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August 20th, 2019

The Greatest Invention

By G. E. Shuman

Okay, so, today I want to talk to you about what I think is mankind’s greatest invention. If asked what that invention might be, most people would probably mention penicillin or computers, medicine or manned flight, the internal combustion engine or artificial intelligence, or some other invention that is great, but in my mind still not the greatest invention of them all. Others would mention fire, which was not invented, but rather, discovered, or the wheel, that old circular standby when talking about man’s greatest inventions. In the case of the wheel, it was a good idea, but the greatest invention? I think not.

Without keeping you in further suspense, as if you have been in suspense, I think that the greatest invention is something the value of which will soon become crystal clear to you. As you think about this, you will see right through every other invention’s attempt to be the best. Without this invention, most of the others would not exist at all.

You see, I think mankind’s greatest invention is another thing, like fire, that isn’t strictly an invention at all. Lightning strikes on beaches have been producing it for thousands of years. The invention is more about finding uses for this great thing: glass, which is basically made by simply heating sand.

Yes, friends and neighbors, I think our best inventions involve the many uses of glass. After all, without this substance we would all still be buying pickles in huge wooden barrels, right? Without glass, there would also be no mirrors and we would only see our slight reflection in still lakes and ponds. All right, so that might not be such a terrible thing for me and a few others. We would never have played with marbles as kids, and never have heard the word Pyrex. Where would we be without Pyrex? Okay, so we could live without the word Pyrex, but what if we lost our marbles?

The first catheters were made of glass… ugh. The first medical thermometers were also. Ugh again. Without glass, soda could not have been sold until the invention of plastic bottles, but without soda, I guess there would have been less need of catheters. So, I guess I just proved that the invention of glass can be a negative too.

On the positive side again, the chuckle when coming around the end of a supermarket aisle and seeing some young employee dutifully scooping up the remains of a glass jar of mayonnaise would never have been experienced. (Okay, so I’m a bad person.) We would also not have cameras, telescopes, microscopes, lightbulbs, or laser beams. Those gorgeous lighthouses would never have been around to guide the ships of the past to shore. See, glass and sea glass are beautiful things.

Phones without glass would not have screens, but also would have no screens to break. There would be no microscope slides or aquarium sides. There would be no windows in your home, but also no curtain industry or Windex, I guess. (By now you must doubt my sanity even more than I do.)

And what would modern English be without glass? Sayings like ‘as fragile as glass,’ ‘as transparent as glass,’ ‘glassy-eyed,’ or ‘We see the glass is either half full or half empty.’ Alice would never have gone through a looking glass, and in fact, many of us could not read these words without our ‘glasses.’ Again, I’m not sure if that is a positive point or a negative one in the case of this column. We would also not be able to make spectacles of ourselves if there were no spectacles. (I know, that was especially bad.)

There are many great inventions and uses of natural resources in our world, but glass is, clearly, the best one, in my view. (See what I did there? clearly, and in my view? Ha!) Life would be plain and dull without it. Besides that, you would get rain in your face and bugs in your teeth every time you drove your car, and a metal or wooden goldfish bowl would be no fun at all, especially for the goldfish.

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