The First Technology

The first technology was fire.

We have no way of proving that, of course, but also no way to disavow it. It came when a lightning bolt struck a tree and passed from limb to limb until some great ancestor made sense of it. They passed it from limb to limb, warming those in the cold, softening vegetables, leaving meat more palatable.

What’s best for fire, even today, is to keep it at a safe distance. And that’s how technology starts, best at a distance. Best handled by the experts. Best to bring the bard, the barber, the librarian, the technician, the doctor, the seer your questions. Best to let them sort them out through their books and manuals, compare it to all known knowledge, runs some tests, and provide you your feedback.

Let’s blame Gutenberg.

It was his technology that created this novel concept of knowledge in the hands of the populace. A book in every house, perhaps a bible, but also an erotic novel hidden under a mattress. Access to knowledge for the rich, technology for the affluent, passed down through the generations. It was in your home and scarcely controlled. You could touch it. Your kids could find it. And once it got ubiquitous enough, there was no way to leash the thoughts again of the authors. Dangerous thoughts, to kill them, to stop them procreating in time. Of course there was fire. But that never seemed to work right.

A computer was once a large machine in a raised and air conditioned room. You would meet a qualified individual at the front desk, hand them some cards, and they would respond later with your answers. A computer was once as big as a refrigerator. There was one in your building at work you could log into. A computer was once a beige box in the corner of the library at school. Once had a black and white screen. Once came with a book in the box. Once had peripherals, printers and modems and external drives. Once had a keyboard. Once had a camera. Once had a screen.

There has been a distance between what we create and ourselves. It came from the heavens, or came shooting out of us with great effort. We needed a midwife or a editor to get it out right. We needed an agent, a publishing house, a tech department, store clerks who could sell it. But the dreamer, in dreaming, imagines none of these logistics.

The technology is coming. Closer with each iteration. It was atop our desks, then atop our laps. Now in our hands, soon on our wrists. The distance between creator and created and creating constantly shrinking. A computer on our tongue. In our ears. A way to tell stories from one brain to the next directly. Stored in the collective. Available to everyone.

The story told by our ancestor, about lifting a few pieces of brush to carry fire. The trick was not the fire itself, neither its destruction nor its capabilities. The earth was fire before it was anything. The trick was not the story, but learning to pass it from limb to limb, to jump across the distance, so we could speak of God, of sex.

We’ve found ways to mimic our skin, to armor it. We’ve made mock wings to lift ourselves above it. We’ve cut glass to enhance our vision, and learned to breathe underwater. We have devices that mimic super hearing, which capture voice and video. I can almost touch you at a distance.

The tech is coming. Closer and closer. It is our triumph over time and space, our wish that someone will speak of us, our hope of permanence.



A day is not done, until it's filled with words.

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