I think that human beings are tool users by nature. We’re designers by nature and that is really born out in archeological record. For millions of years our ancestors used the simplest blunt instruments. Then suddenly about 50,000 years ago we find this explosion of technological innovation.
We next see tools with different specialties. We see tools for making tools and the first evidence of clothing. And you have the discovery of visual art and the cave paintings of France and Spain and Southern Africa. And this is probably also when language first emerged.
I don’t think it’s an accident that the first place where human beings in the modern sense — cognitively, psychologically, behaviorally — show up in history is when technology shows up in history.
The interesting thing about tools is that they change us. They transform us. They both enable us to do things that we can already do better like beat something with a stick or beat something with a hand, they also enable me to do something I couldn’t do without the tool like drill a hole or screw in a screw.
This is one of the agents of our own evolution and you can see it in so many different ways. Consider the fact that a few thousand years ago most human beings couldn’t digest milk and then the domestication of animals happened and milk became available. Milk became available as a ready source of energy and nutrition and people adapted to this technological innovation biologically, that is, increasingly throughout the population there spread the gene that would enable us to digest lactose.
I think people are very caught up and anxious about the Goolgle-ization of our minds and short attention spans and the Internet and all of that, but I think this is really a case of where the more things change the more they stay the same. There is nothing qualitatively different about the way the Internet is changing our human experience now than the way the invention of writing did some thousands of years ago.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think’s studio.
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