More about Modern Technology

More about Modern Technology

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4586-8.ch008
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Modern technology, starting about 250 years ago, exacerbates conflicts with the ecosystem. The products and by-products of modern technology are typically either toxic or cannot be incorporated into the ecosystem. The largely petroleum-based products from about 1900 replace products more compatible with the ecosystem. Conflicts with the ecosystem therefore accelerate.
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This chapter is concerned with the development of technology, but not so much in order to chronicle human inventiveness. Rather, its aim is to uncover the growing separation of humanity from the rest of nature.


  • 1.5 million years ago: Complex cached tools

  • 13,000 years ago: Pottery (China, Japan) (Hirst 2011)1

  • 11,000 years ago: Farming (domestication of plants and animals)

  • 8,000 years ago: Pottery (Mesopotamia)

  • 8,000 years ago: Weaving

  • 7,000 years ago: Metal, mining

  • 5,000 years ago: Draft animals

  • 5,000 years ago: Use of concrete

  • 5,000 years ago: The wheel

  • 5,000 years ago: Writing

  • 2,000 years ago: Arches, aqueducts, bridges (Rome)

  • 1,000 years ago: Windmills

  • 550 years ago: Printing press

  • 400 years ago: Modern science

  • 250 years ago: Steam engine

  • 200 years ago: Modern technology

  • 200 years ago: Mechanization of spinning and weaving

  • 200 years ago: Asphalt road paving

  • 200 years ago: Modular steel building construction

  • 70 years ago: Postmodern technology (synthetics, bioengineering)

There were continuous important improvements in hunting technology before farming and civilization.2 But most radical and life-changing improvements occurred with the advent of farming and civilization. In that era of what can be called “classic” technology, important technological innovations are borrowed from nature. Raw materials are derived from plants and animals. Cotton, wool, and silk come from plants and animals. Drugs are concentrated and distilled versions of substances derived from plants and animals. Almost all pharmaceuticals are derived from plants: Aspirin from willow and many antibiotics from various molds.


Technological Progress

We saw in the preceding chapter, that technological progress in early civilization was rather unpredictable. Progress in modern technology is, if anything, even more unpredictable and contingent. The examples in that chapter were the inventions of the wheel and of writing. But some commentators on modern technology believe that technological progress is predetermined. The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman calls himself a “technological determinist” (Friedman 2005, p. 374).

There are really two distinct versions of technological determinism. One version is that the development of technology, the appearance of technological advances, is determined. This version can be called advance determinism. The second version is that, once a technological advance appears, its widest useful application is inevitable. This version can be called application determinism. Friedman is an application determinist. There is no evidence one way or the other that he is an advance determinist. But application determinism is a naïve view as well as a dangerous one.

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