“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.
Continue reading The Wristwatch—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.”
Continue reading Rubber—Extraordinary Ordinary Things
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.
- 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.).
- Money is a great
facilitator of exchange transactions (buying and selling), the core of
- 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.
- 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
In short, to a large extent, the
legitimacy and value of money is whatever a national government says it is.
Continue reading Extraordinary Ordinary Things: Credit cards and beyond
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 Extraordinary Ordinary Things: Money Moves