What would you say were mankind’s top ten accomplishments? I’m not sticking to a specific field, nor are these in any particular order.
Being able to put black and white or colour pictures onto film (and later into digital format) is amazing. If you ask someone what would be amongst their most treasured possessions, wouldn’t personal photos come somewhere into their response?
I was delighted to find a beautiful black and white photograph of my late mother’s parents on their wedding day (Chiswick House grounds were in the background). I’d never seen this before clearing out my parents’ home, but discovering it brought back many good memories.
Going to Scotland and being able to capture in digital format some wonderful images of the amazing scenery and to view these whenever I want is fantastic. It’s easy to share pictures too via email etc. If you think back just a few generations, there were no photos. Only the super important/rich had their portraits painted. Now we can all take pictures. It is a superb art form in its own right and led to the development of moving pictures.
2. Space Exploration
The amazing pictures from the Hubble Telescope take my breath away as does the amazing engineering feats needed to (a) build it and (b) get it into space.
We have all seen images of Earth from space. We’ve seen images of the other planets in our solar system. We know there’s a big universe out there (and the Milky Way is stunning).
Mankind is at its best when it strives. What has saddened me (but alas not surprised) is the space junk up there now. There must be a way of clearing that (as well as dealing with pollution here). Mankind needs to strive more there but nothing should take away the magnificence of space exploration.
3. Sanitation – The sewer network
Much credit is rightly given to Thomas Crapper for his work in developing the toilet as we know it now, but without the sewer network, its use was limited. Waste disposal is a vital health issue and we all owe a huge debt to Joseph Bazelgette for the system we have now.
The irony is we probably could have had a sewer network sooner than the Victorian era as the Romans laid the foundations with their series of channels such as those at the Roman Baths in Bath.
But you need someone with imagination to see the possibilities and the drive to get things done, which is where Bazelgette comes in. It took the Great Stink of 1858 to ensure changes to how human waste was dealt with happened. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised it took something affecting Parliament to get the necessary works done which then benefited everyone else!
4. Sanitation – Clean Water
Clean water is something far too easy to take for granted. When you think how vital clean water is to our health, it’s horrendous it still isn’t available worldwide. The development of clean water systems has led to the eradication of cholera here.
Dr John Snow discovered cholera was spread thanks to contaminated water. There is a pub in Soho named after him near the spot where he traced the source of an outbreak. Not that his findings were accepted initially but then that is often the way with discoveries. Not everyone welcomes them!
Between them Crapper, Bazelgette, and Snow improved the health of the nation considerably.
How many lives have been saved thanks to Alexander Fleming? The danger now is of antibiotic resistant bacteria but the invention of penicillin gave (and still does give) people a fighting chance against major illnesses.
What is interesting with the Wikipedia article is it shows a clear case of a major scientific breakthrough leading to others and that people are inspired by the works of others who have gone before. I find that encouraging.
I’ve needed penicillin in my time, as I’m sure most of us have. Mankind is horribly good at devising “better” ways of destroying each other so inventions like this for our betterment should be cherished. I’d love to see a breakthrough for dementia. A breakthrough like the one made by penicillin is what is needed but sadly these things never come to order. The main thing we can do is support the charities who support the research.
6. The Railways
One of my favourite Discworld novels is Raising Steam which looks at how the locomotive came to Ankh-Morpork. Terry Pratchett cleverly weaves in how we discovered locomotives into his narrative. The story is a great read even if you don’t get all the train jokes! I love the train. It’s a great form of transport. The railway brought us standardised time throughout the country, the idea of day trips, and even the idea of a weekend so people could get away for trips out.
One of the things I love when in Scotland is taking two special train trips. One is up the north-east coast to Wick and the other is across the country to the Kyle of Lochalsh. Both trips have stunning views and you see a wonderful array of wildlife on these journeys. You see things you can’t see from the road (such as a seal colony at Brora and Golspie) because the road is higher up!
The train transformed how freight is transported. I’ve visited the National Railway Museum in York and Steam at Swindon and the locomotives on display are works of art. You get to see how far we’ve come in terms of transport development. I like to think Brunel and Stephenson would be amazed at the railway network now. I can never travel though a steep cutting without thinking of the navvies who cut those out. Development often comes at a heavy price.
7. The Spread of Education
We have not always had education available for all. Women have not always been able to be educated. It is great that has changed. I hope for the day when that last statement can be true worldwide. Encouraging reading helps on so many levels.
Not only do you raise knowledge, reading inspires the worlds of the creative arts and stories inspire music. (Romeo and Juliet, The Sleeping Beauty Waltz, Danse Macabre amongst many others are inspired by tales). The creative arts brings millions into the country’s coffers so they’re hardly a waste of time! Literacy is taken for granted. It shouldn’t be. It should be celebrated though.
8. The Domestication of the Dog
Naturally I’m biased being a dog owner but even for those who don’t like them, there is much to be said for this being one of our finer achievements. Dogs are used for herding, guarding, fetching, retrieving etc. Their noses are put to use in detecting bombs, drugs, and now even certain types of cancer. By being able to detect so early, far ahead of any other method of detection, cancer survival rates will go up.
Dogs can be amazingly therapeutic. What dogs can be trained to do as assistance dogs never ceases to amaze me. They also make you get out and about and help with your own health and fitness. And their loyalty is beyond question, something that can’t always be said for fellow humans.
When I first started as a writer, the dinosaurs hadn’t just vacated the earth, but it is true there was no such thing as email. All submissions were sent by snail mail. Not every publisher returned your stamped addressed postcard confirming receipt of the manuscript so you could wait and wait and wait until you knew they’d got it. That confirmation inevitably came with a rejection slip but I didn’t always get those.
These days, it is unusual for me to submit anything by post. Everything is done online, usually as attachments, but sometimes in the body of an email (generally for shorter pieces such as my work on Cafelit). Publishers now usually tell you if you haven’t heard from them within a certain time frame then assume you’ve been unsuccessful. That’s fine. Not knowing a thing isn’t! So the ease of communication now thanks to email in particular is something I welcome. I save a small fortune in postage too (and a great deal of time NOT queuing at the Post Office).
Then there’s social media. Yes, it has disadvantages but from a writer’s viewpoint, the ability to join in with creative writing support networks online is a huge plus. Being able to check out publishers and agents via their websites is also useful. Marketing online is a must whether you self publish or have gone the traditional route. Print on Demand needed the development in technology for it to become a reality which has made a huge difference to self publishers and those published by the indie press.
When you think about it, the ability to talk to someone on the other side of the world is an amazing thing to do. I’m sure Alexander Graham Bell would be surprised at what his invention has led to. I recall the days when most people didn’t have their own phone (yet alone anything like computers) at home.
Yes, the development of technology has led directly to the demise of the handwritten letter, which is a shame, but, with more people working and for longer, I think this would’ve died anyway. Its legacy will live on given I can’t see the postcard going (it is still a great way for people to show off where they’ve been on holiday!).
10. The Arts
The development of the arts is something that sets mankind apart. It links in with the desire to communicate. There is a fundamental need for stories. From the cave paintings to the epic sagas to portraiture, sculpture, dance, and music, the arts meet a need that isn’t satisfied with the intellect alone. There is an art form of some sort to suit everybody.
What they contribute in terms of the economy can be measured. What they contribute in terms of therapy, giving richness to life, cannot but I believe is vital for us all. The arts make us look at what it really is to be human.
A post like this can only give a brief summary but do send in your thoughts on what mankind’s finest achievements are and why. For all the horrible news stories out there showing mankind at its worst, maybe we should take time out to celebrate our achievements (and hopefully build on them).
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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