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What do you think is the greatest invention of all time? Why? Are there any inventions you wish had never been made?
This question brings back memories because we had a discussion about it in my family right before the year 2000 hit and we were discussing the most important events.

As a 20-year-old engineering student, my reply was "the silicon transistor".

My mother's reply? The birth control pill.

After having two babies, I agree with my mother. In fact I am AMAZED that women have made as much progress as we have considering how recently basic contraceptives have become available.

I love my babies, but each time I had one I really had to take a step back, both the months leading up to childbirth and the months after childbirth were a time filled with travel restrictions, limited hours, smaller scale projects. It affected way more than my 6 weeks of maternity leave. It was a different year. And this different year was even with all the modern conveniences - medical resources to fix anything unusually wrong with me and lower the risk of childbirth complications, a breast pump to take to work.

As an engineer I did this baby thing twice, starting at age 30. In a career that I hope spans decades, two years of baby having isn't a big deal. But it showed me that if we lived in that world my grandma did where women had babies every other year starting from age 20, I would not BE an engineer.

And when you read up on famous women who had big impacts on their world... Harriet Tubman, Jane Austen, Susan B Anthony... it's amazing how many of them were NOT mothers! You either got married and had 10 babies, or you didn't. There was no in between!

So yes, above everything... birth control.


( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 2nd, 2015 06:13 pm (UTC)
I can get onboard with that!
Mar. 2nd, 2015 06:26 pm (UTC)
I didn't think of that when I read the question but yes, birth control. I don't care if it's hormonal or an IUD but just reliable birth control that the woman is completely in charge of. Such a great answer.
Mar. 2nd, 2015 07:09 pm (UTC)
*nods* Not only is it transforming society directly as you mention, but it's also a key factor in reducing the human population growth rate towards sustainability.
Mar. 2nd, 2015 08:42 pm (UTC)
I really find your engineering posts so interesting. I don't know a thing about it but I always had a lot of respect for people in that field and I love reading about this from your perspective.
Mar. 2nd, 2015 09:07 pm (UTC)
That's really a tough call.

There has been more change in the world in the past 250 years than in the 2000 years preceding since the advent of the industrial revolution. With the silicon chip has come a multitude of conveniences. The internet has completely changed how we interact, research, communicate.

But for women, birth control's a pretty major invention. It's just difficult for me to put that ahead of technological advances.
Mar. 2nd, 2015 10:46 pm (UTC)
You get a lot fewer technological advances when only half of your best minds are available to work on them.
Mar. 2nd, 2015 09:49 pm (UTC)
Also cars.
(I realize I'm biased...) If I had to choose between cars and birth control I'd choose cars, but I realize other people would not agree with me.
Mar. 4th, 2015 11:09 am (UTC)
Heh. There are days when I'd put cars in the "wish they hadn't been invented" category. We don't own one (and hopefully never will), and for the most part this works just fine. But the last two weekends in a row my daughter was invited to birthday parties held at places which involved, on the one hand, taking the bus all the way to the end of the line, getting off at the prison, heading off down a one-way gravel road with no sidewalk/shoulder for half a mile before ended up at Adventure Valley; and on the other hand, taking the bus to a shopping center and then realizing that the place we wanted to get to was on the other side of a circle of concrete buildings that, if we went on the sidewalk, we'd have to go more than half a mile to circumnavigate, so we ended up thrashing our way through the bushes along the back side of the store next to the highway. Let's just say, I bet neither parent organizing either party ever considered what it would be like to get there w/o a car.
Mar. 2nd, 2015 10:55 pm (UTC)
Absolutely agree, and my grandmother would too.
Mar. 3rd, 2015 12:42 am (UTC)
(Reliable) Birth control is definitely up there on the best inventions ever list. Especially as someone who has readily gotten pregnant both times we decided to "try." Those pills were definitely working!

Other notable inventions? Pulleys, steam and internal combustion engines, antibiotics, vaccinations, telegraph/first long distance (near) instantaneous communication, harnessing electricity (because we didn't invent it, just how to use it). Hard to really pick just one.

