These technological inventions are so successful that you forget them
We have just arrived. Our earth has been around for much longer. It originated around 4.5 billion years ago. For a long time it was only a lonely rock in space. It took no less than 3 billion years before a biosphere evolved. And a billion years later, humans appeared. So we have just arrived.
But our presence has certainly not gone unnoticed. Because with our inventiveness, creativity and technology we created a whole new sphere on earth: the technosphere.
I take you into the pyramid of technology, where we explore how technology comes into our lives. It is inspired by the famous Maslow pyramid, in which human needs are subdivided into varying levels.
The first question we can then ask: What is the simplest level at which a technology can exist? I think as an idea, in our imagination. Every technology always starts with an idea somewhere in a person's brain. Consider, for example, the quantum computer. Scientists are now busy making a quantum computer and if they succeed, it will radically transform our digital world. But they don't really have a proper prototype yet, so maybe it will just remain a concept and only appeal the imagination, such as the time machine. It's a concept we all know, but unfortunately I have never been able to try a prototype.
The operational level
Sometimes it do works, such as with the communication satellite. Invented by a science fiction writer, and ten years later we shot the first one into the air. Which brings us to the second level: the operational level. Then we have a prototype: it works. Google Glass is also at the operational level. It was presented and demonstrated. But it is hardly used or not used at all.
Solar panels already have been used for decades. But they are in competition with other technologies, such as coal, oil, gas and nuclear energy.
You see that different technologies are in the race to get to the top. Which one will win? Which of these technologies are we going to embrace and accept? Sometimes it goes fast, such as with the smartphone. It has become impossible to imagine our daily life without smartphones. The same you can say about cars and flat-screen televisions. What to think about the fact that many can no longer do without GPS. They can no longer read a map. The GPS has already become indispensable.
This kind of technology is on a higher level. If you take it away you have a crisis. An excellent example here is sewerage. You don't think about it every day, but imagine that with a magic wand we would remove all sewerage from all over the world. It would be an interesting experiment.
Or more recently, the internet. If we were to switch off the internet for a week now ... Would you still have a job? How are you going to communicate with your family and loved ones? You may even ask yourself: would you rather live without the internet or without sewerage? Without sewerage you can at least look up on the internet how to make your own compost toilet. These technologies are such a part of our lives that they actually become invisible.
The next level. An example of this is the alphabet. That is an age-old information technology that makes our thoughts and speech permanent in the physical world. It is applied everywhere. Books, newspapers, billboards, signage, graffiti. As a child you have to learn it, but after that you no longer have to think about it consciously. It's super powerful. The clock is also at this level. It enables us to make appointments with more precision than the natural units of the day, month and year.
Technology becomes natural
Then the top: it's the ultimate success a technology can achieve. This is the level at which technology becomes natural or becomes part of our human nature. I have three examples. The first is clothing. In a distant past there was a brilliant ancestor who turned a fur into a coat and thus could enter cold areas and live there. There was no Nobel Prize at that time yet, but he of she would certainly have deserved it. You don't have to ask if there are people who don't make use of clothing technology. No, this is something we humans do.
It was once an invention, but now it has become part of our human nature. Just like agriculture. It radically changed our relationship with the natural environment. No more hunting or gathering on the savannah. No, living in villages, planting crops and waiting for them to grow. A whole new lifestyle. A division of labor. An earth with 7 billion people without agriculture has become unimaginable. Agriculture was once an invention, now it has become part of our human nature.
The oldest technology I can think of is the fact that we cook. About 200,000 years ago this was an invention. Animals do not cook. The idea is radical: cooking helps break down the food that you eat and that helps your stomach digest food more easily. So you can get more calories in less time, grow larger brains and therefore become a modern person. Here we see that new technology always starts as artificial. It's something uncomfortable. When we then apply it and it works, it becomes more trusted. At some point it is such a part of our lives that we no longer want to do without it.
Nature and technology go hand in hand
So the ultimate success is that technology becomes part of our human nature. In this way you see that nature and technology are not opposed, but go hand in hand. With our technology we transformed our relationship with nature, and we have been technological from the very first day that we are human. We are not always aware of this. If you ask people to name some technologies, then they mainly mention technologies that are at the lower levels.
Actually we have a very limited definition of technology. Something like: technology is anything that was invented after I was born. Or even worse: technology is everything that doesn't work properly yet. But it's precisely when it does work properly that we no longer see it that way. And as a result of this limited picture, we are also satisfied with half-baked solutions.
If we would take our dreams much more seriously and try to push all the way to the top of the pyramid, it would make the world such a better place. That's not easy. In fact, it's very difficult. It doesn' t happen automatically. It will take a long time, but at least we know the place we're trying to get to.
Photo 1 by Jessie Beck on Unsplash
Photo 2 by Mariana Proença on Unsplash
Photo 3 by Alex Wigan on Unsplash