The Bicycle—Extraordinary Ordinary Things

It is a rite of passage, starting with a stable three-wheeled tricycle. Next is a less stable two-wheeled bicycle with two training wheels, and finally the freedom of a two-wheeler itself. But however exciting it may seem to children and parents at the time, in retrospect this progression is really a mundane part of modern life. So much so that few people realize the long history of the bicycle and the unexpected impact it has had on modern society.

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The Human Body— Extraordinary Ordinary Things

There are some 100 trillion (100,000,000,000,000) of them and they are with us all the time, night and day, waking and sleeping, 24-hours around the clock, i.e. whatever we are doing and whenever we are doing it. Being 100 trillion of them firmly fixes them among the most ordinary things we know. Yet we almost never think about them. And when we do, we almost always have a confused and inaccurate picture of them. What are they? The 100 trillion individual cells that make up every human body.

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The Toothbrush—Extraordinary Ordinary Things

Do you remember when you were a child, every evening your parents would say: “Don’t forget to brush your teeth before you go to bed!” Or the slogan of oral hygiene professionals, “Brush your teeth twice a day; see your dentist twice a year!”

Both slogans are still current today, as is the trusty toothbrush needed to execute the admonitions. The fact is, the humble toothbrush is a virtually indispensable feature of our everyday life; however, the toothbrush isn’t really all that humble. The designs and materials used in its various manifestations are the result of decades of careful scientific investigations. And development continues apace. Today if we so fancy, we can even choose computerized versions of the toothbrush that link to the internet to provide aspects of oral hygiene previously never even imagined.

Given its ubiquity, hygiene, and social importance, the toothbrush unquestionably deserves a place of honor on the list of what I like to call “extraordinary ordinary things.”

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The Wristwatch—Extraordinary Ordinary Things

“Say, what time is it?” If you are like most people, you will take a glance at your wristwatch and quickly give the answer.

Today, the wristwatch is almost as much a part of us as our skin; however, just over a century ago, this wasn’t the case. In earlier agricultural populations, few people were concerned about the exact time because they didn’t need to be. Concern about approximate, if not exact time, was essentially in the domain of kings and emperors, servants of such royal personages, and the aristocracy, who represented only a miniscule fraction of the population. It is really only since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-18th century that knowing the exact time has become a significant concern to a significant portion of the population.

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