December 7, 2019

Inventions That Changed the World

Clearly, we as humans are on an exponential curve of discovery.

Sellotape

This is reflected in statements like "95% of everything we know has been discovered in the past 10 years".

And we no longer believe, as the Victorians did at the turn of the (19th) century that "everything of significance has already been discovered". Or, as Thomas Watson, the first president of IBM famously predicted "that there might someday be a world wide market for as many as 5 computers".

Nonetheless, there have been many paradigm shifting inventions that have been made during our journey from the mid 1940s (slightly earlier than the baby boomers) to the early parts of the 21st century.

If I had to pick two (and it's very difficult to leave out television and solid state technology) I'd have to pick

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  • The computer, partly because it made so many other discoveries possible and partly because it led to the internet and
  • The contraceptive pill, because giving control over their own fertility to women allowed that 50% of our population to contribute according to their abilities and potential in ways previously denied.

But there are many others that impacted our day to day lives in minor but significant ways and I want to pay tribute to one of them.

Brown Paper Packages Tied up in Strings...

Durex Tape

Yes, I'm talking about sticky tape.

Although research reveals that 3M Scotch tape was released many years earlier in the U.S., my recollection is that the first adhesive tape available here was Durex in 1950 something, closely followed by Scotch, Sellotape and Bear.

Who else remembers the years before? Brown paper packages (or Christmas presents) tied up with string just weren't any of my favourite things. Remember holding your finger on the string join while someone else tied the knot? Let go too early and the string lost its tension and had to be retied, accompanied by many complaints. Let go too late and your finger was caught painfully in the knot.

Enter transparent sticky tape. The first brand name I remember was Durex. This caused much hilarity among our Pommie friends, as Durex was a synonym for "condom" in the UK, much in the same way as Hoover was for vacuum cleaner.

I remember one of the other brands, either Scotch or Sellotape, came with a book of instructions on how to use it.

One of the suggested uses was to repair a lady's broken fingernail!

The illustrations showed the nail being covered with sticky tape, which was then trimmed to the edge of the nail and painted over with nail varnish.

I had no idea how well that would work, but it seemed jolly clever to me.

A minor invention but a ubiquitous one.

Phil Lancaster

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