The greatest invention - ever!
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 by Ron Cruger
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           First, I have to tell you about the people who gather at the local Starbuck’s on Tuesdays and Thursdays. There are seven of them, including me. It’ll help if I give you a very brief description of each one of them. There’s Helen, who’s in her fifties. She’s observant, smart, reserved and only speaks when she has something worthwhile to say.
          There’s Dick, almost sixty years old, who is loud and opinionated. He doesn’t want to spend too much time on any one subject as he gets antsy. He wants fast solutions to problems. His eyes are constantly darting around the table, around everything.
          Mary is in her early forties, shy and quiet. Doesn’t like confrontations. She’s a small town girl. She likes the idea of sitting around the table, listening to other people express their opinions. She likes the Tuesday and Thursday meetings.
          Aimee is Asian, forty five years old. She’s short, pretty, comes from an extremely rich family. I’ve heard it said that her father owns half of Hong Kong. She sees flaws in most arguments, but won’t say anything until she gets totally fed up with the lack of logic on behalf of a few of her table mates.
          Steve is in his middle forties, black, athletic, very smart and a graduate of Harvard. He has little tolerance for ignorance, bigotry or stupidity. He’s a serious student of thinking and problem solving.
          Helaine is forty six years old, quite attractive, smart, has a tendency to flirt, likes the challenge of listening to, understanding and even adding to the round table conversations. Avoids encounters.
          There really isn’t a round table at the local Starbuck’s. It’s more of a quadrate, formed when the participants shove four of the square tables together every Tuesday and Thursday morning.
          The group of seven grew from a series of chance meetings while enjoying various sizes and flavors of the available coffees. The “Roundable” enlarged from the original four members and has increased over the course of a year to the current seven.
          The original four, myself, Helen, Dick and Steve thought that the name of the group should be “The Algonquin Roundtable II,” but it was decided to be somewhat ostentatious and dropped. The name, “The Starbuck’s Roundtable” stuck.
          This Thursday morning, Aimee offered her “good mornings” to the group and said, “I’ve been thinking, which do you think was the greatest invention of all time?”
          Dick quickly responded, “Hell, it’s gotta be the atomic bomb, look what it did in Japan. And look how the fear of the atomic bomb affects so many of the nations of the world.”
          Steve differed, “I think there are three things that rank right on top of the list of greatest inventions. The mechanical clock, the toilet and the electric grid. Just think, before the mechanical clock, nobody knew the exact time. They looked at sundials, sand timers or they guessed at the time. Do I have to tell you how great it is having toilets? Think if we didn’t have them. And the single thing that keeps the world moving is the electric grids. Three great inventions. Top them.”
          Helen raised her hand, as if in school, and said, “I know how important to the world those inventions were, but don’t you think the inventing of penicillin, aspirin and the printing press should be ranked one, two and three? I’d even put immunization and all antibiotics in with my list as the greatest inventions.”
          Quiet Mary, shyly, almost reluctantly, spoke, “I don’t know, but don’t you think the greatest inventions, the ones that changed the world the most, are the automobile, television, the airplane and maybe even the telephone. How could the world do without these inventions?”
          Dick turned to Helaine and impatiently said, “So, what does the pretty one think, huh?”
          Helaine, not wanting to present an argument to the others, hesitated a moment, then spoke. “Well, I don’t know if I can pick the very top invention, but I think the World Wide Web and computers have changed the world as we know it. Almost everything we do is related to our computers and the internet. We couldn’t live without them, could we?”
          Dick, squirming in his chair with anxiety, looked at me and said, “So, what do you have to add to the discussion? Got any ideas?”
          Dick never invited, he always challenged.
          I accepted.
          “Look, let’s face it, there’ve been a lot of great inventions. How about beer, the button, cellophane, the zipper, corn flakes, the bikini, Astroturf, the aerosol can, the brassiere, electric can opener, the ATM, Polaroid film and maybe the most important invention – religion. Today there are more than twenty major religions and all of them have had a profound effect on the world, right from the beginning.”
          Aimee sat up straight in her chair and said, “Boy, it’s hard to find an invention bigger than religion. That get’s my vote. Religions have changed the world and continue to do so.”
          I had one more selection. “My vote for the greatest invention of all time hasn’t been invented yet, but it soon will be.”
          Steve put down his cup of coffee, leaned forward and asked, “So, Ron, what’s the big mystery, what’s the greatest invention of all time?”
          “Like I said, it isn’t here yet, but when it is it will change the lives of millions. The sick will be healed, the crippled will walk, the chronically ill will find health. With this invention will come problems by the score, but overall, genetic engineering will be mankind’s greatest invention.”
          Helen, with her quiet, intelligent manner, checked her wrist watch, pushed her chair back, rose from it, looked at me and said, “Perhaps, next week we can continue this discussion. I’m interested.
          With that, the seven members of the “Starbuck’s Roundtable” rose. Each going their own way. Each contemplating the discussion.