Monday, June 20, 2011

Invention of the day: Retail Shop.

Money is arguably the oldest technology that gets reinvented all the time. The invention of coinage by the Lydians in the 6th century BC helped create the ancient Greek civilization, the progenitor of today's Western world. Being great traders, the Lydians also invented a major modern business model - permanent retail shop. Before that, retail trade was conducted either in temporary markets or door-to-door. Only recently, some two and a halve thousand years later, the "brick-and-mortar" retail model invented by the Lydians was successfully challenged by the likes of and Apple's app store.

Compared to temporary market stalls, Lydian shops were the equivalent of today's high-frequency trading brokerage houses, and were greatly helped by another invention, a sophisticated sexagecimal computation system:

The system allowed bankers and traders perform computational operations with large numbers of coins, by converting them from a large number of small-value units to much smaller number of large-value ones. For example, if you earned your money in obols and didn't know much math, which was quite common at the time, you could still figure out how much you made in your newly invented brick-and-mortar retail operation, by converting obols into drachmas, staters, minas, and talents. This new computational ability is somewhat similar to the invention, in the 17th century, of the logarithm, a mathematical concept that helped simplify complex multiplication operations in military and engineering applications during the Renaissance, Industrial Revolution, and beyond.

Back to the ancient Greeks, people who made lots of money were "talented". I'm not joking. The etymology of the modern word "talent" goes back to the money-related ancient Greek term talanton. A copper sheet of about 60 lb in weight, something an average man could comfortably carry, was equivalent in value to a talent. A stronger man could carry more talents, thus the connection with the contemporary notion of a natural advantage, which, in turn, found its another incarnation in a common saying, If you are so smart, why aren't you rich.

* Coin conversion table from the book "A History of Money: From Ancient Times to the Present Day", by Glyn Davies.

tags: commerce, invention, business, model, system, computers, information, money, history, scale, 10x

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