How a bra made it into Stephen Fry’s 100 greatest gadgets

by , Conversation Editor Technology 30 August 2011
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If you had to pick your top 10 gadgets from human history, what would they be? Stephen Fry went a step further by listing his 100 greatest gadgets on Channel 4 last night. But some of his picks might confuse…

Stephen Fry on a video camera

If you tuned into Stephen Fry’s 100 Greatest Gadgets on Channel 4 last night, you would have seen that his number one pick was the… lighter.

Why the lighter? Fry explains:

‘It’s not the order in which things are invented that makes them the most impressive, it’s the importance they have to humanity. So my number one is this: fire with a flick of the fingers.’

I agree, fire at your fingertips is a wonderful human creation, but didn’t we achieve that with the humble match? I don’t smoke, so a lighter is pretty useless to me. Not many of us get stranded on an island with the need to light a fire for our dinner – so is an item that’s basically confined to the pockets of smokers really mankind’s best invention? Plus, for me, there’s much more satisfaction in striking a match.

What’s a gadget?

Of course, you wouldn’t get away with calling matches a “gadget” – though many of Fry’s personal list was stretching the term. The corkscrew? The razor? The baby buggy? The… bra?

Fry decided to step away from the dictionary definition, or “gadgets as a mechanical device”, as he explains on his blog:

‘We didn’t want to get all ontological on your arse and never made an attempt to define or limit the meaning of the word. A gadget, for our purposes, was more or less what I decided it was.’

Perhaps his most eyebrow-raising pick was in at number nine – the apple peeler. But surprisingly, I’m a big saddo like Fry with this one. It’s magical – peeling apples while also coring and slicing them with just the turn of a handle. What more could you want? (*cough* I haven’t used my apple peeler since I bought it.)

Apple makes its mark

Anyway, back to the more traditional gadgets. Fry’s top 10 featured Apple favourites, the iPad and iPod – you wouldn’t expect less from the self-confessed Apple fanboy Stephen Fry. Though it seemed a bit unfair to single out the iPad, rather than tablets in general.

The rest of the top 10 was made up by the wristwatch, television, typewriter, laptop, home phone and ballpoint pen.

Personally, I think mobile phones and smartphones were a little too low down on the list – at 24 and 13 respectively. And rather than popping laptops into the top 10, I would have replaced them with computers in general, which appeared at number 16.

It was good to see a whole host of products that have changed the world in their own little ways – like Chip and Pin, cameras, radios, microscopes, thermometers and compasses. But if we’re talking about revolutionary products, where’s the one invention that lets us see most of these products? The light bulb!

What do you think of Stephen Fry’s 100 greatest gadgets? You can find the full list here – do his choices ring true, or do you have reservations with his “gadget” favourites like me?

18 comments

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Michael Mason

Might I point out an small error but an important one in your second paragraph? The programme was not called “100 Greatest Gadgets” (highlighted in red) but “Stephen Fry’s 100 Greatest Gadgets” and as such it is an accurate and authoritative statement. Only Stephen Fry knows what his greatest gadgets are.
The stimulating object of such a programme is to prompt us into making our own lists – picking our favourites by puzzling out our reasons for choosing one over another. An enthusiastic cook will have a different list from a keen sailor, a student from a pensioner even when trying to pick the greatest boons to humanity. Rather than pick holes in Fry’s delights, enjoy identifying your own.

Hi Michael, thanks for the comment – I’m aware it’s Stephen’s own list – I refered to it as “Fry’s personal list” in the Conversation.

Plus, you’re right, the point of this Conversation is to come up with your own list – this in itself will disagree with others, including Fry’s. Plus, there’s a debate around the definition of the word ‘gadget’. So what would you add to the list?

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Kurt

Michael, i think your comment was unnecessarily stern. Pat clearly makes it clear he’s aware its Stephen’s top 100 and i don’t see where he was picking holes. In my opinion he is merely debating his list. Try not to patronise people in future, it makes you look like a douche. Good article.

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dean

I also don’t agree with his definition of “gadget”, to me that invokes images of something digital that saves time. His definition is broadly related to “consumable inventions”, whether it be mechanical or digital, or both.

I wonder how long he deliberated over this list, he puts record player above walkman for example. Honestly, seeing the trailer

My faves by definition of Lord Fry of Academia would be tv, aircon, automobiles, computers and phones.

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wavechange

And I don’t agree with you about the Walkman. Fine for the user but that tinny sound leaking from the earpieces was annoying for those nearby. That problem was resolved in later music players.

I would put the Walkman well up in my list of products spoilt by design flaws.

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dean

Not a fault with the walkman, a fault with the ear/headphones. I now have in-ear buds which means that no-one but me hears the sound

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wavechange

Indeed. Perhaps Sony could have worked that out. I’m glad I did not commute by train at the that the Walkman was popular.

Thanks to you and everyone else who uses earbuds and headphones that don’t leak sound.

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Sophie Gilbert

What’s in a name? I guess a washing machine isn’t a “gadget”, otherwise it surely would have made top of the list. Try and do your weekly wash without one. I wouldn’t like to go back to what my great-grand-mother’s life was like in her early days.

Otherwise I expected Stephen Fry’s list to be tongue-in-cheek at least in part and I wasn’t disappointed.

I never go out without my swiss army knife.

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wavechange

I am surprised that the bra features in Stephen Fry’s list of gadgets. Maybe that’s as a result of using the Bullworker, which also features.

Haha, what a bizarre vision I’m getting…

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rex

I intend to demonstrate my reaction to your interest in Stephen Fry, or any other ‘celebrity’, by resigning my membership of Which.

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dean

ouch, convo is a little bit tabloid I agree, but resigning your Which? membership? bit of an over-reaction I feel :-)

Hi Rex, Which? Conversation is our chance to write about consumer issues big and small. And quite frankly, Stephen Fry is becoming a gadget guru in his own right. Moreover, his Channel 4 show prompted a lot of discussion about gadgets in the media and tech enthusiasts.

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John W

I think some of the posters here, interesting though the conversation is, are missing the point.

It was a good, entertaining programme. Certainly the best on TV that night, by far – in my opinion. And one of the best that week, that month even.

It brought back memories, it made me think, it made me smile. It’s blindingly obvious that Stephen Fry’s Top 100 will not match my Top 100 nor yours. But it wasn’t TOO different from my list and, most importantly, it was INTERESTING!

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wavechange

Stephen Fry’s presents himself as someone who is both pompous and arrogant (though I’m sure that this is just an act). He had some competition from others featured in the programme. What is it about modern TV that makes people feel the need to carry on in such an extrovert fashion?

I managed to watch nearly an hour of this before turning it off in disgust. The only thing I found interesting was the apple peeler, corer and slicer. I guess it was developed by people who did not waste their time watching TV or posting messages on discussion forums. :-)

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James Harrison

I love Stephen Fry in all his guises; even au naturel. I was amused and entertained by the programme which, after all, is all it was. However silly some of his choices seemed – like the apple peeler, which takes more time to load and use than to simply consume an apple (although we did marvel at it!) – the distraction from my everyday life was priceless.
I also love the irony of ‘wavechange”s comment …”people who did not waste their time watching TV or posting messages on discussion forums”. Count your posts…

I think he was trying to be ironic ;) Try your apple peeler with potatoes… removing the coring and slicing arm, and just peel them. Their evenly peeled surface, along with grooves, makes the perfect roast potatoes (as the grooves mean bits of potato fall off and crisp up)

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james browne

the most useful gadget?the ringpull.remember when you needed can opener to open a “party four”?

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