A popular topic of discussion (code for complaint) amongst people, adults in particular, is the price of gasoline. Fuel is something that nearly everyone uses, at least in the United States, and its price varies less predictably than just about anything else. Nobody talks about the price of toilet paper or of cooked chicken breasts, because those items have a price that says relatively constant. But gas varies. So people complain. Every time it goes up by more than about 2 cents, people talk about it. They get extremely upset when the price goes up.
“Why,” they ask, “do I have to pay a whole 4 cents more than yesterday!?” To answer that question, let’s take a look at a brief history of the human race:
A Brief History of the Human Race
Homo sapiens first appeared in Africa about 200,000 years ago. It took 30,000 years from then for anybody to start wearing clothing. 30,000 years, in case you were wondering, is about the amount of time it takes for light to travel a third of the distance across the Milky Way. 130,000 years later come the oldest known cave paintings. Since the dawn of humanity, our light has now traveled across the Milky Way and is over half way back. It took another 12,000 years for anybody to have the ingenious idea to twist some rope. That’s right: 169 times the average American’s lifetime just to twist a bit of rope. 21,000 years later someone invents the wheel. By now, our light has traveled nearly twice the diameter of the milky way since the dawn of humanity. And we have a wheel and some twisted rope. A mere 1,800 years later, the first writing is invented. This is sort of a big deal. Progress is now speeding up, and in 2,409 years we get the first Olympic Games. This is 2,791 years ago (nearing the birth of Jesus). 816 years ago Europeans first use compasses. 342 years ago Microbes were first observed by Antoni van Leeuwenhoek on a homemade microscope. He called them “animalcules”, which sounds more like a Webkinz knockoff than anything else. It was not until just 195 years ago that we knew Antarctica existed. 186 years ago the first electric motor was built, and 174 years ago the word “dinosaur” was coined by Richard Owen. 142 years ago blue jeans were invented, and 13 years later we get the first commercial automobile. In the same year as the car comes Coke (a far more radical discovery, I must say.) 112 years ago the first plane was flown by the Wright Brothers and 85 years ago was the first Fifa World Cup. 69 years ago the first images of Earth were taken from space, and just 15 years later we get the first manned space flight. 24 years ago - less then double my age - the very first website went online. And earlier this year was the first ever Pluto flyby.
The speed at which things are changing is ever increasing. It took over five times as long to get from wearing clothes to twisting rope as it did to get from twisting rope to manning spacecraft.
The internet has only been in existence for .012% of the time since the first appearance of Homo sapiens 200,000 years ago. If, instead of now, you were alive 200 years ago, Antarctica would not yet be known to exist.
We are now living in an age where we have the technology to fly through the air in a 60 ton aircraft with internet access and free carbonated beverages. That 60 ton aircraft uses GPS to discover its current location by sending inaudible sound waves out towards satellites which are falling around the planet at 28,000 kilometers an hour in a strategic fashion so that there are always enough near every location on earth, but they never run into each other. Using that GPS, we now have devices which fit in our pocket and can be used to show an automatically-updating map which calculates the fastest route to get anywhere in the world while accounting for the traffic in certain areas. The device then speaks to us and tells us which way to turn. Of course, that is only a small portion of the functionality of our pocket-sized device. We can also use it to talk to someone on the other side of the world without anyone else hearing the conversation, and we can record our voice to play back later if the person isn’t around to hear. If the other person isn’t there, we can also write messages out using a full-color display that we can touch. It will type out what we want when we tap specific locations on the screen and we can send it wirelessly across the planet to the other person. If we’re too lazy to type, we can always talk to the device and it will understand our speech and convert it into our written language and display it on the screen. If we are trying to speak to someone in another language which we don’t know, it can convert what we say between languages and play it back as if a person were speaking to them. Which is pretty nifty.
Technology has grown in leaps and bounds in the past few years. There’s really nothing more to it. All I have to leave you with is one final question: “Why do I have to pay 4 cents more than yesterday?”