Mama’s gonna get you a gadget, son

The end of the year is often a great opportunity for pseudo-reflectivity. Who was the Person of the year? What is the best musical piece of 2016? What is the astrological outlook for 2016? By the time one gets past the celebrations, New Year’s resolutions and loads of “— of The Year“, the cacophony is loud enough to drive even the Dalai Lama to drink.

I read a Simon Usborne piece called “101 gadgets that changed the world” in The Independent. Usborne does not mention criterions according to which he compiled his list of gadgets. The items are listed alphabetically and so there is neither a historical timeline nor a sense of how important each gadget is. Finally, the term “gadget” is misleading, when it includes (to my mind) non-gadgets like Condoms, Fire and Post-It notes. In spite of these shortcomings, Usborne article is a clear exception to the reflective EOY diarrhoea.

Usborne’s list is the kind of list you can email your mother in law: no great surprises, little controversies, if any (unless you consider a vibrator to be a controversial gadget.) The classics are represented by immortal thingamajigs like the abacus, Archimedes’ screw and the drum. Bow and arrow, fire and what Usborne terms generally as “tools” crown this initial phase in our gadgetary evolution.

In no particular order, Items on Usborne’s list that changed my world are:

The CD (1965), the Floppy disk (1971), the iPod, (2001), the cellphone (1947, you heard me right!) and its offspring – the SMS. The Internet, of course, is fundamentally crucial (1967.) What will net shopping be without one’s good old credit card (1950)?


The phrase “gadgets that changed the world” Googled 97,600, Usborne’s list has many siblings. Wired e-zine’s Christopher Null lists the wheel, the plow, the gun, the electric light, the radio and the chip. The article itself lists 10 technical wonders (abacus schmabacus, three cheers for the IBM personal computer (1981), JVC’s videocassette recorder (1976), the microwave (1967), the 8-mm Movie Camera (c. 1962), the Western Electric Desk Telephone (1949), and the RCA TV (1946) – and there’s more!

I can see their point, with all due respect to Usborne’s salute for the Barbed wire (1873) and the Compass (1190) it’s the 8mm movies of my childhood that pointed me to the real north.