March 31 is a day that should be remembered as an important one in the onward march of technology.

For it was today in 1896 that American inventor Whitcomb Judson patented the zip fastener.

This is a more revolutionary invention than we might imagine. Think of all the zips you’re carrying today, not just on trousers, skirts, jackets or coats but inside wallets and handbags.

And consider our forebears who had to do without them. The huge benefit of Mr Judson’s invention was brought home to me five years ago, when I was rather impressed with a pair of jeans that had a button fly instead of a zip.

I regretted buying them almost immediately. Trying to force the stubborn buttons into their too narrow holes became such a time-consuming and fiddly chore that I ended up usually fastening only half of them.

Stephen Blease The century that followed the zip fastener has of course brought all kinds of other creations, too numerous to list, that have removed much of the hassle from our lives. It’s hard now to picture what it must have been like before them.

Almost all of our labour-saving devices are principally time-saving devices. Think of automatic washing machines, dishwashers, fridge freezers and microwave ovens.

Add instant coffee and TV remote controls. If I ever have grandchildren I envisage telling them how, when I was their age, we used to have to get up and walk to the television set to change channels, with only three to choose from, and thought nothing of it – and how they’ll refuse to believe me.

Or there’s pre-grated cheese. When I first saw it in a supermarket it struck me as possibly the laziest commodity ever invented.

Then I noticed that in many instances it worked out cheaper than solid blocks of the stuff, and I’ve bought it ever since, wondering how I could ever have been bothered grating it myself, and having to wash up the cheese grater afterwards.

This is the nature of all these inventions. What starts out as a luxury or a convenience very quickly turns into a necessity.

I remember when I first became a journalist noticing how much of every day was spent on the phone, and wondering how the job could ever have been possible in the days before phones, but it must have got done. There were newspapers before 1995. Presumably the junior reporters of today wonder how it was possible before e-mail.

Or there’s the mobile phone. I got my first one in 2001, later than most but earlier than some, and at first I wasn’t convinced I’d use it very often.

Now I couldn’t be without it – and to leave the house without my mobile would feel like leaving the house without my shoes.

Technological advance of course goes far beyond fastening clothes more quickly and not having to wash cheese graters. By far the greatest benefit it has brought to all our lives is in modern medicine.

In the past people frequently died from illnesses that are either easily treatable or almost eliminated nowadays. One of the reasons Alzheimer’s disease is on the rise is that more people are living long enough to get it.

Despite our problems, and no matter what some might maintain, on the whole there’s never been a better time to be alive. The dishwasher and the remote control have made life more convenient – and modern medicine has helped to preserve it.