All these soccer games got me thinking about what a great invention the rubber (née animal-skin) “ball” was, especially since every culture seems to play some kind of sport or game involving a ball. I can only assume that it was invented concurrently in many places (not by one person or even a group of people in one specific place) and must have been preceded by a coconut or gourd. Still, I think that when even a coconut or gourd is used for the purpose of playing a game, it is a ball. Clearly the ball has been around for a very long time, and yet it basically only serves one purpose: recreation. Still, I think it’s safe to say it’s the greatest invention since the wheel.
Then again, I’m only assuming that the wheel was invented first. In fact, I doubt that’s true. Perhaps someone out there can correct me because I’m not about to start researching it. But the more I think about it, it seems to me that cavemen may have played with a ball before ever having any use for a wheel.
Meanwhile, saying that it’s “the greatest invention since…” also got me thinking about how people say that something is “the greatest invention since sliced bread.” Now, I have a huge problem with that cliche. Think about this:
Bread was a terrific invention. It’s an easy way to get grains in your diet, it’s useful in many different ways (put it around meat, make it into pudding, pour soup inside it), it doesn’t get your fingers messy when you’re holding it, and it generally tastes good. It took a lot of time and effort for people to invent bread, and it comes in many different shapes, sizes, textures, colors, and can be made from many different ingredients.
Sliced bread, on the other hand, was an incredibly lazy “invention.” Someone just took bread, which already existed, and decided to slice it and package it. Before that, people sliced it themselves. It took all of half a minute with a good knife. The invention of sliced bread maybe saves you half a minute each time you buy a loaf of bread, and it doesn’t really solve a problem (unless you were without a bread knife, but even then you could still tear the bread with your hands).
So if something is only the greatest invention since sliced bread, I would argue it’s not a very imaginative or useful invention. Conversely, if something is the greatest invention since “ball,” well, that’s actually quite impressive!