Mar. 3rd, 2015 03:24 am (UTC)
I'm totally making a case for antibiotics because they allow people to live long enough to need birth control, but they're both waaaay up there. Likewise sanitation in general, and germ theory.
Mar. 3rd, 2015 04:15 am (UTC)
I keenly remember one of my college professors pointing at a graph of world population and asking us what happened that caused the population to really start to boom. Several guessed "baby boomers" and he said that didn't explain the global change. It was the discovery and invention of antibiotics.

Granted as a species we haven't been much affected by natural selection for centuries, but advances in medicine in the last 60+ years have made a huge difference in how long and well we live.
Mar. 3rd, 2015 05:51 am (UTC)
Jared Diamond makes a somewhat controversial claim in "the world until yesterday" that the whole late middle ages and renaissance was a very active selection time for western europeans who had thrifty metabolisms, because once the majority of them were no longer in a situation where they were undergoing regular starvation cycles multiple times per lifetime, the thrifty metabolism people developed diabetes and related health issues and died, yielding a population that has, on average, a higher metabolic rate and less tendency to die of plenty. He goes on to predict that much of the rest of the world, which has only in the last 100 years largely transitioned to stable food sources, will experience the same selection process over a much shorter span of time.

I'll also argue that while natural selection isn't currently predominantly working via mortality, sexual selection is in full swing.
Mar. 4th, 2015 04:51 am (UTC)
That's a really interesting theory.

Sexual selection in so much as being based on the appearance of potential partners? That's probably true. No idea if there's a single ideal being pressed towards at this point, however.
Mar. 4th, 2015 05:43 am (UTC)
The book's worth reading. It's far-ranging, as are most of his, and far-reaching, again as is his habit. His discussion of how religion and cultural leadership style interact over time is particularly interesting as a way of modeling power relationships in civilizations.
Mar. 5th, 2015 04:26 am (UTC)
Added to my reading list for sure. Thanks for sharing!
Mar. 3rd, 2015 03:19 am (UTC)
Mother knows best!

Advances in health, in general, set the stage for all sorts of other advances. FanSee
Mar. 3rd, 2015 03:25 am (UTC)
Taken literally, the answer would be: the clock
Mar. 3rd, 2015 05:37 am (UTC)
I agree. The ability to plan one's family has had far-reaching impact in every area of life and business.
Mar. 3rd, 2015 11:01 am (UTC)
Hmm, I might pick the invention of latex in 1920 over the pill. Condoms were made legal in 1918 and two years later they invented a way to make latex commercially, which cause a huge surge in the sale of condoms, since they were now cheaper, more effective, and more pleasurable. And reduce transmission of STIs. And that way you also get to throw in the invention of disposable medical gloves, which reduced infection considerably. But definitely effective birth control is a big contributor to the increase in the quality of life for both men and women.

I might be biased though because the pill never worked for me :).

Anyway, if it's the greatest invention of *all* time I'd have to go a little further back and say "writing". Without the written word we wouldn't have any of this and would still be living very primitive lifestyles. You don't get any of the other inventions without being able to store and communicate information. The silicon transistor allowed computers to come in to being, but the real way that the computer has changed the world is by making communication both rapid but even more to the point, transmit absolutely massive amounts of data. So after "writing" for me it'd be "the internet".

Edited at 2015-03-03 11:02 am (UTC)
Mar. 4th, 2015 05:42 am (UTC)
and so many of those women were trying to promote contraceptives and family planning!
Mar. 4th, 2015 11:06 am (UTC)
I'm going to have to plump for the printing press, and after that, the internet. These have revolutionized the way the world shares information, and the latter has certainly shaped and defined my life, career, and personality, far more than having (or not having) kids has.

For me personally, I've amassed a reasonable amount of evidence showing that birth control didn't really do that much for me (take all the years I was on it, and change only that, and the most likely outcome is that I would have 0 or maybe possibly 1 more kid than I have). But looking a little less self-centeredly, yeah, that's definitely one of the top 5, I'd say. :)
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )

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