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The evolution of techological advancements and their influence on global trade

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The evolution of techological advancements and their influence on global trade 3 - Intelance

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

A brief history on the concept of technology

The term technology, a combination of the Greek word techn? which means “art and craft,” and the word logos which means “word and speech” first used to describe both fine and applied arts. By the early 20th century, technology embraced a growing range of meanings, processes, and ideas leading to modern era references to technology defining “the means or activity by which man seeks to change or manipulate his environment”.

Using nature to explain purpose-driven instincts to innovate

Creation and innovation is a determining chatacteristic of humanlike species. Other species make artifacts: bees build elaborate hives to deposit their honey, birds make nests, and beavers build dams. But these attributes are the result of patterns of instinctive behaviour and cannot be varied to suit rapidly changing circumstances.

Human beings, in contrast to other species, do not possess highly developed instinctive reactions but do have the capacity to think systematically and creatively about techniques. Humans can thus innovate and consciously modify the environment in a way no other species has achieved. An ape may on occasion use a stick to beat bananas from a tree, but a person can fashion the stick into a cutting tool and remove a whole bunch of bananas.

By virtue of humanity’s nature as a toolmaker, humans have therefore been technologists from the beginning, and the history of technology encompasses the whole evolution of humankind.

Social involvement influencing drivers for technological innovation

Social need, social resources, and a sympathetic social ethos are the default factors that determine the likelihood of any technological innovation being widely adopted or successful.

Social need and resources are a indispensable prerequisites to demand for innovation

The sense of social need must be strongly felt, or people will not be prepared to devote resources to a technological innovation. The thing needed may be a more efficient cutting tool, a more powerful lifting device, a labour-saving machine, or a means of using new fuels or a new source of energy. Or, because military needs have always provided a stimulus to technological innovation, it may take the form of a requirement for better weapons. In modern societies, needs have been generated by advertising. Whatever the source of social need, it is essential that enough people be conscious of it to provide a market for an artifact or commodity that can meet the need.

Social resources are similarly an indispensable prerequisite to successful innovation. Many inventions have foundered because the social resources vital for their realization the capital, materials, and skilled personnel were not available.

Technology in the ancient world (10,000 to 3000 BC)

How stone age humans made hand axes
How Stone Age Humans Made Hand Axes (Image: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc)

For all except approximately the past 10,000 years, humans lived almost entirely in small nomadic communities dependent for survival on their skills in gathering food, hunting and fishing, and avoiding predators. It is reasonable to suppose that most of these communities developed in tropical latitudes, especially in Africa, where climatic conditions are most favourable to a creature with such poor bodily protection as humans have.

The urban revolution (3000 BC – 500BC)

Ziggurat at Ur
Ziggurat at Ur (© Simon11uk—iStock/Getty Images)

Technological change took place very slowly over a long period of time from transitioning from the ancient world, in response to only the most basic social needs, the search for food and shelter, and with few social resources available for any activity other than the fulfillment of these needs. About 5,000 years ago, however, a momentous cultural transition began to take place in a few well-favoured geographical situations. It generated new needs and resources and was accompanied by a significant increase in technological innovation leading to the priliminary thinking around inventing the concept of a city.

The millennium of the middles ages and emergence of western technology (500 – 1750)

Industrial Revolution factory workers - Intelance
Women working machines at the Woolen Company

The history of medieval technology is largely the story of the preservation, recovery, and modification of earlier achievements. By the end of the period Western civilisation had begun to produce some remarkable technological innovations that were to be of the utmost significance.

The technological history of the Middle Ages was one of slow but substantial development. In the succeeding period the tempo of change increased markedly and was associated with profound social, political, religious, and intellectual upheavals in western Europe.

The word innovation raises a problem of great importance in the history of technology. Strictly, an innovation is something entirely new, but there is no such thing as an unprecedented technological innovation because it is impossible for an inventor to work in a vacuum and, however ingenious his invention, it must arise out of his own previous experience.

For the millennium of the Middle Ages, however, it is frequently difficult to explain how particular innovations were introduced. The problem is especially perplexing because it is known that many inventions of the period had been developed independently and previously in other civilisations.

The 18th century industrial revolution (1750 – 1900)

Spread of the industrial revolution - Intelance
A map depicting the spread of the Industrial Revolution through Europe in the 19th century.
Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc./Kenny Chmielewski

Perhaps what was most unique about the Industrial Revolution was its merger of technology with industry. Key inventions and innovations served to shape virtually every existing sector of human activity along industrial lines, while also creating many new industries.

The Industrial Revolution was the most profound revolution in human history, because of its sweeping impact on people’s daily lives in all parts of the world. This acceleration in the processes of technical innovation brought about an array of new tools and machines. It also involved more subtle practical improvements in various fields affecting labor, production, and resource use.

The phenomenon of the 20th and 21st centuries

Europe's satallites - Intelance
Europe’s Galileo satellites. ESA-P. Carril, CC BY-NC

In respect to the recent history of technology, one fact stands out clearly: despite the immense achievements of technology by 1900, the following decades witnessed more advance over a wide range of activities than the whole of previously recorded history. The airplane, the rocket and interplanetary probes, electronics, atomic power, antibiotics, insecticides, and a host of new materials have all been invented and developed to create an unparalleled social situation, full of possibilities and dangers, which would have been virtually unimaginable before the present century.

There were technological innovations of great significance in many aspects of industrial production during the 20th century. It is worth observing, in the first place, that the basic matter of industrial organisation became one of self-conscious innovation, with organisations setting out to increase their productivity by improved techniques.

The object of these exercises was to make industry more efficient and thus to increase productivity and profits. Without this superior industrial organisation, it would not have been possible to convert the comparatively small workshops of the 19th century into the giant engineering establishments of the 20th, with their mass-production and assembly-line techniques.

Perspectives on interaction between society and technology

Pespectives on technology - Intelance
Copyright Hyperiondev

Much of the 19th-century optimism about the progress of technology has dispersed, and an increasing awareness of the technological dilemma confronting the world makes it possible to offer a realistic assessment of the role of technology in shaping society today.

In the first place, it can be clearly recognised that the relationship between technology and society is complex. Any technological stimulus can trigger a variety of social responses, depending on such unpredictable variables as differences between human personalities; similarly, no specific social situation can be relied upon to produce a determinable technological response. Any “theory of invention,” therefore, must remain extremely tentative, and any notion of a “philosophy” of the history of technology must allow for a wide range of possible interpretations.

A major lesson of the history of technology, indeed, is that it has no precise predictive value. At this particular moment in time as such, historical hindsight is not available and the course of events in indeterminable. In short, the complexity of human society is never capable of resolution into a simple identification of causes and effects driving historical development in one direction rather than another, and any attempt to identify technology as an agent of such a process is subjective.