Rubber—Extraordinary Ordinary Things

Rubber is one of the most common substances in the modern world, and certainly one of the most undervalued. If you ask someone to quickly name a product made of rubber, you are likely to get a reply such as a pencil eraser, rubber band (“elastic band” in Britain), rubber bathmat, rubber stamp, rubber toys, rubber balloons, etc. On further reflection, the person might add objects such as garden hoses, aprons, surfing wet suits, gloves, etc.

By themselves, none of these things have radically changed our social environment and how we go about our lives in it. However, take away any one of them and we are likely to feel a significant difference. This is why I believe rubber justifiably deserves to hold a place in the list of what I like to call “extraordinary ordinary things.”

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Bitcoin transaction to credit card. Currency exchange concept

Extraordinary Ordinary Things: Credit cards and beyond

The first part of this two-part blog, published last month, explored the fundamental ideas of money. Here are some key things to bear in mind as we continue our exploration of this endlessly fascinating subject.

  1. Money is a universal token (metal coins and paper bills) having a value that is expected, but not guaranteed, to be stable over time and is trusted by the people. This trust is usually established by a national government issuing and standing behind its currency (dollars, euros, francs, kroners, pounds, pesos, etc.).
  2. Money is a great facilitator of exchange transactions (buying and selling), the core of commerce.
  3. Money has no intrinsic value. Even when money is equated with silver or gold, the value of money can fluctuate with the prices of these metals.
  4. Money must move quickly and seamlessly from one place to another in today’s largely integrated worldwide society, which was not previously the case in local, largely isolated agricultural societies.

In short, to a large extent, the legitimacy and value of money is whatever a national government says it is.

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Benjamin Franklin close-up from one hundred dollars bill

Extraordinary Ordinary Things: Money Moves

The theme of this series explores items that have become so integrated into our lives that we barely notice them; yet have completely transformed how we live. The first item in the series was the elevator—try to imagine modern high-rise cities without them. The second item was the pre-printed adhesive postage stamp—try to imagine sending and receiving letters and other things through public postal services without them. The third item was going to be about money, specifically the credit card. This  little bit of plastic  ensures we  always have access to money to buy virtually anything we want virtually anywhere in the world. Continue reading

The Adhesive Postage Stamp—Extraordinary Ordinary Things

“Please Mr. Postman” (The Marvelettes) and “Return to Sender” (Elvis Presley) were two major pop hits of the 1960s. Among many others songs, they tell the story of young lovers desperately trying to communicate with the object of their affection via hand-written and posted letters.

Wooing and winning one’s teenage heartthrob through hand-written letters! To many of the modern generation, this must seem like a quaint, and perhaps even crazy idea. With email, SMS, social media, and other electronic revolutions in communication, no one would rely on “snail mail” to achieve such an important purpose.

However, in a certain sense the humble hand-written letter, and the humble adhesive postage stamp used to send it on its way, represent a more far-reaching revolution in human history than all of these new-fangled electronic communication media combined. The adhesive postage stamp truly deserves a place of honor on my list of “extraordinary ordinary things.” Continue reading