…artifacts or schemes by which value-added experiences and production can be effectuated including any thing, action, or utility which allows for the manifestation of spatially and temporally defined tangible or intangible artifacts or events
It’s been years since I entered a rather non-descript Russian Orthodox church outside of Moscow with my friend from the National Academy of Sciences Alexander Dyachenko. A small choir was rehearsing for mass inside and as we entered the church, the acoustics were such that our eyes were instantly drawn upward. The sound was coming from the eyes of the icons painted high on the wall above the altar. The harmony echoing from the high stone interior hung in the air and formed an acoustic connection with the saints. Connecting across centuries, an artist had chosen to place his sacred art in a place where everyone would see it during mass. Clearly he or his patron wanted to have the music connect to deeper spiritual significance.
In its modern use the term “technology” has become synonymous with a rather minimalist set of artifacts typically animated by either electricity or combustion. Ever since the dawn our addiction to the Westinghouse-Edison heroin pulsing through every artery of modern existence, we have become more enslaved to the delusion that if it doesn’t take power, it isn’t technology. However, it’s worth noting that in our mad rush for our next iTouch or hybrid car, a more inclusive understanding of technology is essential to free ourselves from our own suicidal race to mineral and energy oblivion.
Let’s review a bit of history. Advanced civilizations before us recognized that technology involved a sense of permanence. Crushed stone and beeswax formed colorfast images that are still luminous on Egypt’s iconic temples and tombs. Kodak and HP have nothing close. The Tiwanaku in Peru built their understanding of mathematics and cosmology into their buildings and towns in a manner which our most advanced minds cannot yet decipher. No GPS-aided architect can match their topographically adjusted construction which aligns with cosmic waypoints that current astronomers can’t begin to interpret. Stylus and chisel built monuments unrivaled by any modern architecture with ornate symbols conveying meanings long lost in our Google-based digital monotony. If we can’t find it on-line, we actually question if information even exists (certainly, if it’s not on-line, it can’t be trusted!).
In the United States, our driving impetus for technology development has been mortality. Like our addiction to immortalizing ourselves in our monetary system, our technology has, in the main, been the byproduct of military or medical expenditures. By total national expenditure, military (the funding of artifacts of death to coerce enemies into acquiescence to our world view) and medicine (the madness of trying to extend lives beyond the natural warranty of the human organism) are the largest two funding drivers of our technology addiction. It is no surprise that we are less creative and more impermanent in our technology today than our forebears. For in our current worldview, our focus is about survival – not renaissance and enlightenment.
I often challenge people in my lectures to identify any modern technology that has been INVENTED in the last 60 years. A bigger challenge is to add the caveat that the invention cannot have its roots in German innovation during the 1930’s and 40’s. Whether it’s the chemistry in medicine or the hypersonic propulsion of advanced aircraft, we’ve not engaged in much paradigm shifting awareness in our modern generation. To be clear, I try to help people understand the difference between:
Invention – the manifestation of a thing ex nihilo without analog in any other manifestation (something that our current system has not seen);
Innovation – the integration of existing components to address a specific context or proposed need; and
Incrementalism – the subtle adaptation of a thing for a particular consumer demand.
Since the bold, German-aided space race of the 1950’s and 1960’s we have seen virtually nothing but Incrementalism. IBM exists because of World War II cryptography challenges of the Japanese and Germans along with the entire computer industry. Procter & Gamble has filed patents on a detergent bubble for over 50 years so that we can launder our clothes under their patented watchful eye. Sildenafil citrate (marketed as Viagra) was developed in 1989 to treat vascular conditions, failed in its clinical trials but launched the world of erectile dysfunction obsession at the same time as diseases like malaria, cholera and countless other killers were on the rise. Ironically, the compound developed under the patenting, sex obsessed impulse of Pfizer actually has its roots to Swiss and German researchers from 1957! Welcome to modern innovation! Finding incremental market uses for 60 year old technology is fine. But don’t think for a moment that we’d know an Invention or Innovation if it bit us in the butt. Our technological hubris is built largely on our ignorance of what’s come before. Let’s face it, the RMS Titanic had more patents and innovations still in use today on board the night it sank than Apple has in its iPhone.
Adequate Integral Accounting for technology needs to be liberated from our automated, electro-combustive dependency. We believe that alternative energy doesn’t “work” because you can’t make it integrate with a grid last innovated in the 1960’s. We believe that alternative transportation is not practical because the inhabitants would be placed at risk with our two ton steel behemoths hurtling at them at insane speeds crushing a more suitable mode of transportation and its enlightened occupants.
In short, our aspiration and acceptance of technology could be more suitably aligned with:
- those things which provide the lowest barrier to use for the highest social gain;
- those things which provide the greatest utility for the least ecosystem cost;
- those things which facilitate greater collaboration and connection with the fewest discriminatory barriers; and,
- those things which, following their current utilization have the greatest optionality for repurposing and reuse.
Let’s imagine a new world and begin building it. And if we can’t build it ourselves, let’s begin rewarding those enterprises who use an integral value system in their production. Together, we can begin a journey into our ancient future of innovation for the betterment of humanity.