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Technological Developments of the 20th Century

Much of what we know of life today would be completely unfamiliar to people who lived prior to the 20th century. Almost everything we encounter in daily life in the city is characterized by technology developed during the 1900s. A timeline created by Mary Bellis (2009) illustrates the degree of these changes. The first radio receiver was created in 1901 and the first air conditioner was made in 1902. Neon lights, crayons, radar, and sonar helped us define our world. Airplanes, helicopters, cars, and scuba were all invented in the first decade of the century making it possible for us to explore them in greater depth. Motion pictures, radio, and television enabled us to share it. Electron microscopes showed us the inner working of our world while rocket power has taken us to the moon. Atomic power has given us the ability to destroy entire cities while nuclear power gave us the ability to kill nations. Artificial hearts gave us longer life, soft contacts freed us from eyeglasses and MRIs (magnetic imaging resonance) provided a clearer, safer image of our internal parts without damage. Finally, cell phones and computers freed us from the desk to take greater advantage of the advances that had been made thus far.

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It is difficult to look at this list of achievements made in this period and select just three that have had the greatest impact on the world.

I would argue that the invention of the gas-powered engine would be one of these. Only with this invention did we fully feel free to explore the world.

It was suddenly possible to explore the world in a single lifetime through various machines based upon this engine. It launched entire industries dedicated to making the most of this technology and producing the products necessary, such as gasoline and refined oil, to maintain this technology. It has led us into war more than once as it has developed previously worthless territory such as the deserts of the Middle East and Texas into heavily populated regions. Finally, it has contributed to worldwide devastation of the environment as air-borne pollutants created by the processing and burning of fuel have overwhelmed the planet’s ability to process them. Another major technology has been the invention of moving pictures. This technology has made it possible for ideas to be shared across long distances from one culture to another while entertaining audiences. It preserves the history and records important events. At the same time, though, it provides a dominant culture with the means of imposing its beliefs and ideas on minority cultures or for political leaders to change the opinions of the public through careful manipulation.

However, the internet has greatly altered the process by which people communicate, either directly or as in the ‘motion picture’ entertainment arena. This is especially true for those living in the developed countries. This aspect of the internet has had the most impact on society because this feature has enabled an acceleration of interconnections on a global scale. Cultures from all parts of the world are able to interact more effectively both ideologically and commercially thus ‘shrinking the world’ to a greater extent than any other technology has to date. In addition, the internet’s content is relatively free of restriction which allows for the constitutional right of free speech to be fully exercised and put to the test. Email is free and instantaneous causing its use by businesses and individuals to grow at a phenomenal rate over the past decade. Few people write letters or read the newspaper as these are seemingly archaic methods of communication. “Nowadays, we think nothing of emailing our aunts in Germany and getting an answer back within minutes or seeing the latest streaming video full of up-to-the-minute news” (Boswell, 2006). The Internet has no physical, ethical, or moral boundaries. One of the main ethical questions involves the disparity of access between those who can afford access and those that cannot. The moral dilemma generally surrounds minor’s uncensored access to adult material. Adults are better prepared than children to judge what type of information is useful, legitimate, and potentially harmful. Children are more likely than adults to fall prey to predators that lure them with kind, understanding words or to, for example, misinterpret sadistic pornography for normal sexual relations. Federal, state, and local laws limit access to materials such as pornography but anyone, young or old can access this or anything else on the internet. A teenager cannot walk into a video store and rent an adult movie but can log on and quickly find many thousands of adult movies that can be viewed, downloaded and stored, or even sold to other teenagers (Emmans, 2000).

The internet is a dynamic tool for communication and an open forum for whatever material could be imagined available to anyone with a connection. It is continually evolving. Cutting edge technology of today will go the way of vacuum tubes in televisions. “The existing Internet is built on technology meant for a different age. Just as circuit switches are remnants of the past generation of communication, so will router be remnants of a past internet” (Dzubeck, 2000). Developing countries, specifically those that don’t enjoy the freedom of speech rights, will create their own internets which will likely interconnect with other networks, such as the current interest in a spider web type relationship. The ethical and moral issues surrounding the use of the internet are in their infancy as are its communications capabilities. Society has been changed by the internet, a trend that will continue alongside the changing internet.


  1. Bellis, Mary. “20th Century Timeline” (2009). Web.
  2. Boswell, Wendy. “How the World Wide Web has Changed Society.” About the Internet. (2006). Web.
  3. Emmans, Cindy. “Colloquium: Internet Ethics.” Technos Quarterly. (2000). Vol. 9, N. 1.
  4. Genviere, Christoff. “The Impact of Computers on Society Today.” Article Snatch. 2009.
  5. McCarthy, Kieren. “The Internet is Dead: Long Live the Internet.” Music and Media. (2000). The Register. Web.

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