Recently I viewed an excellent PBS Nova series on Netflix: “How we got to now with Steven Johnson”. This 6 episodes’ series reviews human developments over time, mostly from the last two centuries, that have fashioned the world we live in today and now take for granted.
The ideas brought forward by unknown individuals over time have initiated chain reactions of other ideas that have made the world we live in today and guide future developments. New ideas come from a network of other ideas. Humans come up with ideas that fashion them in return.
Accelerated development of technologies
Without going back to the era of “homo erectus” (meaning “upright man”) 1.9 million years ago, human fossils show that humans lived in Africa around 195,000 years ago. On the other hand, most of the things we take for granted and support our current modern way of living came about in the last 100 years: clean running water, modern bathrooms with hot water, sink, toilet and shower, electricity and all the electrical appliances, refrigeration and A/C, telephones, radios and TVs, were all invented in the last century.
What happened during the previous 194,900 years? This just shows how far humans have come from.
Considering that the control of fire by humans came about 125,000 ago, the invention of language came about 100,000 ago, the invention of the wheel around 4,000 BC, the printing press by Gutenberg around 1440, the first USA electric utility in 1916, we can appreciate that the last 100 years of inventions and developments eclipse all that had been invented before. The results of all these inventions have nearly doubled the life expectancy of humans over the past 100 years.
A picture is worth a thousand words
Below, I have reproduced two charts from the http://www.singularity.com/charts/page17.html web site. These are excellent representations of the evolution since life first appeared in a multicellular organism. It should be noted that the diagram is on a logarithmic scale which demonstrates the acceleration of the rate of change over time. Chart 2 provides another representation that accentuates the dramatic reduction in the time between each milestone and clearly demonstrate this accelerating rate of change over time. Hence the importance to adapt quickly to change in order to capitalize on future opportunities!
It also shows that the development of the human brain has accelerated dramatically when stimulated and exposed to new knowledge and ideas. Today, with the quality learning institutions and research centers found around the world, the wide availability of television and the internet, that allows everyone’s to store it knowledge and ideas which instantly become available to anyone around the world: no wonder why creation and development is accelerating at an ever increasing pace. This has become the challenge of modern times. How can we cope with rapid developments that will continue to accelerate in the future?
The “How we got to now with Steven Johnson” series has the following 6 episodes that will make you appreciate where we come from and where we are going. If you don’t find yourself lucky to have been born in a modern society in the current era, then you should consult a psychiatrist.
The 6 episodes are:
- Clean: Contaminated water has long plaque humanity, but forward-thinking innovations such as modern sewer systems have made clean water commonplace.
- Time: From sundials to atomic clocks, trace the creative and increasingly precise ways that people have understood, measured and manipulated time.
- Glass: From ancient times to the space age, mirrors, optic lenses and other forms of glass have enabled the world’s scientific and cultural advancement.
- Light: Explore the course that scientists and inventors have charted as they have moved the world into the age of artificial illumination.
- Cold: Examine methods that people have used to make things cold, from ice to artificial refrigeration, and the benefits such technology has bestowed.
- Sound: Sound affects our lives in profound and myriad ways, from its use in medicine and weaponry to the role of radio in the civil rights movement.
After viewing all episodes, some common denominators will emerge. Here are a few:
- The most significant inventions are those that affect the life of every human being: clean water, clocks, lenses, light, refrigeration, telephone, electricity, engines, … Therefore, if you are looking to come up with a meaningful invention, make sure it brings a benefit to as many people as possible (a large market).
- Timing is everything. Great inventions ahead of their time have only become successful when the market became ready.
- Determination and perseverance are the hallmarks of achievement.
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To access this series on Netflix, search for the title “How we got to now with Steven Johnson”.