14 Modern Conveniences You Can’t Live Without

They’re the little gadgets that make a big difference in your day.

Woman hitting the snooze button on her alarm clock

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The phrase “modern convenience” has been around since before we moved restrooms indoors. But over the decades, we’ve developed more and more ideas and inventions that make it a little bit easier to navigate the world. It’s easy to think of the automobile or most major appliances when you consider this concept, but what about the little things? What about the tiny gizmos that just make the day a little less difficult? Here’s a tribute to the indispensable conveniences that you never knew you needed, but can’t live without.

The Snooze Alarm: Savior and/or bane of college students everywhere, the snooze alarm was first introduced 65 years ago this month. Some experts claim that hitting snooze is bad for you, but anyone that’s ever had a bad night of sleep (or a morning they aren’t looking forward to) would probably disagree.

Garage door opener
(oneSHUTTER oneMEMORY / Shutterstock)

The Garage Door Opener: The Ford Model-T was considered the first affordable automobile. It debuted in 1908, which means that it took less than 20 years for people to get tired of manually opening the garage door. The electric overhead garage door opener made its first appearance in 1926, created by C.G. Johnson. The invention really took off after World War II, and units that worked with remotes were pervasive by the 1980s.

The Refrigerator Light (and Automatic Lights): Gibson Appliance (which is part of Electrolux today) claims that they invented the refrigerator light. It’s a fiendishly simple idea, and hugely effective (or highly enabling) for late-night snackers. Seriously, has anyone outside of Susy Hendrix from Wait Until Dark ever complained about having light in the fridge? While we’re here, let’s also praise the two cousins of the fridge light: automatic lights (of all kinds, yard or otherwise), and the auto-off switch for headlights.

Woman holding remote control
(ESB Professional / Shutterstock)

Remotes of All Kinds: The TV remote might feel like a relatively new thing, but Zenith actually put out the first one in 1955; it was called the Flash-Matic. Since that groundbreaking moment in the history of Remaining on the Couch, all manner of remotes have become available. Like the aforementioned garage door opener, we’ve had remotes for stereos, car door locks, even pitching machines. Of course, those are all the godparents of today’s smart home systems like HomePod, Google Home, and Alexa, that control almost everything you ask them to.

Sunglasses: Going low-tech for a moment, but no less indispensable, consider sunglasses. With a history that goes back to 12th century China, humans have spent almost ten centuries breaking or losing their shades.

The Entire Idea of the Microwave Oven: Any kitchen appliance is, by definition, a convenience. The fridge, the freezer, the oven, the stove-top, the kitchen sink . . . these were all pioneered to take an existing job and make it easier. In some ways, the microwave was the great leap forward in making the United States an even less-patient society. “You mean it takes eight to ten minutes to boil four cups of water? Tell you what; I can give you three at best.”

Windshield wipers
(Sergiy Nigeruk / Shutterstock)

Windshield Wiper Sprayers and Fluid: The windshield wiper itself is more than a century old, having first been added to cars in 1913. The first version to incorporate the windshield washer concept came around in the 1930s. It’s not a perfect invention (otherwise we wouldn’t have squeegees at every gas station) but it’s definitely good in a pinch.

Electric Blankets: The electric blanket is even older than the windshield wiper; it was invented by Samuel Irwin Russell in 1912. Original electric blankets were placed under the mattress to warm the whole bed.

Sleep Timer: The Snooze Alarm’s media cousin, the sleep timer was patented in 1991 by James Hailey and John Chaney. So far, no one’s come up with an invention to counteract the phenomenon of waking up five seconds after the timer turns off the TV.

Seat Warmers: Possibly the next-best addition to cars after defrost, seat warmers almost drift into necessity in the Midwest and Northeast. They certainly feel like a reward after you’d had to chip your car out of the first, or one-hundred-and-first, frost of the year.

Man speaking into a hands-free phone while driving
(Air Images / Shutterstock)

Cordless Phones and Hands-Free Devices: It’s funny how we went from amazement at the idea of the telephone to the point where we were sick of the cord getting tangled. By the 1980s, cords began to vanish, but society also decided it wanted to be totally unencumbered. Enter headsets, speaker phones, voice-text, and more. Are we just happier NOT holding things, or are we all consumed with the need to be doing other things while we’re talking?

Resealable Anything: Perhaps it’s appropriate that Ziploc bags and Pringles potato chips debuted in the same year (1968), but they were both the ideological children of Tupperware, which first appeared in 1946. Certainly resealable packaging was a boon on the health and freshness front, but it also make you wonder why conventional chip bags haven’t made the jump where nuts, croutons, and various frozen chicken products all have.

Wireless Mouse:
The Logitech Mouseman Cordless arrived in 1991, saving countless people from repetitive stress injury born from swiping their mouse in a circle over and over again in an attempt to escape the cord.

The Debit Card: Maybe the ultimate in items that has become truly indispensable, the debit card has simultaneously relieved people of being short on cash and making ATM withdrawals less and less of a thing. Granted, some businesses, like fast food chains, were slow to adopt the cards in the 1990s, but today, there are only handfuls of cash-only establishments. The best part about a debit card? They made the frustration of not having exact change irrelevant.

Featured image: Elena Elisseeva / Shutterstock

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Comments

  1. Marjorie, I’ve always lived in L.A. and even in the ’70s there was only CBS, NBC ABC and local stations KTLA, KTTV and KCOP. Sounds like a dirty trick between maybe channel 5, 11 or 13 for ratings. I’m sorry your grandmother had to go through that. The TV repairman probably got a lot of calls to fix channel knobs for similar reasons.

