When Were We Most Innovative? 1870, 1920, 1970 compared with now

the most innovative era

Which innovations have done the most to change people’s lives?

The NY Times wrote a very interesting article about how we lived in 1870, 1920, 1970 compared with now; trying to answer the question: what was the greatest era of innovation?

Again, it’s an interesting article and certainly puts things into perspective because we tend to think that our era is the most innovative of all; but I disagree. And I’m not alone. Readers of the NY Times chimed in with their own thoughts about the inventions that mattered most, the answers are interesting to say the least; take some time to consider the different eras and what you believe has impacted society the most.

Why is this topic important?

The genesis for the NY Times article is because it is widely believed that we are living in the greatest era of all. Again, I’m not sure about that because we live in a world where the word innovation has lost it’s meaning, one where stuff that doesn’t really matter is considered innovative.

Of course, every era is different. Today, technology rules supreme; and the internet is the “keystone” innovation of our era. While questions about its benefits to society are common, knowledge workers benefit the most, the internet is widely considered to be one of the top 10 most important innovations of all, but we haven’t really felt its benefits as much as other innovations.

The problem with every innovation is we take for granted what came before. You see, innovations don’t exist in a vacuum, they are built on the shoulders of what came before. So while you and me love the internet and hail it as the greatest thing ever, we fail to remember that all other things that surround us (refrigerators, electricity, running water) were at some point the greatest thing ever.

Yes, the internet has connected people from around the world and accelerated the pace of execution and spread of ideas. What is different today is the speed at which creation is achieved, but at the same time we have a lot more crap to sort through.

It’s also worth pointing out that from 1970 to today not much has changed, if anything life has become more efficient. And it’s going to continue to be for the foreseeable future because the combo of the internet with mobile phones (and the upcoming internet of things) has made us more efficient; that is the era we are in right now and will be in for some time.

With that said, I believe that we could do so much more than we did in the past, if the certainties of climate change are any true, we must. That is what we discuss on this episode of the podcast.

Some questions we asked to guide our discussion:

  • Which was a more important innovation: Birth control, vaccinations, running water, indoor plumbing, jet air travel or mobile phones?
  • Are we in the golden age of innovation? Why?
  • When were we most innovative?
  • Which innovation will historians of the future remember?

Anyway, listen to our conversation below and let us know what you think on Twitter @jorgebarba and @adrianpedrin.

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The Big Bang is a weekly podcast. Tune in every Tuesday for more discussions on what’s possible.

Intro audio is by Arturo Arriaga, outro audio is Candyland by Guy J.