Tools that changed the world (of work)
'Tools that changed the world (of work)' is a social series run by Qatalog, where we explore how different historical innovations revolutionized the way we work. Nowadays we often focus on technological advancements, but simple things like stone tools, written language and pieces of paper once heralded even more important changes. At Qatalog, we are constantly inspired to innovate; and inspiration can come from the most obscure parts of history. Keep up with the series on our LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter.
On average, people around the world consume 400 billion cups of coffee each year, making this precious brown beverage the most exported global commodity, second only to oil.
Unsurprisingly, it is most popular in colder countries, with Finland topping the list as the world’s biggest coffee consumer (each Finn consumes roughly 12kg of coffee beans per year, which is about the same weight as a new car tire, for scale).
We don’t just like coffee - we need it. Coffee, or more specifically the caffeine within it, releases stimulants that help to keep us alert throughout the working day. In small doses, it has been proven to improve our productivity, relieve stress, and even decrease pain while at your desk. But for some, this craving can become an addiction that their productivity is dependent on.
So where did this beverage come from, and how did it evolve to become the coffee we know and love today?
Dating all the way back to around 850 AD, legend says that coffee was first discovered in Ethiopia by a humble goat farmer named Kaldi. But it wasn’t in the classic bean form as you might expect - the story goes that Kaldi would often notice his goats acting rather energetic after consuming berries from a certain tree while grazing; he then reported his findings to a local monastery who made a drink with those very same berries and, et voila! Coffee was born (well, sort of).
It wouldn’t take its familiar bean form until it reached the Arabian Peninsula around the 15th century. There, coffee was popularized as an energizing drink and sold in public coffee houses, where people engaged in intellectual conversation, played chess, and listened to music. Soon, coffee houses would become a hub for the educated elite, often referred to as “Schools of the Wise”.
The drink would begin to resemble the coffee we know today as it reached Europe in the 17th century, and sugar began to be added to curb some of that classic bitterness. And now, as we covered earlier, you’ll find it being served just about anywhere.
Can you imagine slogging to the end of the month only to find out that your usual paycheck has been substituted for a 20-kilo bag of coins. Talk about a heavy day at work.
But thanks to the invention of paper money, this is no longer the reality.
Like paper, printed money was another Chinese innovation, coming into circulation during the Song Dynasty in the 11th century as an alternative to precious metal coins. The obvious benefit of paper currency was that it was much easier to carry in large amounts — people no longer had to worry about where they would store their money if it became too inconvenient to carry. But the risks were still rife, with counterfeiting and inflation suddenly becoming more common than ever.
Despite this though, paper money took off. The Song Dynasty established the first-ever government-produced currency — jiaozi (though the exact date of which is unknown).
Factories were established to print money across China and by 1265, jiaozi became an official national currency, meaning it could be used anywhere in the country. But its impact was most keenly felt by merchants. Rather than carrying large amounts of cash with them on the road, they were able to drop coins off at government licensed deposit shops. In return they were issued jiaozi, which was far easier for them to travel with and trade for goods.
But, while the Song Dynasty wasn’t to last (falling to the Mongols in 1279), paper money would have a global impact, reaching the west by the 1600s, and your pay packet by the end of each month.
With almost every business today relying on some form of digital documentation, it's hard to remember the heyday of the humble piece of paper. For thousands of years, we have relied on paper to store information, help us accomplish the most basic of tasks at work, and up until very recently, to pay our bills.
Invented in China between 25-220 CE, its first use was actually for wrapping precious objects! But soon people began to write on it as it was far cheaper than silk or bamboo.This development soon spurred a widespread reading culture across the country; for the first time ever, people could own entire books and personal scrolls without having to share them with the community. In fact, by the 6th century, it was practically a social rite for educated men to own at least a few hundred scrolls.
But it wasn’t just reading that was predominantly affected by paper. Art, poetry and calligraphy all took off too. Paper then spread to the Arabic world, but wouldn’t be adopted by Europe until the 15th century. As industry took off, paper could be found everywhere — from contracts to advertising materials, and everything in between.
And considering how we work now, it’s easy to see how paper inspired a new culture of digital documentation, with tools that resemble pages.
But in today’s digital world, there are almost no limits to the experiences we can create. So, what comes next?
Could you imagine trying to do your job without writing anything?
With so much of our working lives online, it’s hard to imagine how we would communicate effectively without it - or how society would even function.
But for millennia humans relied on pictographic symbols, often known as ‘proto-writing’. That was until around 3500 BC when a script known as Cuneiform was developed from pictographs by Ancient Sumerians.
Often carved into stone tablets like the one pictured, Cuneiform is considered one of the most important advancements in the history of writing to date. No longer did people have to struggle with understanding the meaning of each pictographic symbol — Cuneiform allowed readers to comprehend written language through a series of strokes and lines.
And it revolutionized the way people worked. Following its creation, it was used widely to keep records of commercial transactions, formalize the legal system, and retain important information about social and political history.
So it’s fair to say that Cuneiform changed the world (of work). So, what do you think - should we try creating the next version of Qatalog on a stone tablet?
It’s estimated that there are around 300,000 objects in the average American home. From coffee machines to laptops to cars to toothbrushes; we rely on hundreds of objects to simply get us through the day.
But what if we told you there was a time when humans relied on one very simple object to do lots of things?
Well, meet the snappily named ChopperNHB2013-02228.
The Chopper (for short) was an upgrade from your average rock — defined by its irregular shape, which was created through the removal of stone flakes from one side. This tool was a must-have 2.5 million years ago when it came to woodworking, spear-sharpening or meat-processing. Later on, the design was advanced in order to create the more modern hand ax.
But what does all this have to do with Qatalog? We’re glad you asked. The chopper changed the way we work — and Qatalog plans to do the same.
Join us over the next few months as we uncover more tools that revolutionized the way we work (in chronological-ish order). Just head to our socials to stay up to speed