Late night talk shows and drive-time radio personalities love to skewer humanity's dumbest ideas, including silly laws, useless or unneeded products and the absurd life choices of others (often celebrities).
We hear about so many of these than it's possible to rank them. I have even stopped counting the times I thought that TV networks have reached a new low with a particular series now broadcast.
In the inverse situation, I rarely learn about an idea that blows me away. We have had them in the history of humanity, but how often has it happened lately?
I know people who love certain novels, movies or comedy routines. Sure, entertainers are creative and innovative. But I am looking for the best idea you have ever heard. To narrow it down, let's stick with new ideas within your lifetime. I have heard two remarkable ideas in the past few years.
The Lifestraw is a personal water filter that is worn around the neck. It filters 99.9 percent of waterborne parasites and 99.9999 percent of waterborne bacteria. Distributed in developing nations where safe water is rare, the Lifestraw provides potable drinking water instantly -- up to 1,000 liters, a one-year supply. The Lifestraw Family will provide a family of five safe water for up to three years.
The world's water problem is a monumental problem that is not going to be solved with something you can wear around your neck, but the Lifestraw is a phenomenal way to improve lives of so many people, in developing nations and in areas ravaged by natural disasters.
Like the Lifestraw, my other favorite idea found a way to help a lot of people as affordably as possible. Josh Silver, a professor of physics at Oxford University, developed fluid-filled eyeglasses that people can adjust themselves to improve their vision. Although the glasses do not correct all vision problems, the glasses improve the vision of many common problems corrected with refractive lenses.
In most of the world, people who need glasses do not get them. This health problem becomes an educational and economic problem, especially in nations where the vast majority of the people have no access to an optometrist, even if the doctor's services were affordable to them. Glasses based on Silver's design cost about $19 just a few years ago, and now have dropped to about $15. Researchers continue to look for ways to drop the price to $5, perhaps $1.
Tens of thousands have been distributed in developing nations so far. Silver's goals are lofty -- he wants a billion people to get them.
I like these ideas because they give people a way to help a lot of people. They don't require building something or changing major institutions where they are needed. They offer a way for people to see well and get safe drinking water. That's why they are the two best ideas I have heard.