Quick now, name the five greatest anything of all time. Take your pick. Americans. Presidents. Works of literature. Magazines. Architects. Songs. Poets. Well actually not poets because most of us don’t pay close enough attention even though we ought to. Chances are, if you really did this exercise with the subject of your choice, you chose from the list of possibilities closest to your life span. So much history behind us and all that matters is what we know. And so it was when Peter Ha, former geekly writer for Crunchgear, now with Techland.com, was asked to name the “five greatest gadgets of all time,” he went with stuff from the last three or so decades. He threw in the Printing Press for good measure, especially since printed matter is still around.
Still, the Polaroid camera, iPhone, Nintendo and the RIM850 seem to be somewhat unqualified for this honor when measured against, say an entire millennium or two or more, that must all have included gadgets of some kind. It’s a somewhat random thought, but just a peek into history reveals that perhaps the Archimedes Screw was a rather important bit of time-tested technology – invented in the third century B.C. It was designed to pump bilge water out of the hull of giant ships and aspects of it are still being used in the digital age. But it doesn’t appear on any great gadget lists.
Of course, the iPhone and its accompanying apps might just be so revolutionary that it still generates conversation hundreds of years from now. But in the big scheme of things, the digital camera trumps the Polaroid. It gives us editing power. Finally, in the future when robotic technology frees us from drudgery and we have more leisure time, chances we’ll look back at Nintendo as the greatest technological advancement of all time. Without it there would only be soccer.
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