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What Technology Wants

Kevin Kelly

Something happened to humans about 50,000 years ago. Most likely thing was language, which allowed ideas to be shared and bequeathed. And, words let you imagine and create.

If you have no way of storing excess food, there is no reward for working harder. If you can't store food, you have to be a hunter-gatherer, always on the move to the next source of food. And since you have to carry everything, you can't carry food or anything - everything you need has to be made anew at next stop.

We understand that new ideas lead to more new ideas. One breakthrough invention, such as the alphabet, the steam engine or electricity can lead to other breakthrough inventions such as books, coal mines and telephones, and then to libraries, hydro-electric dams and the internet.

Also commonplace that inventions have a dark side. Modern transport made the slave trade viable - big sailing ships, international market for cotton. But slavery has been practiced since earliest times, and its virtual disappearance is due to modern communication law and education.

The importance of the stirrup. Enabled riders to use weapons while mounted, which gave advantage to cavalry over infantry, and to the lords who could afford horses, and so led to the rise of the aristocracy and feudalism

Author found an 1894 Montgomerie Ward catalog. Took a random page of farm implements, and tried to order them today. Not antiques off eBay, but new manufactured items. In a few hours he found every single one. While working farms have got bigger and adopted modern machinery, many home gardeners still use the hand tools because they work on their scale. There are even people still making stone axes, bound to hand made shafts with strips of leather. In the US alone there are 5000 amateurs who knap fresh arrowheads by hand.

As incomes rise, people spend less on goods, and more on services. Once they have met their basic needs, they want medical care, information, recreation, entertainment, financial and legal advice.

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