The Top 10 Most Underappreciated Inventions

The end of the year is a popular time to publish lists of all sorts. A quick glance at CNN, for example, revealed lists such as “75 Amazing Sports Moments,” “The 50 Best Android Apps,” “8 Very Old Sites in the New World,” and many more.

Here are The Top 10 Most Underappreciated Inventions. The criteria for making this list are: 1. the invention has to be of high value, 2. we take it for granted; we just expect it to be there, and 3. it would be hard to imagine life without it; the substitute for the invention would be unacceptable.

1. Eyeglasses: My favorite invention of all time is also the most underappreciated.  75% of the US population wears corrective lenses, and 90% have some form of vision impairment. Without this lowly little invention, our lives today would be dramatically different. Imagine what our society would be like without the ability to read. Without reading, learning would be much more difficult. A drop in overall learning would reduce advances in science and every other area. A world without glasses would also drop human mobility as we would be unable to drive safely or even ride a bicycle. See what I mean?

2. Hair color: This invention is a close second in my opinion because of the importance it has had on all societies through the ages. Women have been coloring their hair for thousands of years to make themselves look better in the eyes of men and, most importantly, themselves. The world is a much better place when women look good and feel good. I didn’t appreciate this invention until one of my clients, a global cosmetics firm, taught me the importance of hair color to all women in every society on earth. Just close your eyes and imagine what it would be like if virtually every woman over thirty had gray hair.

3. Brakes:  What part of your car is most important to be able to drive really, really fast? The engine is what most people would say. In fact, it is the brakes. Without brakes, humans could not rev it up in planes, trains, automobiles or any form of mechanical motion. To go, one must be able to stop. Humans are mobile creatures, and a world without brakes would keep us all very close to home.

4. The iPhone: I’ve never seen a new technology become so widely adopted, so fast, and so quickly taken for granted as the smartphone. The iPhone started it all, and competitors immediately copied it to make the smartphone a ubiquitous part of our lives. People treat a smartphone as though it has been around forever. Kids know no other world than one with little handheld devices that do just about everything. Yet, this versatile invention integrates so many aspects of our lives that we would be lost without it.

5. Currency: Brother, can you spare a dime? Money is one of the most efficiency-generating inventions of all time as it facilitates trade between anyone, for anything, anytime, anywhere. Life as we know it would be very different and difficult without currency. Money lubricates an economy, and it provides a way to save and invest. Money is so important that a new form of money has emerged to facilitate its exchange – the Bitcoin.

6.  Keys: People value their privacy and security. Imagine how you would feel if you couldn’t lock your door at night. What if you couldn’t lock up your possessions? Lots of people want to get at your stuff, including your government, so keys and locks, even digital ones, have earned an essential place in our lives.  The alternative? You could learn to hide your stuff like dogs burying their bones. Not likely.

7. Roads: People love their cars, but they never think about the roads that allow them to drive them. Roads have been around a very long time, since the first “beaten down pathways.” But a system of roads delivers tremendous value to individuals and societies. Roads connect economies, families, and business partners. A mobile species would be lost without them.

8. Calendars: Clocks are certainly important, but they are replaceable. People have a general feel for the amount of time that has lapsed in a day. But what about a month or a year or longer? Not possible, even with seasonal changes. Calendars allow efficient coordination of so many aspects of our lives, it would be hard to imagine life without them. The calendar system is one of the few things universally agreed upon.

9. Water towers: Next time you brush your teeth, say thanks to the people who built your local water tower. Though water towers speckle the landscape, they are “out of sight, out of mind.” We ignore them when we drive by. Unless you have a well, the alternatives to getting clean water (under pressure) are unacceptable. Watertowers are simple inventions. They hold water above the ground so that the tremendous weight of the water forces water through pipe and into your home.

10. Elevators: Elevators carry millions of people every day, yet we never think about the alternative to these old machines. They have been around since the ancient Romans, which may explain why Italy has the most elevators of any country – a whopping 900,000. We would all be living in a virtual flat land of low rise buildings, only tall enough to climb by stairs. And it’s not just people that use elevators. Freight, vehicles, raw material, aircraft..you name it. Most human made objects have been lifted up in the air with some form of elevator.