The Amazing Machine

The benefits of technological and economic development go far beyond what we expect or imagine.

Case in point: what was the most important machine produced by the Industrial Revolution? Hans Rosling of Gapminder makes the case that it was the washing machine. In this wonderful TED Talk he explains how the washing machine does more than eliminate a difficult and time-consuming task. It can open up whole new worlds of learning and personal development.

It certainly did for his family.


Rosling starts off by showing photos of women in the developing world washing clothes by hand, reminding us that this is still the method used by most people.   Using the graphical statistics tools that his site is famous for, he then shows how by 2050 (using fairly conservative extrapolations) more people will have washing machines than don't. Not only will there lives be easier and better, they too will have time to visit the library -- or more likely go online -- to learn, to connect with others, to create new things.

Rosling concedes that there is an environmental price to be paid for having so many new users of this kind of technology. But he makes the point that no one who benefits from using a washing machine -- and that includes pretty much everybody, even what he describes as the "hard core" green folks -- should imagine that they have the right to deprive anyone else of those benefits.

Don't tell anyone else they have to do this unless you're
ready to do it yourself. (Photo via Ven Conmigo.)

Abundant green energy is a very real possibility in the coming decades. Ongoing improvements in solar technology might get us there. And if that doesn't do the trick, a number of other options are possible. And then we might get some new options -- some perhaps developed by scientists whose education begins with the freeing up of time that a new washing machine provides to their mothers.


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