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Happy Thanksgiving!!

November is the month of Thanksgiving – that amazing holiday that asks us all to slow down and appreciate all of the blessings in our lives. This year, I have joined with dozens of my friends on Facebook to share one thing every day for which I’m thankful. This has gotten me thinking about some things in our daily lives that have become so commonplace that we often take them for granted. However, they did not always exist. Somebody discovered, invented, or created them; and in their early days they were magical.

#8  Coffee – I’m not addicted. I could stop any time I want. However, I do enjoy a daily cup, or two, of coffee. Commonly believed to have been discovered in Ethiopia, perhaps as early as the Tenth Century, the first record of coffee appears in 1671. By that time, however, the beverage had clearly been around for a few hundred years, at least. Coffee drinking spread to Arabia and Persia in the Seventeenth Century, and from there to India and Europe, and eventually the rest of the world. Often used in religious ceremonies, secular coffee drinking was banned in Ethiopia until the Nineteenth Century.[i]

#7 Indoor Plumbing – The idea of bringing potable water into the home and taking waste water away from the home took hold in America and Europe in the last quarter of the Nineteenth Century. Before that, people had to collect water from nearby springs, streams, and wells and dispose of waste however they could. This made city living quite . . . pungent, to say the least. The thought of bundling up for a nighttime winter trek to the outhouse is not appealing on any level, either. As surprising as it may sound, the concept of indoor plumbing was well-known in the Ancient World. Aqueducts and lead pipes were cleverly used both to bring water into and out of Roman homes. There is evidence that similar pipes were employed in Egypt and Mesopotamia, as early as 3000 BC![ii]

#6 Antibiotics – Just coming off a bad cold that had settled into sinus and ear infections, I am particularly thankful for the discovery of antibiotics. Before the role of microbes in disease was fully understood, countless people lost their lives to infections. The development of the microscope (probably deserving of an entry in its own right) made it possible for the pioneers of antibiotics, such as Louis Pasteur, Alexander Fleming, Robert Koch, and Paul Ehrlich to isolate and develop medical interventions to combat harmful bacteria.[iii]

#5 Vaccines – First developed a century before antibiotics, the first successful vaccine is believed to have been Edward Jenner’s work to provide resistance to small pox – a disease that had afflicted humanity for centuries. Pasteur used Jenner’s techniques to develop a vaccine against rabies, and Jonas Salk developed a vaccine that has nearly eradicated polio. Today, vaccines are offered to prevent mumps, measles, whooping-cough, diphtheria, tetanus, chicken pox, typhoid, tuberculosis, cholera, influenza, pneumococcal meningitis, HPV, and many other diseases that have killed untold millions throughout the ages.[iv]

#4 The Printed Page – Hundreds of years ago, information was mostly passed by word of mouth. Literacy was not widespread. Records were chiseled in stone, or painstakingly scribed (and perhaps beautifully illuminated) by hand. Books were far too expensive for anyone but the very wealthy. Then along came Johannes Gutenberg, who developed the first successful movable type printing press in the early Fifteenth Century. This has led to books, magazines, newspapers, Wikipedia, e-books, and Twitter. Without these things, life would be dull and information would still be in the hands of a very elite few.[v]

#3 Smart Phones – Telephones are no longer just for making calls any more. We can use our phones to find a nearby restaurant and make reservations for 7:00. We can take pictures and instantly share them with 400 of our closest friends. We can listen to our entire CD collection (if we still have CDs). We can arm our home security systems, turn off the lights, and adjust the thermostat from the airport. And we can catapult an irate avian through a brick wall. We can hold more computing power in our palm than Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had aboard Apollo 11! Far too many people and parts have had a hand in the development of the smart phone, but we can probably  thank Steve Jobs and Apple for our purposes today.[vi]

#2 Star Trek – I was too young to enjoy this seminal science fiction television series when it first ran in the 1960s. By the time I discovered it, it had been in syndication for close to ten years. However, this show, created by Gene Roddenberry, has done more to advance technology and how we view technology than many people realize. To me, it represented a better future . . . one where mankind can settle our petty differences and unite for a cause that matters. It told me that anything was possible. Over the years, the Star Trek franchise has spun out no fewer than six television series and something like ten feature films. Obviously, this vision of a hopeful future has touched others, too.[vii]

#1 Toilet Paper – I don’t think I have to spell it out. I cannot imagine a world without it, nor do I want to.[viii]


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