Human Beings Don’t Live Without Technology

Human beings don’t live without technology, and it’s not clear that they can. Even the people who live “off the grid” without what we call “high technology” don’t live with no technology at all. Far from it. They wear clothes, live in human-made shelters and use basic tools. Perhaps there are naked people somewhere surviving with no tools at all, including handmade ones, but I’ve never heard of any.

No-Tech Is Not Natural for People

The vast majority of other animals can and do live without any technologies at all. Yes, there are a fair number of other tools users in the world, including all the hominids (we are part of this group, of course), various types of birds, elephants, dolphins, sea otters, octopus and more. But, for most of them, tools are a sideline without which they could and would survive (certain nesting birds might be the exception, depending on how we define tools).

But people? Not really. Because our tools have shaped our evolution just as we have shaped theirs. A relatively weak and hairless ape without clothes and built shelters is unlikely to survive. If we deprive that hairless ape of fire and cooking, for example, it is unlikely to be able to derive enough nutrition because its body (teeth, jaw, stomach, colon, etc.) has literally evolved to process cooked foods. It’s very difficult to rely solely and completely on unprocessed raw foods: try sticking to a raw food diet in which somebody somewhere along the way doesn’t use some form of tool.

So, yes, hypothetically a genetically and geographically (they’d better be a relatively warm place!) lucky human being could survive into adulthood without ever using any type of tool, but it would be an uphill, unpleasant and unnatural lifestyle.

Our Tools Are Essential Extensions of Our Selves

In other words, our tools are essential parts of our lives. We are interconnected with them. They are part of the reticulum in which we abide.

Image by Sheila1988; Agricultural tools at show

Over time, our network of tools has grown, of course. We almost certainly started with simple wooden tools and rocks, the same as our hominid cousins often use today. But over time, this assortment of technologies has grown ever more diverse and complex. We extend ourselves through our tools, and then the tools themselves become networks into which we embed ourselves. Consider, for example, our networks of roads, wires, pipes, machines, language and more.

At some point, it becomes hard to tell where we homo sapiens stop and our technologies begin. Our technology network has become so large and complex that we’ve invented new words (and, yes, words are also tools) to describe them: “technologies,” “technosphere,” “technium,” “information networks,” etc. (Note that the word networks wasn’t even invented until the 1550s, making it a relatively modern human piece of human technology).

But the story doesn’t end there. Indeed, all I’m really doing is setting the stage for my next post on the topic of technological advances, including the latest ones that extend the deepest of all our networks: the ones that make up our minds.