Monday, January 19, 2015

How Technology Changes Us

Every major technological advance exerts a biological change on humanity. In truth, the things we create, reshape us. Today we hear the frightening statistics on declining attention spans, expanding waistlines and shouts that the Internet makes people stupid. But this is nothing new. Each major technological advance has remade humanity. From our cultures to our biology, as we reshape our technology, we exert evolutionary pressures on ourselves.

One million years ago, the earliest humans napped stones to make hand axes. These axes made our ancestors much more effective meat eaters. It also increased caloric intake which allowed us to develop larger brains. Oddly enough, new research shows a connection between the parts of the brain involved in napping stones and the speech centers of the brain. It could be the simple act of banging rocks together (with incredible patience and precision!) is responsible for human speech.

Forty thousand years ago, humans started creating art. All over the world, Ice Age humans painted representations of animals and hunters on cave walls. Art was the moment where our species realized we could create representations of things that exist in the real world. We could capture a moment in time by using pictures. This small step opens the door to writing and math. The fact you are reading this is proof that those were significant advances.

Ten thousand years ago, our ancestors figured out farming and animal husbandry. This let them abandon their previous nomadic existence and let them settle down. This gave them more reliable sources of calories and, for the first time in history, created times of surplus. This freed up some of the society to specialize in tasks that would be useful. This change led to population growth which led to towns. Over time, towns grew into cities, and formal governments were born. This led to organized societies better able to manage resources and protect the citizenry. Which led to stability, which encouraged commerce, which increased wealth. You get the idea.

But the Agricultural Revolution had negative physical effects on our Neolithic ancestors. Because human diet and lifestyle changed, we know from archeological evidence that human height actually declined. When people started living off the land, they shrunk. To add insult to injury, it also shortened their lifespans too. Hunter-gatherers could live into their 30's, while Neolithic folks rarely made it to 20.

This is clear evidence of how our technologies change us. In the early stages, they cause us physical harm. It makes us shorter, dumber and we die younger; but only for a short span of evolutionary time! By the time of Ancient Rome, if you survived childhood, you had a fair chance of living into your 40's. The negatives were eventually overcome through a combination of new technologies (plumbing, hygiene, diverse diet) and human adaptation. In some ways the discovery of agriculture was a step backwards that allowed us to take several more steps forward.

The Digital Age is reshaping what it means to be human. Right now we are in the process of re-inventing humanity for this new technological age. As the discoveries of the Digital Age roll out in all their splendor, our species is being reshaped by new environmental pressures which will select for certain attributes. We will adapt, mentally and physically, to the new digital environments we craft. At first, it will have negative effects but, given time, those negatives will be surpassed. As a species, we will have to take a step backwards so we can leap into the future.







Want to know more about the leap into the future? R-Squared Computing can help you prepare for tomorrow. 305-423-9574


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