What do you consider as technology? If you think industrial advancement as technology, then it started roughly 200 years ago in Britain. But, the history of technology dates back long before the industrial revolution.
Early man innovated to survive. Modern man innovate to fulfill his necessities. Not all the modern necessities form the basic needs for survival. Most of the modern needs do not fall under the definition of necessities or basic needs. Our necessities have evolved along with us.
As soon as the first man (or woman) appeared on earth, there arose the necessity for survival. The existence of life and its inherent capability to think, articulate and perform actions required for survival marked the inception of technology. Since then it has come a long way.
Human minds have successfully developed means to accomplish tasks that became necessities for survival during various epochs. Thus, necessity is the propulsion engine of all inventions and discoveries.
Tools, Fire and wheel
Stone tools were the first identified invention of human beings 2.6 million years ago. Fire was used to cook food approximately 2.3 million years ago. The invention of fire is one of the most significant historic landmarks. It allowed man to cook food, scare away predators etc.
Cooked food made digestion easy and hence saved a lot of time for early man. It also had evolutionary consequences in making intestines small and larger brains. Digestion of raw food needed a lot of energy, which would be otherwise diverted to brain.
Both of these earliest inventions, stone tools and fire, used to hunt and cook food profess the importance of survival. After fire, wheel is considered to be one of most the significant inventions.
But, unlike fire that was discovered millions of years ago, the utilization of wheels was in practice only 5000 years ago. In the beginning, transportation is not so crucial for survival than food. In modern day technological world, transportation is more fascinating to us.
Another interesting fact about wheels is that they are not used by every civilization in history. The environment and the utility factor played a major role in deciding what is important to be invented.
Mesoamericans did not use wheels for transportation despite knowing the physics of rotary motion. The reason is their geographical landscape was made of jungles and rugged terrains which did not allow the use of wheels.
They did not domesticate animals to pull loads on wheeled structures. Instead they carried their heavy loads on their backs through the mountains.
Communication and Language
Communication allowed early men to form communities, build trade structures and flourish. The ability to communicate imagined stories is one of the key differences between man and other animals.
Animals can communicate only physical realities. Man, on the other hand, imagined things that do not exist like god, spirits, money etc., communicated with other tribes, which allowed him to build cultures and societies.
Smoke signals, flag signals, horns, pigeon carriers were some of the earliest modes of communication used.
While smoke signals were used by Native Americans, the Chinese used flags- for communication – in different colors each one conveying a specific message.
Eventually, language became one of the finest inventions in the history of mankind, despite many believe that it is god-given. Adam, Eve and god spoke to one other.
The earlier inventions prior to language did not suffice the requirements to express complex thoughts leading to the invention of languages. Interestingly, there was not just one language. There were several.
Similarly, not one tool or machine or a communication channel was innovated and used by every culture across the world. Necessities differed and so did the innovations.
Karl Marx, in 1867, found that there are 500 different types of hammers produced in Britain – each serving a different purpose.
In various timelines, depending on the necessities for survival, various tools, machinery, devices, and other practical adaptations were made. The evolution of necessities and their corresponding inventions pronounced the birth of civilizations.
The final words
The utilization factor decides the worth of any invention. Wheel and its concept of rotary motion have inspired so many inventions later in history. Every invention that followed the invention of wheel solved a problem until a certain period. Not just wheels.
Every primordial invention that solved a purpose started losing their value at a later stage. Thereafter, invention becomes no more a problem-solving tool, but a costly way for the well-off to live a life.
Look at the following fact. The comparison between total number of species on earth and the number of man made artifacts is interesting. There are 1.6 million species documented on the planet whereas the total number of patents issued worldwide stands at a staggering 5.7 million until 2015. The number of documented species on earth is only one-third of the inventions reported.
The number of inventions made have exceeded the total number of species by a convincing margin. That begs the question if every technological invention we come across is necessary for survival? Technology is pushing us into a realm of comfort where necessities are nothing but superfluous fancies.
The astonishing intelligence of the innovators are sure to be admired. But, under the pretext of a comfortable living for all, technology during its major life span, is only doing what it is not intended to do. Do we really need robots for survival? Read more about the top 5 humanoid robots of 2017.
Reference: The Evolution of Technology, George Basalla
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