If you’ve ever wondered about where technology comes from or whether there are any benefits to the many negative traits we as humans exert – or even possibly considered a blend of those two ideas – well, have I got a book for you.
It’s actually my book – Sex, Bombs and Burgers: How War, Porn and Fast Food Created Technology As We Know It – and it’s all about how humanity’s dark side has spawned much of the comforts we have around us.
From the Slinky and Barbie to the internet, DVD players and digital cameras, it’s all thanks to a trio of our primal urges, a shameful trinity of needs that amazingly drives us to create some incredible technologies. If it weren’t for those basic instincts, we’d still be living in caves.
While a good portion of this advancement over the past century has been driven by the United States – which currently accounts for nearly half the world’s annual spending on research and development – the United Kingdom is nevertheless a major player in all three areas.
First up, let’s look at its military. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the UK is the world’s fourth biggest military spender, accounting for about 3.8% of the $1.5 trillion spent globally in 2009 (the US dwarfs all others with 46.5% of the total).
The UK has 62 million people, or less than 1% of the world’s population. Does that mean its military spending is disproportionate? Not exactly, and part of the reason why is actually a main theme of my book. Developed nations that consider themselves to be innovators and technologically advanced tend to spend more on their militaries because of all the non-war-related benefits that come from doing so. Even still, the UK’s spending – 2.5% of gross domestic product – is actually below the world average of 2.7%. (The world’s biggest military spender per capita appears to be Eritrea, which blew more than 20% of its 2008 GDP on war.)
Let’s turn to porn. Obviously, the numbers here are not quite as concrete, but the best estimates place the UK as the sixth biggest porn revenue generator, with $1.9 billion made in 2006. That’s behind leader China (where porn is technically banned) at $27 billion, South Korea at $25 billion, Japan at $19 billion, U.S. at $13 billion and Australia at $2 billion. Per capita, though, the UK does better – that spending works out to $31.84 per person per year, which is well below the $526 average in South Korea (they love their porn!). The UK average is similar to Canada’s, $30.21, and a decent amount below the US average of $44.67.
Finally, there’s fast food. The numbers are a little dated but this area is perhaps the least likely of the three to see big fluctuations over a short period of time, so we can assume they’re still a good snapshot. The UK spent about $12.1 billion on fast food in 2004, accounting for 5.3% of the world’s total. (Nobody came even remotely close to the US, which spent $148.6 billion or almost 65% of the global total.) On a per capita basis, the UK’s spending places it fourth overall, averaging about $199 per person per year.
So there you have it – there are various ways to measure it, but you wouldn’t be too wrong by saying the UK is the world’s fourth biggest spender on war and fast food, and the sixth biggest on porn. Perhaps its position in porn would be higher if it wasn’t for all those topless girls in the daily newspaper?
In the end, Sex, Bombs and Burgers are just as important and influential in the UK as in the rest of the world.
By Peter Nowak
Sex, Bombs and Burgers, published by Allen & Unwin will be reviewed in next week’s Ran$om Note, when you’ll also have the chance to win a copy of the book, so watch this space.