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5 inventions banned tomorrow if invented today

Tuesday, 3 June 2008 — by

Some things are probably best left never being invented. But some just got invented anyway, long before we could have been aware of their potential to impact our lives for the worse. Here are 5 inventions that would most likely be banned tomorrow if invented today…

1. The Internal Combustion Engine

The internal combustion engine, which in their present form harness the power of fossil fuels quite inefficiently, or at least those engines that reside in the vast majority of motor vehicles trundling around the world’s roads today.

As technologies go, the engine is one of the most important enabling technologies in the whole of human history, instrumental in just about everything we’ve achieved since the first fully practical engine was engineered back in 1885 by Gottlieb Daimler.

However, their use of fossil-derived fuels is a major problem, not just for the environment, but for society as a whole since supplies of petroleum-based products are dwindling fast.

Alternatives appear plentiful, but political heel-dragging, heavy-handed corporate lobbying and problems associated with biofuel variations raise more questions than answers.

2. Food Additives

Food additives like colourings and preservatives are a known and growing problem, some of which are now proven to have negative effects on human health, especially in children.

Worse still, food additives are directly linked with the condition ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder), “a mental illness characterized by an impaired ability to regulate activity level (hyperactivity), attend to tasks (inattention), and inhibit behavior (impulsivity).”

Kids are highly charged animals as it is, without them being in possession of the metabolic rate of a fruit fly!

Over here in Britain, there’s been a great deal of public attention focused on healthy eating and a thankfully hostile reaction to food additives, hopefully assuring us of a healthier, while likely less colourful food future.

3. Nuclear Power

These things never really lived up to the dream-like potential those early pioneers imagined. Not only is nuclear energy largely inefficient, but the waste byproducts of nuclear energy are an environmental Armageddon waiting to happen, especially if not handled with extreme care.

Add to that the amount of effort required to shield against nuclear radiation and you have yourself something that really does leave one wondering why we even bother.

The astounding thing is, Mother Nature perfected natural nuclear reactors billions of years ago, right here on Earth, in Africa. So we clearly have much to learn.

4. Modern Packaging Materials

Probably the bane of environmentalist and the environment alike are things like wax-coated drink cartons, plastic bags, polystyrene, practically all food packaging. These things are a nightmare, get everywhere and take years to break down and rot.

Compounding the problem of modern packaging is the personally more annoying excess of packaging we seem to amass with every visit to the local supermarket or high street store.

There are entirely recyclable alternatives to much of the packaging we use. Plus, a lot of the packaging is just wasteful and needless anyway.

5. Libraries

The final idea was suggested by fellow Powncer and contributer to a previous article Dave L. of Cleveland, US.

It’s an intriguing and very thought-provoking idea. His arguments are quite massive, so for the sake of simplicity, I’ll be offering up an abridged version.

A book shared is a problem multiplied

“A person who can take a book out of the library is a person who doesn’t need to purchase the book and the way corporations do the piracy math, anyone who has gotten something for free is counted as a lost sale without regard to the possibility that this person might not have paid for the item if that was the only choice.”

So in these strange days of enhanced copyright and DRM (Digital Rights Management), libraries could well have been a modern-day anathema.

To copy is copyright theft?

“If there were no libraries today people would still be doing what people do: loan cool stuff to their friends: ‘Here, check out this cool CD / Book / Movie!’”

I have to wonder if even the CD, the DVD or even the video cassette would be banned tomorrow if invented today!

While reading through Dave’s excellent suggestion, I had an idea of my own which would probably spell doom for the idea of libraries, even if all of the copyright issues were resolved — think of all those dead trees.

Yes, the environmental implications would be a show-stopper in their own right, forcing the idea of libraries towards those of the digital variety, where Dave’s hell of copyright litigation would be waiting.

Final thoughts

Since it’s taken me well over a month since originally coming up the idea for this article to actually think of four inventions, with community spirit in mind and in a vain attempt to find the mystical fifth technology, I had to ask around for suggestions.

And since this is such a thought-provoking topic, be sure to share your own ideas on what we’d ban tomorrow if invented today…

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Timmargh → Tuesday, 3 June 2008 @ 12:38 BDT

The internal combustion engine is great but it made us lazy — it’s taken us far too long to decide to try and replace it with something else and even then it was only after “the end of the environment” was spelled out to us.

And I’d never heard about that nuclear reactor stuff in Africa — that’s amazing, seriously. Although I did laugh when I read “Plutonium has moved less than 10 feet from where it was formed almost two billion years ago” … even I’m not that slow!

(On a personal note: I’d ban football.)

Nick James → Tuesday, 3 June 2008 @ 12:46 BDT

Great article, Wayne. Good idea too.

Personally, I think they’d probably ban the internet for the same reasons your colleague stated about libraries. Big corporations (particularly in the entertainment and media sectors) must be gnashing their teeth at the amount of ‘lost sales’ because of the internet. Whether that be through the freedom of information (newspaper sales, book sales, print advertising, etc.) or the amount of file-sharing going on, they must be ruing the day Tim Berners-Lee invented WWW. Sure, they’re adapting and still raking it in, but all that leakage must be giving them indigestion of a night. The poor lambs!

