In the past 1,000 years humanity and how it interacts with itself has changed a great deal, and it is my considered opinion that change is down to two great inventions, with a third in it's infancy today.
When you ask people about human inventiveness they talk about the Moon Landing and other such endeavours. Those are all great accomplishments, but they aren't really inventions, nor did they change the world around us, at least not as much as a true invention.
Fire for example, controllable fire on demand, some scholars consider it was fire that allowed man to move from being an animal to what we are today. The Wheel is another great example. Then it sorts of tapers off, with lots of less inventions that improved life, but rarely made much of an impact on humanity as a whole. Just because you had a better sword it didn't mean humanity had changed. We were still ruled by tyrants and only the lucky or the elite got to experience life to it's fullest.
Humanity was ignorant.
But that has changed, has it not? The Greeks invented democracy before the birth of Christ, yet it never really took off did it? Then why has it flourished in recent centuries? What's changed. Why has humanity advanced more in the last 1,000 years then it did in the 10,000 before that? What changed.
Well I'll give you my opinion, it comes down two great inventions.
The Printing Press changed all that, suddenly it was cheap to make books, instead of a man slaving over a book for months to produce one copy you could make dozens in a day, and then hundreds in an hour. And with the availability of books came people who wanted to see what the fuss was about.
Books have always been about storing information, by giving more and more people access to that stored knowledge all of a sudden you had a massive jump in the number of people who could contribute. How many very smart people were over looked because of where they were born? How many Hawkings? How many Platos? How many that never had access to the information they needed to improve the world? How many possible advances were lost.
That's why we've advanced so fast in the last 1,000 years, because more and more people can stand on the shoulders of giants.
Now, what about social change? What suddenly made democracy viable? What changed.
The Firearm, the common gun.
That's how the people were kept inline.
The Americans have an expression, "God made man, but Sam Colt made him equal".
It's very very true, you can turn an illiterate farmer into a reasonable riflemen in a matter of days, and unlike swordsmen, that basic riflemen can kill a professional soldier, because there is a great deal more "luck" involved in a battle with firearms.
The Lords and Kings who saw the gun as a way to crush their rivals signed their own death warrants, by arming the "peasants" they provided them with the training and tools they need to assert themselves.
The Printing Press and the Firearm, the two greatest human inventions in the last 1,000 years, the two inventions that did more to change the world then any other, the two that allowed men and women around the world to assert themselves, to learn, to become truly equal.
And we stand at the birth of a new age, an age of information, an age where anyone can access anything at anytime...
I give you the Internet, it will do more to change the world then the Printing Press ever did...