~ Posted by Robert Butler, December 12th 2011
Our feature on What's The Greatest Invention of All Time was discussed on BBC Radio 4's "Today" programme this morning. Samantha Weinberg, who wrote the piece, argued for the world wide web and Graham Farmelo, Senior Research Fellow at the Science Museum, argued for the printing press—much the same thing when you think about it. The presenter, Sarah Montague, mentioned a line from the article and wondered whether Father Christmas wasn't the greatest invention.
The subject was instantly picked up on Twitter. It had its own hashtag, #greatestinvention, which was soon trending ahead of anything else apart from Happy Dance (paid for by a supermarket). Where "Today" had got a little bogged down discussing whether ideas counted as inventions, the tweeters just got on with choosing their favourite invention. Some basic suggestions included "fire", "the bed", "electricity" and "credit cards". Quite a few people picked their favourite food: "peanut butter and jelly sandwich", "fizzy yoghurt", "deep fried pickles", "warm buttered toast", and "banana pancake". People who liked their comforts went for the "snooze option" on the alarm, "mulled wine" and "weed".
The conversation soon splintered into sub-sections. In technology, the "mute button" on the remote competed with "Ctrl + Alt + Del", "texting", "caller ID" and "copy + paste". In cricket, there was "the box" ("I have a beautiful daughter thanks to that little marvel"), the "Third Umpire", "the radio" and, more specifically, "TMS" (The BBC's "Test Match Special"). In medicine, "penicillin" was up against "general anaesthetic". In sex, "the pill" competed with "the condom". In personal hygiene, "toilet paper" tussled with "dry shampoo" and "toothpaste".
As soon as the programme was over, Sarah Montague tweeted: "Anyone who heard me suggest that Father Christmas might be #greatestinvention was obviously mistaken! *grovelling apology to parents*" There were probably more suggestions for Twitter than for any other single item. Within Twitter, "the option to block people" was considered the greatest invention. It hadn't been mentioned, but surely the greatest invention in Twitter has to be the hashtag. No, hang on, that's just been tweeted by @maddywhut in Australia.
You can vote for the greatest invention of all time here.