Benjamin Franklin is known to have said:” Happiness consists more in the small conveniences and pleasures that occur every day, than in those pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom to man in the course of his life.”
Clearly, Dr. Franklin did not live in an age analogous to ours; one jaded by a universal plethora of modern marvels, undreamed of merely a few decades ago. We seem to have become accommodated to a society where rich men’s egos no longer compete with their favorite yearlings at the race- track but demonstrate their felt singularity by flying vehicles to the edge of outer space. It is a society where small hand-held computers answer factual questions, transmit speech and text, afford telephone access to people who are away from home, furnish needed directions, take, and store photos, and play music, in addition to the regular services of its predecessor, the home connected, tabletop telephone.
We have reached an age where computers, by virtue of their internal dynamics, come to be acquainted with the nuance of their users’ persona, i.e., where they shop, what they shop for, and their regular tastes and preferences in many areas of their life, [this rather intrusive function, bears the tactically, inoffensive name, “cookies”]. Computer use is all-pervasive and ubiquitous, in surgical operations, hospital informatics and patient record-keeping, performing data gathering services for financial, accounting, insurance, meteorological and other sciences, as well as finance and business services such as inventory and sales, operations for libraries and other institutions, university, traffic [air and highway], furnishing directional advice, and is in constant utilization in almost every aspect of man’s life, inclusive of entertainment and sports. The latest development, “echo” technology” [“Alexa”] enables users to obtain computer compliance merely by oral request.[ See our earlier critical essay on electronic technology, ”WHO INVITED ALEXA?”]
Mankind has become so enraptured and accommodated with the innumerable marvels of the computer era, that it has responsively morphed his vocabulary to accommodate a new and copious computer-speak. Words like “scroll down,” “download,” “upload,” “data entry,” “e-mail,” “g- mail, “google,” “facemail,” “ encrypt,” “enter,” “app,” “hardware,” “ software,” “malware,” “bots,” “algorithm,” “caps lock”, “reboot,” “firewall,” “home page,”“ back up,” “ byte,” “gigabyte,” “ analog,” firewall,” “wireless,” “bandwidth,” to cite merely a sample. Natural and expressive interactive speech has been reduced to the electrical transmission of data-like symbols, to small lighted screens and has in significant part, displaced expressive conversation; letter writing exists now only as a personal and romantic memory.
Society’s universal love affair with automation and robotic living has caused it to favor speed and efficiency to the significant detriment of natural and expressive human interaction. The latter by its nature is wreaking an unfortunate toll on mankind’s inclination toward educational and cultural interests; the latter, being the fundamental source of personal growth, mature perception, and the empirical route to the attainment of wisdom. However, this subject is one upon which we have often written and is not directly relevant to our present theme viz., the unsung products of man’s ingenuity which have been overshadowed by the dramatic speed and facile efficiency of the computer age.
Our tribute [“Fanfare”] is deservedly awarded to the many mundane contrivances, that go unrecognized and whose valued and ubiquitous use, has become virtually subliminal, despite the implicit unsung brilliance of their creation; having been forced offstage by the modern, glitzy, computer age. This writing is our attempt to raise the consciousness of the reader, as needed, to a renewed respect and a due appreciation for the creative genius behind these routinely ignored, but vitally essential phenomena. The reader may initially, react with a bit of surprised humor, at the unusual exaltation of these simple, devices, but on second thought, may, indeed, re-discover some felt gratitude for such mundane items and the earned appreciation for the inventive mechanical genius of their respective creators.
We have chosen, at random, a few [of the limitless] illustrations:
[The paper clip]. This small, unappreciated item has the empirical virtue of universal and eternal use and has long remained our favorite in this category, as being the simplest, most ingenious, and useful of all unsung marvels. It is simply a small steel wire, bent in such an ingenious way as to hold papers together. Its universal utility and fundamental simplicity make the inventor of this item deserving of great kudos.
[The pencil]. This taken-for-granted item is now made from a solid core of pigment of graphite, clay, and water, enclosed in a protective wood covering to protect the core from breaking. We recommend a fresh appraisal of the ordinary pencil and an appreciation for its 17th Century inventor.
[The safety pin]. This excellent example of man’s aptitude for mechanical creativity is of common use in fastening fabrics together and is indispensable in diapering babies. It is a creative variation of the straight pin, inclusive of a simple spring mechanism and a clasp. The clasp serves to keep the pin fastened to whatever it is applied to and to cover the sharp point. Bravo to its ancient inventors!
[The friction match]. This handy, everyday item, man’s tool for starting a fire, is made of small wooden sticks or stiff paper, one end of which is coated with a chemical substance that can be ignited by friction. It was a vital replacement in past times of emergency, for methods that took too much time. i.e., to light a lamp. Despite its constant use, its creative formulation and development, have been unappreciated.
[The wristwatch]. This useful item is simply described as a watch on a strap, usually of leather, worn about the wrist. No thought is given to the ingenuity of its development, which, unlike its predecessor, the pocket watch, freed the wearer’s two hands for handling machinery or a steering wheel.
[The umbrella]. This is a common and useful device, consists of a circular canopy of material on a folding metal frame, supported by a central rod. It faithfully does service against the possibility or actual existence of rain; but does any user ever take the time to recognize the inventor’s mechanical creativity which proved to be far more efficient than sheltering under trees or holding up large palm leaves?
[The toothbrush]. Did you know that the toothbrush was chosen by an MIT study in January 2003, to be “the number one invention that Americans could not live without?” Its modern iteration, is deserving of especial appreciation, when one learns of its bizarrely fabricated predecessors, viz., twigs with frayed ends, rags with soot and salt, and other unappealing concoctions. The toothbrush is not only totally unrecognized and unappreciated as a highly valued implement, but is routinely employed in a robotically thoughtless, unappreciative, during a semi-somnolent state.
It would present a Herculean, or Quixotic challenge, to attempt to construe a more representational enumeration of the multitudinous contents of the cornucopia of accessorial items, in our contemporary life, whose past implicit inventive genius and current, utilitarian value, are thoughtlessly unappreciated and entirely overshadowed, by the brightly exotic footlights of society’s computer capability.