four steps of history

“stone age”, “bronze age”
these terms align the history of mankind along the materials being used. While these segments are still valid it is also worth noticing that they have been establlished during the ’steel age’. It was when technology had reached yet another pinnacle in the industrial use of metals.

Hundred fifty years later information technology shares the same fate: It’s frenetic paced development seems to change the world in unprecedented ways. It is only natural to ‘re-segment’ history along the current dominating paradigm of progress. A very broad separation could be:

1. Language
2. Reading/Writing
3. Printing press
4. Internet

It is certainly provocative to put the WWW in one line with those other three steps of human progress. The importance of each step compared to its predecessors is without a doubt declining. Language separates people from animals. Reading/Writing invented societies that are bigger than a couple of hundred people. The printing press established the domination of the european culture over the entire world. And the internet? Nobody knows. Still, I think it’s importance justifies to put it in one list with the three earlier ones. Human history can indeed be interpreted as the acceleration of the means of communication.

1. Language
Language allowed for a completely new and improved social interaction. Complex schemes could be planned and executed. Ask the average sable tooth tiger: he knows all to well how a couple of monkeys can make your life not only hell, but bring it to a sudden end. In parallel to language tools came into existence. Nobody would attempt to kill said tiger with bare hands. The argument can be made that only language allowed for the making of the tools. If you would try to make a weapon out of a couple of stones you would quickly realize that even though you are much stronger than the average ice age joe you will fail. No matter how many stones you have at your disposal, you are not more than lunch that happens to make funny noises. What you are missing is somebody to tell you how to make a weapon out of a stone. Since mankind seemed not to have hit the branches of the stupid tree over the last couple of thousand years, it seems that language is what brought tools into our world and kept them there.

2. Reading/Writing
Being able to ‘unrealtime language’ allowed for the next jump in human development. Without accounting nobody could have build a pyramid. All non tribal mass societies that I can think of have established a system of writing. Written language can travel in room and unidirectional in time. The commands of a ruler far away can be read thousands of miles away. And thoughts can be inherited. They can even outlast their thinkers. As a kid you see some magic in a treasure map or a message in a bottle. This magic is simply the power of reading and writing.

3. Printing press
What one person writes could be read by many, but only the printing press invented real mass communication. It allowed the word to spread. With this infinite multiplication concept ideas became ultimately powerful. The moment a printing press was churning out the first book all oppressive societies were doomed. Burning books became a sign of the desperation of the powerful people to maintain the un-maintable status quo of their rule. China and Europe were more or less on the same level of development in the midst of the last millennium. If there was a difference then China probably had the edge in many areas. Still, three hundred years later the entire world was ruled by a few european nations. The printing press allowed Europe to leap ahead in the global competition.

4. Internet
Since the internet is so new and evolving so quickly I am on the grounds of pure speculation now. Looking at the first three steps of culture technology advances each one spured a gigantic leap in human abilities. The Wright brothers could read about physics and metal technologies in books. Augustus could write laws for his far reaching empire that many people could read and copy. Many people that names we will never know lived a couple of years longer because of a story they have heard.

The internet allows knowledge to be shared in an entirely new ways. Knowledge wants to be shared. Even this text will be read by somebody.

The hype around google and very certainly it’s stock price have reached ridiculous dimensions. However, in the core this almost religious feeling towards an ugly website has a sound core: “Organizing the worlds information and making it accessible” is a pretty good glimpse on the real potential of the internet. We are only at the beginning here. The possibilities can only be guessed.

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