The evolution of technology
Definition: Technology, general term for the processes by which human beings fashion tools and machines to increase their control and understanding of the material environment. The term is derived from the Greek words tekhnē, which refers to an art or craft, and logia, meaning an area of study; thus, technology means, literally, the study, or science, of crafting.
The earliest known human artifacts are roughly flaked stones used for chopping and scraping, found primarily in eastern Africa. Known as Oldowan tools, they date from about 2.3 million years before present, and serve to define the beginning of the Stone Age.
The next big step in the history of technology was the control of fire. By striking flint against stone to produce sparks, people could kindle fires at will. Besides the obvious benefits of light and heat, fire was also used to bake clay pots.
Early peoples also learned that if copper was repeatedly hammered and put into a fire, it would not split or crack. This process of relieving metal stress, called annealing, eventually brought human civilizations out of the Stone Age - particularly when, about 3000 bc, people also found that alloying tin with copper produces bronze. The first quality swords and sickles began to be manufactured.
The oldest wheels found date from about 3500BC in Mezopotamia. They were used to create first land vehicles, that transported goods.
After about 3000 bc, one of the most complex creations of humankind appeared: the city. From this point forward, technology cannot be described only in terms of simple tools and technical processes such as metallurgy, because the city itself is a technological system. It brought the institution of holy kingship, construction of tombs, temples, citadels, canalization systems and many more.
Urbanization also stimulated a greater need for writing. The Egyptians improved on the clumsy clay tablet by manufacturing, from papyrus plants, a paperlike material on which they wrote in hieroglyphs.
Military technology in the ancient world developed, loosely, in three stages. In the first stage arose the infantry with its leather or copper helmets, bows, spears, shields, and swords. This stage was followed by the development of chariots, which at first were clumsy vehicles for the use of commanders. The third stage of ancient military technology centered on increasing the mobility and speed of the cavalry. The Assyrians, with their knowledge of iron weaponry and their superb horsemanship, dominated much of the civilized world between 1200 and 612 bc.
The great change in engineering that occurred in the Roman period. Using water-resistant cement, Roman engineers built 70,800 km of roads across their vast empire. They also built numerous sports arenas and public baths and hundreds of aqueducts, sewers, and bridges, introduced the water mill and for the subsequent design of undershot and overshot water wheels, which were used to grind grain, saw wood, and cut marble. In the military sphere, the Romans advanced technology by improving weapons such as the javelin and the catapult.
The introduction of a heavier plow that had wheels, a horizontal plowshare and three-field crop rotation made medieval agriculture more productive.
One of the most important machines of medieval times was the windmill. It increased the amount of grain ground and timber sawed.
The spinning wheel, introduced from India in the 13th or 14th century, improved the production of yarn and thread for cloth and became a common machine around the hearth. The hearth itself was transformed by the addition of a chimney to conserve wood, which was becoming scarce because of agricultural expansion.
Such devices as the horseshoe, and the spring carriage speeded the transfer of people and goods. Important changes also occurred in marine technology. The development of the deep keel, the triangular sail for greater maneuverability, and the magnetic compass (in the 13th century) made sailing ships the most complex machines of the age.
Two other medieval inventions, the clock and the printing press, also have had a permanent influence on all aspects of human life. The invention of a weight-driven clock in 1286 meant that people would no longer live in a world structured primarily by the daily course of the sun and the yearly change of the seasons. The clock was also an immense aid to navigation, and the precise measurement of time was essential for the growth of modern science.
The invention of the printing press, in turn, set off a social revolution that is still in progress. Once developed, printing spread rapidly and began to replace hand-printed texts for a wider audience. Thus, intellectual life soon was no longer the exclusive domain of church and court, and literacy became a necessity of urban existence.
The first factories appeared in 1740, concentrating on textile production. In 1740 the majority of English people wore woolen garments, but within the next 100 years they were replaced by cotton - especially after the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney, an American, in 1793.
Such English inventions as the flying shuttle and carding machines of John Kay, the water frame of Richard Arkwright, the spinning jenny of James Hargreaves, and the improvements in weaving made by Samuel Crompton were all integrated with a new source of power, the steam engine, developed in England by Thomas Newcomen, James Watt, Richard Trevithick, and in the U.S. by Oliver Evans. Within a 35-year period, from the 1790s to the 1830s, more than 100,000 power looms with 9,330,000 spindles were put into service in England and Scotland.
Pride and a large measure of awe resulted from such engineering achievements as the laying of the first Atlantic telegraph cable, the building of the Suez and Panama canals, and the construction of the Eiffel Tower, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the enormous iron passenger ship, the Great Eastern. The telegraph and railroads connected most of the major cities with one another. In the late 19th century, the American inventor Thomas Edison's light bulb began to replace candles and lamps, and within 30 years every industrial nation was generating electric power for lighting and other systems.
Such 19th- and 20th-century inventions as the telephone, the phonograph, the wireless radio, the motion picture, the automobile, and the airplane served only to add to the nearly universal respect that society in general felt for technology. With the development of assembly-line mass production of automobiles and household appliances, and the building of ever taller skyscrapers, acceptance of innovations became not only a fact of everyday life but also a way of life in itself. Society was being rapidly transformed by increased mobility, rapid communication, and a deluge of available information from mass media.