I had a bagel this morning, and I realized as I was putting it into the toaster that it’s been a dog’s age since I’ve encountered a bagel that wasn’t pre-sliced. It got me to thinking about other things that have changed over the years. I remember when we used to get government cheese in a huge brick, then later on the brick was made up of already pre-sliced cheese product instead of that famous hunk. I started thinking that there must have been a cheap sale on a huge industrial sized slicer, and that’s why they made the change. It could have been something that simple, or just that NO ONE HAD THOUGHT OF IT BEFORE.
Isn’t that usually why we have innovations? I had my coffee this morning brewed up extra special by my Keurig. My mug goes right under the mechanism and, voila!, the machine brews up exactly one cup’s worth, with nothing left over that might end up being wasted. How many years did we have “old school” coffeemakers that brewed whole pots that were supposed to last us all day, but instead got old and stale? Someone finally figured out how to make it more convenient for us, and to help us have the best single cup of coffee we could have. I can’t believe no one had thought of it before.
Pretty much everything we have these days is an innovation of some sort. There is nothing new under the sun, so we create products and industries based off of existing products and services, but aimed at making them more convenient or adjusting them in some way to help us be more efficient. I remember when I was in elementary school sometimes my pencil would get dull and not write well, and instead of getting up to use the crank handled pencil sharpener in the front of the room I would “smudge” the paper on my desk with it, sliding it back and forth at a slight angle until it sharpened itself. No one taught me how to do it. I just figured it out because it made sense. Maybe that’s the key to innovation. It has to make sense.
So, about that sliced bread…
Before 1928 it was incredibly difficult to find sliced bread. Indeed, until a machine was created that year to mass produce loaves of sliced bread most people only ate hunks of bread they were able to tear off themselves, or they sliced the loaf one piece at a time. It was a tedious process, so people of the day would simply eat whatever hunk or individual slice they were able to cut off. But the invention of the bread slicer created entire new categories. Because of the uniformity of each slice people began making sandwiches. Now you can see an entire aisle in the grocery store dedicated to sandwich innards (condiments and such). Crazy how one innovation can do something like that. Maybe that’s why sliced bread is the standard by which all other innovations are measured, food or not.
So what are my favorite innovations since sliced bread, you ask? Here are a few:
- Computer technology. As much as I loved typewriters, and pencils and paper, there’s nothing quite like getting my feelings out by typing them much faster than I was ever able to write them out, and being able to save them to these little thumb drives to access later.
- Snow plows. While I hate getting stuck behind one on a one-lane road, I have to pay homage to these behemoths that make the previously impossible possible. Before they were around it would take ages to clear just a small patch of road, and now they efficiently clear whole stretches at a time so we can safely drive from point A to point B even in a blizzard.
- Keurig coffeemaker. Yeah, yeah. I mentioned it before, but seriously, for anyone with a coffee addiction it’s nice to know that we can make whatever kind of coffee that fits our mood, then make a completely different type within minutes… without wasting any! As obvious as it seems now, I am still surprised that it took so long to come about.
- Advancements in medicine. I can’t say enough how incredible it is to live in a day and age where people who couldn’t have kids naturally can still reproduce with petri dishes, syringes, needles, and various other paraphernalia wielded by doctors who now have the knowledge and technology to help create life. It leaves me in awe every single time I look at either one of my kids, to think they wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for this technology and expertise.
- Smart phones. While computer technology is good and all, carrying my laptop around all the time and having access to it on a whim, or when inspiration hits, is way too cumbersome and functionally poor. The smart phone solves so many problems it’s not even funny. I mean, imagine just 10 years ago being able to access your email, your social networks (whichever ones existed then), your blogging site, a library of movies and TV shows, and have texting capabilities all on one device that’s smaller than a DVD. And we take them for granted now.
Sliced bread is still incredible, by the way. In fact, we have six loaves of Italian bread in our standalone freezer downstairs at this very moment. The only time I slice bread is when I have a take ‘n bake loaf, and it brings back memories of that government cheese (before it got all fancy). I don’t want to imagine a time when these conveniences weren’t around, and I know that for some parts of the world these conveniences we take for granted aren’t around. Maybe doing things the hard way is good for stamina and persistence as concepts, but having innovations at my fingertips makes sure I have time to do the things I want to do, not just the things I need to accomplish.