BBC Radio 4 had a superb programme called the history of the World in 100 objects. The book is out now and sits at No 1 on my Christmas list.
But there is one great invention that was missed off. The novel. The printing press is all well and good but the real advent of storytelling in the western world (of course they already had 1001 Arabian Nights in the Middle East) began with Moll Flanders – the first novel. A revolutionary idea because until then it was all bible stories, fables and tall tales. Moll Flanders broke that mould and went in for imagination. What a wonderful concept. Using the wonders of language to create a mental image that you could pull out day after day and, with each reading and with each new experience of your own to heighten the tension, the image would alter subtly. A feast to the sense – the feel of the cover, the smell of the paper, the visual impact of a sea of words that were there not as a moral guide, or to relate some historical fable about a battle, but for pure pleasure. Your ears would pick up the words that resonated in your head (if you were inclined to read aloud) and your mind would conjure up colourful images of places and people you had never met. You could walk the street with criminals, prostitutes, the gentry and soldiers. You could drink and dance and sing and never move from the comfort of your armchair.
After pencil and paper, novels are best. I say this safe in the knowledge that the clothes are being washed, the central heating is on and I can continue typing despite it being dark outside.
P.S. I might be wrong about Moll Flanders but I was trying to make a point and too lazy to research!