if we can send audio signals through telephone lines, that means we can send text and pictures through it, too. We’ll just make the wires thicker.

That is probably a gross oversimplification, but if you think about it, that’s basically what the internet is: an exciting expansion of the sound-only telephone. It’s sound, and texts, and pictures, and videos.

How It Changed Our Lives

The internet is probably the best example of something that we all can live without, but shouldn’t. It makes a lot of things so much easier: shopping, reading books, watching movies, listening to music, taking and sharing photos, doing research, hooking up, and yes, offending others.

How We’d Be Without It

We’d be like how we were in the 80’s, doing things the old-fashioned way. We’d buy vinyl records from the music store, printed books from the bookstore, and movies from the video store. We would chat with our friends on landlines, and take each other’s photos with instamatic cameras. We would go to the library to do research, and hook up with strangers in bars.

Humankind has certainly done so much but there’s still a whole lot to do, and new challenges are always waiting for us just around the corner: new disasters, new wars, new diseases. 

We’ve gone a long way but still got a long way to go.