What could be better than sliced bread?
The toaster that came first.
The first iteration of Artificial Intelligence may have been running water and then electricity, moving homes from the unsafe illumination of fire and gas, to incandesce. While we may take both running water and electricity for granted, at the time of home electricity introduction, many felt they were letting “magic” or “vapors” into their living space.
Soon to follow came the labour saving devices such as the toaster and the advent of the modern appliance.
For reference, toasting bread is an ancient practice. Early civilizations placed bread over an open fire in order to preserve it, to keep it from growing mold. The Romans took the practice from Egypt in 500 B.C. The word “toast” actually comes from the Latin “tostum”, which means “to burn or scorch.”
Introduction of Modern Appliances
The first toasters were introduced in the early 1900’s, with the first pop-up toaster conceived in 1919, by mechanic Charles Strite. His iteration, patented in 1921, incorporated a timer to shut off the heating element and released a pop-up spring when the slice of toast was done. Still, despite the ease, they didn’t become popular until decades later—the 1960’s.
Why so long? Some may suggest these appliances were built to replace kitchen labour. Early American kitchens were used not only for preparing food, but also bathing, and sometimes as a bedroom. In middle and upper-class homes, a household staff managed full kitchens and served the families, why would they want to introduce a device that may mean a loss of a position? No one wants to be deemed replaceable, especially by a machine.
Understanding with the advantage of hindsight
However, as we well know with the vantage point of time, these early appliances adopted during the 1930’s took much of the “by hand” cooking and streamlined efficiencies. These machines gave women, in particular, more time for endeavors from paying work to higher education to leisure activities. Streamlining kitchen and household duties revolutionized the ability for women to seek more meaningful work, showing how what was originally feared became a beacon for lifestyle enhancement. Perhaps an early version of the work-life balance.
Think of the breakthrough. Before the development of the electric toaster, hand sliced bread had to be toasted on a long metal fork or in a metal frame held over a fire, or on a gas stove. How much time had to be spent simply holding the bread in place so it wouldn’t burn.
As labour work continues to be replaced through automation and the gaps continue to shrink between the launch and adoption of new technology, particularly those involve Artificial Intelligence, remember, it is common for our first reach to be fear based—this is going to eliminate my job—my need to be who I am, but remember, despite the computer, the calculator and smart phone, the commodity most in demand, but remains in short supply, is that precious thing called human help.
(As an interesting side note, sliced bread didn’t become commercially available until July 7, 1928.)
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