Our Changing World

Tuesday was my dad’s birthday. Born in 1915, had he still been alive, he would have been 106 which sounds incredible.  My parents were considered ‘old’ parents when they have me, an only child, at the ages of 37 (Dad) and 39 (Mum).

As I’m reaching my 70th, I was reflecting about the changes during my lifetime, and the amazing changes my parents saw in theirs, both born at beginning of the 20th Century.

The main changes in their early life-time were scientific changes, which, had they not happened, maybe some of our recent inventions may not have taken place. Our general health has greatly benefitted by these discoveries, particularly penicillin.

  • 1921 -Insulin was discovered. Before then, it was exceptional for people with type 1 diabetes to live more than a year or two after diagnosis.
  • 1928 – Penicillin was discovered by Alexander Fleming. This led to the introduction of antibiotics which reduced the number of deaths from infection.
  • 1954 – the Polio vaccine was invented. Large-scale use of the vaccine began in 1954. There hasn’t been a case of Polio caught in the UK since the mid-80’s, although the infection is still found in some parts of the world.

Inventions that opened up the world to the masses:

  • 1903 – the Wright brothers achieved the first powered, sustained and controlled airplane flight.
  • 1910-1920 -the automobile was mass produced
  • 1907 – a key breakthrough of the first synthetic, mass-produced plastic, called Bakelite. The development of plastics enabled the development of computers, cell phones, and many other products which make the modern world possible.
  • 1927 -the mechanical television was first invented by John Logie Baird, later Philo Farnsworth created a successful electronic television, on which todays TV’s are based.
  • 1935 Radar was first introduced as a radio-based detection device. This later became radar, used to detect and track aircraft, spacecraft and ships at sea, among having many other purposes.
  • 1947 One of the basic building blocks of modern electronics, transistors were first developed.

In my lifetime the most important inventions have all been linked to the microprocessor and the development of computers and of course, the internet and everything that entails. Changes that I’m sure my parents would not have understood.

  • 1952, the year I was born, a UK based physicist, Narinder Singh Kapany, invented the first actual optical cable, based on experiments from three decades earlier.
  • The use of fiber optics has been important in the ability to transmit large amounts of data at very high speeds, and a technology used in internet cables.
  • In 1970, interestingly, something that I had taken for granted, only 35% of homes in the UK had telephones.
  • 1972 Email was first invented
  • 1983 Internet was invented, though not the world wide web. At this time, the internet was a communications model to transmit data between multiple networks.
  • 1984 The first Mackintosh was introduced in this year, and was the first successful personal computer Apple Mac personal computers
  • 1985 Mobile phones were first introduced into the UK, with the first mobile phone call made on Vodafone network by comedian Ernie Wise.
  • The 1990’s saw the rise of technologies to do with online activities: smartphones, digital cameras, world wide web social media platforms …
  • 1993 World wide web (www), was beginning to be used more widely, after being invented by Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist, while working at CERN, in 1989.  By late 1993, there were over 500 known web servers. By the end of 1994, the Web had 10.000 servers, 2000 of which were commercial and 10 million users.

Looking back over the latter part of the 20th century, technology has dominated change in our lives, making life more accessible and easier for many, although sadly, many poorer communities and countries are still left behind.

Ironically, I think as much as the internet has opened up the world for us in wonderful and fantastic ways, enabling us to talk to friends and family wherever they are in the world, it has also, possibly made us become more selfish and inward looking. We could actually live our lives without moving from our own homes. However, the internet is here to stay, and like Pandora’s box once opened, it is hard to put the ideas back. We can only look forward and aim to make the best use of all of our technologies and inventions.

We haven’t moved quite as far forward as many of the science-fiction writers have suggested in their stories, but I’m sure many of the things that we do have, would seem like science-fiction to my parents!  I loved the ‘Star Trek’ transporters and often wished they could become a reality, getting us from A to B in no time atall!

What do you consider the most important invention in your lifetime?