chapter  16
18 Pages

Working with Twenty-First Century Tools

The thing that distinguishes humans from most other animals is that we are tool-users. Our earliest ancestors found pointed sticks to catch fish, sought out large shells or flattened bark to dig holes, and used conveniently-shaped rocks to open nuts, pulverize edible roots, or crack open the occasional clamshell. In these earliest times, humans used what they found to go about their daily business. In modern terms, that period was Tools 1.0. Later, some of our wiser ancestors began to modify natural elements and combine existing tools into new configurations that allowed them to do more complicated things. In short, they became tool-makers. Tying a stick and a clam shell together with strips of palm fronds produced a hoe that allowed people to tend, more effectively, the small garden patches it suddenly became possible to cultivate. A rock with a sharp edge could be used to shape a stick into a more efficient fish spear; the rock itself could be tied to a handle to make a hammer of sorts. If the hammer chipped and produced a sharp edge, it became an axe. And so it went for millennia. This period might be labeled Tools 2.0-an era in which humans began to act upon existing, natural materials to produce new things. As new things were produced, new tasks emerged that could be accomplished effectively and efficiently. Hoes allowed people to cultivate food in a single location. Seines and fish traps woven from vines or palm fronds could be draped across a stream so that fishing could be “passive”; the fisherman no longer had to stand hunched over the water all day with a fish spear. These inventions freed up our ancestors to create other tools, like the printing press and the Internet.