10 Life-Altering Inventions We Now Take for Granted

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There are thousands of inventions the world could do without: the Snuggie, Pajama Jeans, basically anything seen on late-night infomercials. But every once in a while, a new product comes along that really changes society as a whole, so much in fact that we start to forget that we ever had to live without it. We use these things day in and day out without as much as a thank you. Here are 10 of those inventions that you would miss if they were gone, even if you don't realize it.

  1. Flush toilet

    You no doubt use this invention several times a day without thinking twice about how much worse your life would be without it — at least until the one time it doesn't flush or you face the unpleasant Porta-Potty. We are so unimpressed by toilets and their flushing mechanisms that many public places have automatic flush systems so our waste just disappears without us giving it a second thought. But just a couple hundred years ago, people didn't have it so easy. Most people had to use chamber pots, which could probably be compared to the modern-day bedpan, and then they'd throw the contents out the window or into a nearby creek. It wasn't until Sir John Harington created a kind of flushing toilet in 1596 and got one installed in England's Richmond Palace that people began to realize that their lives could be far less disgusting. Thomas Crapper also helped bring the modern-day toilet to popularity, which we should all be very grateful for.

  2. Remote control

    You know an invention has changed lives when people go nuts and tear apart whole rooms in their house every time they lose it. Today, we can't imagine having to get up off the couch every time we want to change the channel or turn up the volume, but before 1950, it was crazy to imagine anything else. In fact, the first TV remote control was called "Lazy Bones," because you had to be seriously inactive to refuse to walk five feet to your TV set. Zenith made "Lazy Bones" in 1950; it was connected to the set by a wire. In 1955, they made the first wireless TV changer. The original idea for a remote control came from Nikola Tesla in 1898, and it was used for a lot of military purposes in World War II, for toys, and for the incredible garage door opener. But it was the application of the device to the television that gave it control over our lives today.

  3. Concrete

    Our entire world seems to be made out of concrete. You'll find it in roads, buildings, pipes, bridges, and boats. You'll even find stories about the mafia using it to send someone to "sleep with the fishes." It's so much a part of our everyday lives that it's hard to imagine the days before concrete was used. Concrete has actually been used since the Roman empire, but it's come a long way since those days of using horse hair and blood to make it stronger. The invention of artificial cement, an important step in being able to make huge quantities of concrete, came in the early 1800s. Joseph Monier made concrete even stronger in the mid-19th century by reinforcing it with steel, a method that is still used today. This allowed architects and civil engineers to build massive structures, like skyscrapers, bridges, and dams, that would last through earthquakes and storms. So the next time you're complaining about those tiny potholes in the road, remember that without concrete, you could be driving on dirt through a city of small, crumbling buildings.

  4. Caller ID

    Much to the dismay of telemarketers, would-be killers, and people trying to work up the nerve to ask their crush out on a date, Caller ID has become a part of our culture that's not going to disappear. This invention has only been around for about 20 years, but it's hard to remember what our lives were like before it existed. In 1986, Carolyn Doughty got a patent on Caller ID for Bell Laboratories, and soon they were testing the service in New Jersey. Though many originally saw the invention as an invasion of privacy, we now value the idea that we can ignore annoying friends and relatives more than we value our privacy. And thus the idea of screening phone calls was born. Those of us who still have home phones that we answer almost always have a Caller ID service, and cell phones always provide the phone number of the caller or texter.

  5. Zipper

    It keeps your pants up, your underwear inside your suitcase, and the bears outside of your tent (you hope). The zipper is one of those inventions we use constantly, but when you really look at it, it's hard to figure out exactly how it works. The zipper pull somehow makes the teeth lock and unlock, but we rarely think much further than that, and we certainly don't think about the guy (or guys) who brought this magical fastener into existence. Today's zipper comes from improvements on the inventions of Whitcomb Judson, Gideon Sundback, and Elias Howe in the 19th century. Before these men put their minds to the matter, people were fastening things with buttons and cords only. All the men today should be thankful for those inventors who kept jeans from having lace-up flies.

  6. Bug spray

    As far as historians and scientists can tell, insects have been bugging people since the beginning of time. Our ancestors rubbed plants on themselves and burned stinky materials to try to keep the bugs away. In fact, the use of chemicals in bug sprays didn't really begin until the 1920s. It wasn't until 1954 that DEET, or N,N-Diethyl-meta-Toluamide if you want to get technical, was discovered and has since been the top chemical for insect repellents. Avid campers and soldiers know that DEET protects against ticks, mosquitoes, chiggers, and other dangerous bugs; the rest of you just know that bug spray keeps you from being an itchy mess the day after an outdoor concert or barbecue.

  7. E-mail

    Electronic mail was a foreign concept until 30 or 40 years ago. It's probably still a bizarre idea to some grandparents, but for most Americans, it is a part of your daily, if not hourly, life. Email today is basically inescapable; you get assignment emails from your boss, email newsletters from your favorite band, and annoying chain emails from your crazy aunt. You can get it on any computer, and most people receive it on their cell phones, so it's hard to picture modern life without it. A man named Ray Tomlinson invented email back in 1971, but it really didn't become popular on a personal level until the '90s when the Internet was big enough to allow more people to use it. Though it makes communication almost instant and saves money on stamps, email has also contributed to the growing epidemic of people who don't know how to talk face-to-face or on the phone.

  8. Spanx

    Guys who don't know the power of Spanx might argue about their significance, but any woman who's not an 18-year-old super model knows that Spanx work miracles. Way better than the primitive girdle, Spanx hosiery is worn by regular women and celebrities worldwide who want to smooth out any lumps and rolls in order to look good in a particular outfit. Bridesmaids and business women everywhere are a lot more confident with their sexy figures, so it's hard to believe that they were just invented in 2000. Sara Blakely came up with the prototype in an effort to get rid of her panty line in a pair of white pants, and then Oprah featured the product on her show and the rest is history. And guys, they do actually make Spanx for Men if you want to try to hide that beer belly.

  9. ATM

    It's amazing that we don't make a bigger deal out of a machine that gives out money. Sure, it's a little more complicated than that, and it's technically your own money, but this was a cutting-edge technology when it first came out. Before the ATM was created, people had to go to banks to withdraw cash from their accounts, and we all know how hard it is to get to the bank while it's open. To solve this problem, John Shepherd-Barron came up with the idea of a cash machine that caught on in England in the late '60s. He also invented the PIN number so that people could verify their identities through easily remembered sequences of numbers, so you have him to blame when you forget yours and can't get to your money. Without ATMs, we probably would stop using cash altogether — bad news for piggy banks and panhandlers.

  10. Computer mouse

    You don't realize how important your mouse is until it stops working; that's when you discover that you can't do anything on your computer without it. Before the invention of the mouse and its descendant, the trackpad, computers were controlled through keyboard commands. We may use some keyboard shortcuts today, but imagine having to type commands for everything you wanted to do, and it would only get more complicated as the computer's functions multiplied. Not only would you have to remember all the normal things we store in our brains, like birthdays and trivia, but you'd have to memorize how to open a program, select various tools, and navigate through applications. Luckily, Douglas Engelbart solved that problem for us in 1968, and computer manufacturers adopted it in the next couple of decades. Now there's no excuse for forgetting your anniversary.

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