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Summary:

Is the iPhone a more important invention than the humble water closet? As one who has lived for extended periods of time in houses and cottages without indoor plumbing, I would say not, but according to your typical British consumer, it is.

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Is the iPhone a more important invention than the humble water closet? As one who has lived for extended periods of time in houses and cottages without indoor plumbing, I would say not, but according to your typical British consumer, it is.

The Telegraph reports that, in addition to beating out Thomas Crapper’s 1880 siphon flush device and space travel, the iPhone was voted a more important invention than washing machines or internal combustion engines. In the Tesco Mobile survey of 4,000 Britons aged between 18 and 65, the iPhone ranked eighth — ahead of the toilet, which finished ninth (toilet paper was 22nd), and also higher than the automobile, camera — even shoes. What Tesco has provided here is a somewhat alarming snapshot of where popular priorities and preoccupations lie.

At least the wheel was acknowledged the most important invention in history, with the airplane in second place and the lightbulb third, but amazingly the Internet finished fourth and computers fifth. By contrast, roofs ranked a distant 44th.

Really,folks? Would you truly prefer to go back to using chamber pots and outhouses than give up web surfing in the rain barefoot?

Of course, inconsistencies abound in popular perception here. Internal combustion engines were an indispensable enabler of airplanes and made the wheel exponentially more useful, and without cameras we’d be staring at lines of text on our computer screens at best.

The iPhone also beat central heating (13), painkillers (15), the steam engine (16) and eyeglasses (205). Astonishingly, the printing press, which this writer would contend was a vastly more significant invention than either the web or computers or most of the rest of the survey picks, didn’t even make the top 100. Bizarre.

Notable finishers were refrigerators (14), freezers (17), the vacuum cleaner (23), microwaves (26), hot water (29). shoes (30) hair-straighteners (34??!), paper (38), the (presumably electric) kettle (40), remote controls (43), cats-eye spectacles (48) power steering (50) tea bags (54), spell-checkers (86), makeup (66), push-up bras (77) and mascara (80).

This survey indicates that Britons think the iPhone is quite literally the greatest thing since sliced bread (70).

Go figure.

Images courtesy of Flickr users ricardovillela and williamhook.

  1. Most people think that there will be a iCommode app. Then they can use their iPhones as toilets.

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  2. That result is surely an artifact of study design. I’d wager it wasn’t a multiple-choice-question but a free-form-answer.

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    1. buzzkill. :(

      (although i’m sure you’re correct)

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  3. gwenmcgreen Tuesday, May 25, 2010

    It is a funny comparison indeed. And well, it is true, people are looking for these new gadgets to include more and more apps, until one can live only with iphone and nothing else.

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  4. I’d probably put the internet at #1, that doesn’t mean everything below it is something I’d want to give up, but the impact that the internet has had on the world as a whole certainly makes it the most influential invention, if not necessarily the most important.

    Then again, I consider information an immensely important asset, people in more squallid conditions would probably happily trade information for food or sanitary conditions.

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  5. Mike Biddell Sunday, June 6, 2010

    It’s a phone.

    Apple have never innovated, they just do what other people have done before. They are a design house.

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