When I think of great inventions, the wheel, electricity, the steam engine, the telephone, the airplane and the internal combustion engine come to mind. These inventions have changed our world in magnificent ways. Indeed, the standard of living of most of the world’s people has been radically improved because of these technological advances.
What, then, is the greatest invention in the history of the world? We could debate this forever, but as far as modern inventions are concerned I’m weighing in on bandwidth! Coupled with the internet and advanced computers, ever increasing bandwidth has increased productivity as much as any of the previously mentioned inventions. Bandwidth makes mobile phones, computers, and social networks quick and accessible.
Mobile Phones: Last summer I asked a young employee to get another can of paint just like one we had on the workbench. As I was writing down the type of paint and color code on the label, I heard a click. She had taken a photo of the can with her cell phone! Touché’ When cell phones first appeared I thought they were a gimmick. Now I save literally hours a day because of my smart phone. No longer tied to the wall by a copper wire, I can do business during times when I would normally not be productive.
The cell phone has also proved valuable in less developed countries where there are a surprising number of them in use. When a Nigerian potato farmer’s crop was rotting he “googled” the problem on his mobile phone and found a cost-effective solution, saving his crop. In parts of Africa cell phone minutes are used as currency. The farmer ships his crop to the city after receiving cell phone minutes from the produce buyer in Lagos. Meanwhile, the farmer pays his local vendors in cell phone minutes. Why use a bank when the credit is in your phone?
Computers: From stock market transactions, to online shopping, to product design file transfer, increased bandwidth has broken down trade barriers. A product design engineer in Cincinnati can email CAD files to an engineer in Bombay who can work on the design while the American engineer sleeps. In the morning the American can reload the file with hours of additional work already done! I can’t tell you how many specialized parts I have been able to find on the internet. Amazon.com is now mounting a challenge to traditional retailers by shipping many items “next day”.
Social Networking: When my wife was ill, many of my long-lost friends came out of the woodwork on facebook. Most of them were friends of mine in college. We had lost touch with each other, but when the word of Deb’s illness spread across Facebook, I had the comfort of many friends who came to my aid. With social media today there is no excuse for not connecting with others, except that you have neither the time nor the interest to do so.
Economists say that no item has an infinite demand. At low enough prices, one wonders if there is not an infinite demand for bandwidth.