    You didn’t say which section of the ’50s this occurred. Just curious because the first TV remotes (as far as I know) came out in 1957. I have some issues of the Post from that year and saw a great ad of George Burns and Gracie Allen (love them!) in a Zenith ad, introducing them, all happy and excited they could change the station from across the room! I hope your grandmother got in on that; she deserved to!

    What was nice in the early years of the remote was that it was a convenience, not a necessity. You still had the choice of using the knobs or not. Like I said the other day, some friends of mine have so many remotes they don’t know what’s what at this point. A few of them look nearly identical to the two house mobile phones on top of it! Imagine thinking you’re answering your phone, but have picked up a remote. They need to need to simplify, but I can’t say anything. I could, but can’t.

  2. Back in the ’50’s, my grandmother (who was born in 1878) loved to watch wrestling matches, and one night two different channels in Los Angeles were televising different wrestlers, apparently my grandmother’s favorites. She had to scoot her chair up to the television and keep turning the channels back and forth so she wouldn’t miss any of the action, and just when the matches were heating up, she snapped off the channel knob in her haste to watch. She was a little sheepish in asking for a repairman to come the next day!

  3. Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, I wouldn’t have recognized most of these words.

  4. The only thing on this list that you can’t live without is windshield wiper and spray IF you drive. I like almost everything else on the list and have most of it. I keep my room about 45-50 F in the winter courtesy of a window open slightly. I am toasty warm with non electric blankets, maybe I just have good circulation. But in a room with no heat at all at an upstairs I was visiting, I found an electric mattress pad preferable. The electric blanket even on low was too warm.

  5. Considering this list of 14 items we can’t live without, the ONLY thing that I really depend upon is the Microwave.

    We have two garage door openers, but I still have a way to get into the house for the times they don’t work (remote in the wrong car, electric outage, etc). I don’t depend on them.

    TV remotes only allow me to easily scan dozens of channels that carry $85/month “trash” programming. I find we only actually view about 5 channels.

    I don’t use a debit card. Some businesses charge fees to use them while a good Credit Card will help “pay back” with rewards.

    I prefer a Weighted Blanket over an Electric version any day.

    Resealable items are kinda cool, but my needs are mostly met by a “Chip Clip”

    I had a Wireless Mouse, but found it intermittent or lagging so much that I replaced it with a Wired Version.

    Our Wireless phone had sound quality and battery issues, so I installed a wired version on my desk.

    Now that you have me thinking about it, I could easily live without ANY of these “Can’t Live Without” items! But then, I don’t use any Social Media, prefer a “Flip” cell phone, and drive a 1990 Jeep (It’s way cheaper to maintain the heck out a vehicle then to buy new).

  6. Whoever decided on the list of modern conveniences never lived like my family has lived. To this day, we all agree the most essential needs are: electricity in the home, indoor plumbing, hot and cold running water, central heat and cooling, a roof that doesn’t leak. I won’t mention the extras, like a floor that isn’t patched with flattened pieces of tin, screens over each window and screens at the front door and back door, easy access to the attic (in case of fire), locks on the doors that actually work. These conditions were not always available back in the 50’s and 60’s in too many of the houses where my family lived. Oh, and by the way, where I live now I do have all these things but my internet provider is dropping me shortly because they feel they can’t afford to provide service for a single household in such a “remote” area. I live on a private? road less than a couple miles from a surfaced county highway.

  7. Zip lock bags and containers—all are FANTASTIC-(not surprised Tupperware is “responsible.”) What a really great time-saving, food-saving, anything-saving, invention!

  8. I have to agree with your list here, overall. These items (for the most part) have made life easier and better. They’re basically all from the 20th century too, when ‘tech’ wasn’t just tech for the sake of tech that not-so-smart people are impressed with, and sucked into. It’s sad that tech has been reduced to a lot of crap that has made life more complicated and getting millions into unnecessary debt. That’s a matter of choice, so no sympathy. We need more medical breakthroughs, and solutions to basic problems that have been going on for hundreds and thousands of years. Bring THAT up to the smart aleck nerds at a Las Vegas tech show and watch them just get all befuddled. “What? Why would ya say somethin’ like that?!”

    Personally I don’t use the snooze feature that much. Setting the time 15 minutes ahead is a good trick, plus getting to sleep earlier. Occasionally that alarm though is necessary for early appointments. The garage door opener is very helpful, especially in the rain or when it’s too hot and you want to get inside quickly.

    The refrigerator light, automatic lights and the dimmer feature, yes. Energy efficient light bulbs, wonderful. Remotes yes, but up to a point. Be careful. If you’re okay with giant tech companies keeping constant tabs on you, go for it. I have friends that have so remotes they can’t keep track of which one is for what, and the one they need at any given time is always the one they can’t find.

    Sunglasses, definitely. I wear my sunglasses at night (when driving then) due to the brain dead brighter-than-the-sun headlights I sooo hate. An example of just because they can, doesn’t mean they should; awful. The windshield wipe sprayer is good in a pinch. The cordless everything hasn’t really made life easier per the paragraph. Reusable everything, definitely. The electric blanket, for sure. The debit card is my single favorite too. Just have to pay more attention to your checking account, which is what we all should be doing anyway.

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