Wayne Smallman → Tuesday, 3 June 2008 @ 13:35 BDT

Tim, the sad thing is, we’ve known that oil supplies were going to run out in the early 70s, and still they (the governments) did nothing.

As for banning the beautiful game, thee & me will be having words! ;-)

Nick, banning the internet, eh? Yes, makes perfect sense, in the context of banning libraries.

With disruptive technologies like the internet, they often force people to think differently about how they do things. In this case, I think we’ll look back on this period in history as being important, principally for forcing much needed change on the world…

Timmargh → Tuesday, 3 June 2008 @ 14:32 BDT

It’s not so much the game I dislike but the importance that so many people put upon it. Sure, enjoy it but I really can’t believe the amount of money that goes into it, the hooligans giving the rest of the fans a bad name, the bloody footballer’s wives … grr!

And ban the guy who called me a geek when I said I liked computers and then went on to name every F.A. Cup winner for the last thirty years … :^D

Kyle James → Tuesday, 3 June 2008 @ 16:22 BDT

Wow controversial post here. I like it, although realistically we WOULD NOT be the advanced civilization we are today without these. I’ll give you really quick points on each.

1. No combustion engine we might still be riding horses or bikes. I’m sure something else would have come along but traveling the world wouldn’t be what it is today.
2. Food additives don’t really know a bunch about them, but do they assist in allowing us to mass produce food to feed the world? Maybe make food we wouldn’t otherwise eat tasty? Or maybe they are only good for making junkfood? Someone call me out on this one…
3. No nuclear power no nuclear bomb and maybe we are still fighting World War II or not able to meet the energy needs of a modern world. Are you willing to give up half your luxuries to find more expensive alternative forms of energy?
4. Other better packaging materials but more expensive to produce.
5. No libraries and fewer people have the ability to educate themselves and possibly few technological breakthroughs.

Now on ethics you are totally right on all these (except 5) but you have to look at the bigger picture and how these things have impacted our lives. If there were more affordable methods to power transportation at the time I’m sure they would have used them. Face it humans are greedy and our needs/interest commonly outweigh those of the environment and I think that’s what is the real issue with each of these.

Bottom line without these advances (yes including 2 and 5) we aren’t as advanced a civilization as we are today. Is that something your willing to give up?

Michele → Tuesday, 3 June 2008 @ 19:37 BDT

Interesting article.

My item to ban – leaf blowers! Our neighbors seem to think they need a gas-powered, mechanized stick to sweep their driveways. Every summer, in our otherwise quiet neighborhood, the peace and tranquility of living in the mountains is interrupted by ennnnnnnguuuuuuuuguuuuu. For hours, it’s ennnnguguguugeeee. Then just when you think it’s finally going to stop, someone else decides there’s a leaf in their driveway that needs to be blown down into the street.

I say, save the planet and buy a damn broom!

Oh, and for that other time of the year folks seem to need leaf blowers – there’s another non-gas guzzling stick for that too – it’s called a rake!

Trust me, I’m not exaggerating here. We watched one day as one, otherwise seemingly intelligent fellow spent 10 minutes with his leaf blower pushing a single leaf down his driveway. And as if this doesn’t drive me crazy enough, as I’m typing this, someone has just launched their gas-guzzling, mechanized stick. Gee, there must be a twig in their driveway.

Henry → Sunday, 8 June 2008 @ 10:55 BDT

Cigarettes would be banned for sure.

Wayne Smallman → Sunday, 8 June 2008 @ 11:24 BDT

Hi guys!

Kyle, I know what you mean about how these technologies would have impacted our lives had they not been around, but the scope of that argument is just too massive to even contemplate discussing! So I had to take each of these technologies in isolation, assuming our world had got by without them.

Michele, you make a compelling argument for leaf blowers, that’s for sure! However, as much of a problem as they might be, they’re not a global problem, or one that severely impacts the environment.

Guys on dirt bikes vastly out number leaf blowers, and dirt bikes are just recreational. So on the balance of priorities, they’d have to go first.

Henry, for the longest time, cigarettes were on this list. But I removed them because they’re a habit and not strictly a technology. But I totally agree.

Thanks for your contributions, guys!

Sandra → Saturday, 19 July 2008 @ 1:37 BDT

Right on MIchelle. If the people who operate those filthy disgusting machines wear masks, there must be a reason. A bright ray of sunshine aimed at the dust reveals all kinds of pollutants i.e. dried remains of the feces of rats, squirrels, possums, dogs, cats and other wild life. Left alone, there is little harm, but stirred up, this debris causes all sorts of problems in highly susceptible people. My apartment complex offers recycling bins. Why that and no concern for the damage done by those foul machines? All in the name of, “horrors, there’s a leaf on the ground.”

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