Today's consumers throw away products that would make our great-grandparents gasp with astonishment—laptop computers, cell phones, DVD players, those annoying CDs from America Online. A pair of new sites from Britain's National Museum of Science and Industry traces the evolution of modern technology and probes the interplay between invention and culture.
A straightforward historical site, Making the Modern World, looks back at the last 250 years, highlighting the impact of important innovations on people's lives. From the site's timeline, multimedia excursions whisk you to destinations such as Portsmouth, England, in 1805, where a factory that turned out blocks for ships' rigging opened the first assembly line. Venture back to the mid-1800s to learn about the development of medical instruments for taking blood pressure and detecting the heart's electrical activity.
Ingenious aims to be more provocative, focusing on questions such as how inventions have altered our sense of identity and expectations of medicine. You can check out debates on subjects such as whether the human races really exist. Or chart your own historical journey by browsing photos of more than 30,000 objects held by the museums, from ancient Egyptian surgical knives to a sweater knitted from the wool of Dolly, the first cloned sheep. Here, two women watch the 1930s version of big-screen TV.