14 Mar It’s a Wonderful Life: 17 Breakthroughs That Have Changed Our Lives
It’s a Wonderful Life: 17 Breakthroughs That Have Changed Our Lives
It all started with the wheel—an invention that dramatically improved the way we live. Since then, we’ve benefited from an array of breakthroughs. Which ones have been the biggest in the last 30 years? That’s what we asked Woman’s Day editors and outside experts. Our top 17 picks all make us wonder how we ever lived without them.
The mother of all breakthroughs, the Internet is arguably the single most important technological creation of the last quarter-century. “Many people compare the advent of the Internet and its access to information with the invention of the printing press,” says Merton Flemings, PhD, faculty director of the Lemelson-MIT program in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which nurtures young inventors. Whether you agree or not, it is certainly altered the way Americans live their lives. Now we can e-mail friends, send pictures to relatives 3,000 miles away, meet the potential love of our life or watch any of a million viral videos—all with the click of a mouse. Best of all, we can find information instantaneously with the help of search engines like Google, the most widely used of them all. “Google is one of the best `libraries’ that has ever existed,” says Michal Ann Strahilevitz, PhD, professor of marketing at Golden Gate University in San Francisco.
An estimated 84 percent of people living in the U.S. own a mobile phone, a number that’s likely to increase to 100 percent in the next five years, according to recent studies from the marketing firm SNL Kagan. But with the good—if we blow a tire in the middle of nowhere, AAA is a phone call away—often comes the bad. At the movies, a restaurant, or anyplace where we’re a captive audience, we’re often stuck listening to others’ conversations. Yet any negatives are far outweighed by one simple fact: Cell phones keep us safer. According to the FCC, the number of 911 calls made on cell phones since 1995 has doubled to more than 50 million a year.
Now memories can be shared in an instant, without the hassle of buying and developing film and making copies. “There’s nothing like being able to shoot then send your photos to friends and family in just minutes,” says Dr. Strahilevitz.
The old argument about whether or not to stop and ask for directions is over, thanks to the Global Positioning System (GPS), which tells you where you are and how to get where you’re going. You can buy your own GPS handset, have it installed in a new car, request a unit in a rental car or add it to your cell phone service. Just think of the countless marriages it has saved.
TiVo automatically finds and digitally records all of your favorite TV shows every time they’re on. It’s a breeze to program, and you can fast-forward through the commercials. When you watch programs in real time, you can pause to do other things or rewind to see something you might have missed. Best of all, you can watch TV when it’s most convenient for you, like after the kids are in bed.
We like to load up on mega-size products without paying mega-size prices. That’s why so many of us flock to stores like Wal-Mart, Costco, Target and Sam’s Club. The convenience and savings of shopping at these warehouse-like retailers can’t be beat, and millions of Americans have taken notice. No wonder superstores have taken a big bite of the consumer dollar. According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service Report, traditional retailers’ sales dropped from 82 percent in 1998 to 69 percent in 2003.
In 2002, the United States established a government-regulated certification of organic food. Gradually, more space was allotted in supermarkets to organics as we began to understand the impact of pesticides, artificial fertilizers, routine antibiotics and added growth hormones on our health and environment. Whether you go totally organic or not, the movement has made Americans aware of how our food supply is grown and processed. In addition to being more educated about the types of chemicals that might be in our food, we have much greater access to organic foods, particularly with the mainstreaming of chains like Whole Foods Market.
After a busy day, whipping up a family dinner when you feel whipped is the last thing you want to do. But today’s moms can get a good-for-you supper ready in no time, thanks to a wide variety of microwave meals that are far healthier and tastier than the TV dinners of yesteryear. “Microwavable frozen dinners have really evolved,” says Robyn Flipse, MS, RD, a registered dietitian based in Bradley Beach, New Jersey. “Now you can find many that are low in fat, sodium and/or calories.”
FASHION & BEAUTY
Millions of women can’t be wrong. Spanx body shapers have a way of giving your legs, thighs, belly and midriff a slim and smooth silhouette without any pinching or bulging. They totally change the way your clothes look and fit. It’s almost like having a new wardrobe! Trust us—they’re definitely not your mother’s girdle.
Look no further than your favorite Target or Kohls’ to pick up the latest designer duds by such names as Isaac Mizrahi and Vera Wang. With affordable versions of designer lines popping up at mass-market discount stores, it’s easy to dress chicly without breaking the bank.
Sure, you can get rid of wrinkles with a shot of Botox, but at $500 a pop, who can afford it? A slew of innovative and affordable antiaging products let you put your best face forward for less. “One of the biggest breakthroughs has been tretinoin, which most people know as Retin-A,” says Ariel Ostad, MD, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine. “It eliminates fine lines and sun spots, and stimulates collagen, which helps with wrinkles.” These days you don’t need a prescription to enjoy the benefits: Over-the-counter “retinol” creams literally put better-looking skin at your fingertips. While they aren’t as effective as prescription Retin-A, adds Dr. Ostad, they do work well.
Debit cards now surpass credit cards as the most frequently used form of electronic payment, according to the Federal Reserve. What makes them so great? No need to carry cash or write checks, and no big bill at the end of the month. “Plus, you don’t pay the interest that you would on a credit card,” adds Stacy Francis, CFP, founder of Savvy Ladies, Inc., a nonprofit organization that educates women about money.
Thanks to this important breakthrough, doctors can now test women for the BRCA1 gene to determine if they are at greater risk of developing breast cancer. “Women who test positive for the BRCA gene can be more vigilant about screenings and checkups, and can also pursue preventive treatments if they want to,” says Julie K. Silver, MD, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and author of Super Healing.
In many states, smoking sections are a thing of the past because of legislation banning indoor smoking in public places. It all started in 1990, when San Luis Obispo, California, became the first city to ban indoor smoking at all public places, followed by a statewide ban eight years later. Other states have jumped on the smoke-free bandwagon, with a total of 35 now having some form of smoking ban on the books. We’re all breathing easier—and staying healthier—due to the decrease in secondhand smoke. Consider: A 2006 U.S. Surgeon General report on secondhand smoke confirmed that it increases nonsmokers’ risk of heart disease and lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent.
The Workout Video
Back in the ‘80s, Jane Fonda started a fitness revolution by showing us how to “go for the burn.” And while Jane got plenty of leotard-clad bodies moving, today’s exercise physiologists and trainers know a lot more about what makes an effective workout. Now you can find DVDs for just about any form of fitness, from walking and yoga to Pilates and strength training. “Fitness DVDs address the number-one barrier to maintaining regular exercise, which is perceived lack of time,” says Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise. “Being able to pop in a workout DVD allows you an enormous amount of flexibility. It’s also great for people who feel too intimidated to go to a gym.”
What do you do when your child has a meltdown in the supermarket? One of the major breakthroughs in parenting has been the use of the time-out, which helps many moms and dads who might otherwise resort to sterner punishment. “The time-out has earned its place as the most widely recommended discipline technique,” says Robert Needlman, MD, coauthor of Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care: 8th Edition. “It works well to reduce unacceptable behaviors without the negative side effects of earlier punishments like spanking. Kids can learn to control themselves without suffering the pain, fear or anger that goes with hitting.