To begin the first of many posts on the development of technology we will travel back in time to the very first days of humanity. In fact, we might just go a little bit further. In 1968, the year before the moon landing, Stanley Kubrick and Arther C. Clarke created the iconic film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The beginning of the film features over 3 minutes of a black screen with atmospheric music that eventually overwhelms the viewer (quite an experience in a movie theater as I always just fast-forwarded at home without realizing the movie had started.) Suddenly the image cuts to the moon, earth, and sun in perfect alignment. It’s quite a moment of creation suddenly switching from a screen devoid of light to our entire local universe of earth, moon, and sun. Coincidentally as I write these words we are having a solar eclipse, which unfortunately is not visible from the northern hemisphere, but is still very exciting.
Next we watch a tribe of apes, who seem strangely human, forage for food. They are beset upon by a leopard and then an aggressive neighboring tribe and seem on the verge of being wiped out when suddenly the Monolith appears the next morning. After spending time with the Monolith one member realizes his ability to use an old discarded thigh bone as a club…using a tool to manipulate his environment. Soon afterwards he teaches this new skill to his tribe and they come to dominate the area using their new technology of bone tools.
While this depiction of the first tool use among humanity’s ancestors is purely fictionalized, and the myth of man as tool maker has been debunked with numerous examples of animal tool use, I do think that it shows an important connection. It was not simply having a hand that allowed the ape to use the tool. A cognitive development in his mind allowed him to realize the potential he had in manipulating his environment. Two previously unlinked parts of his brain connected and concept consciously became reality. When our ancestors picked up their first tools of bone, stone, and wood, and perhaps other materials that did not survive the ages, it truly was a revolution of the mind and a defining moment in history. These first technologies allowed our ancestors to gather and hunt more food, to protect themselves, and eventually to build ever more complex tools taking more and more control of their environments.
In the biblical story of creation I think it is worth mentioning that tools were first indirectly mentioned just after the Fall. In the Garden of Eden there was no need for tools, but soon after eating the Fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil Adam and Eve: “knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves” and after the LORD God had discovered them He “sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. (GEN 3:7, 23).
While this is pretty advanced technology compared to the bone club of 2001 I think it highlights a potential link between fallen humanity and the need/use of technology. The world we live in is far from perfect and the vast majority of us depend on multiple technologies for our survival and comfort. However, I would also argue that many of us in the modern world, in addition to using technology to survive, in some way see technological development as an effort to return to paradise. This is paradoxical because the Garden of Eden was a place devoid of technology, and yet we are trying to recreate it by using technology. I am not saying that technology is evil by any means, but I think this begs many interesting questions.
To further highlight that link lets go back to 2001. After the apes devastate the neighboring tribe using their new bone weapons their leader, Moon-Watcher, tosses his bone club into the air and the film cuts to an image of an orbiting nuclear weapons platform matching it to the movement of the bone. This perfectly juxtaposes the strong link between tools and weapons, and technological advances and war. Most technological developments, even if meant to aid humanity as a whole, are used to instead bolster a specific group’s interests. Of course technology is also hard to keep secret and the use of bone clubs, clothing, fire and other developments would have spread quickly among prehistoric man.
Once we began using tools, for good or bad we could no longer view ourselves as simply a part of nature; instead we began slowly at first and ever faster to manipulate and control our environment. From the first bone tools to the most advanced rockets and computers humanity began its long journey with, as always, one small step…