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How History Inspires Technology

History and technology may at first glance appear to be antithetical concepts.  Just a decade or two ago some of the gadgets which are to be found in almost every household in the developed world today were the stuff of futuristic fantasy movies – entertaining, but seldom thought to be for real.  

It is tempting, especially for those who are of an age which knew nothing different, to picture life even in the late twentieth century as some kind of pre-Jurassic experience.  Parents and grandparents fondly reminisce about the days when their own elders only knew where they had been once they had returned home again, thanks to the absence of mobile telephones or even access to landlines without the requisite coinage.  Television meant three or four channels, radio stations could only be accessed with a keen eye and a steady hand, and a washing machine was mother standing at the sink.

From silent flicks to Netflix

And yet in truth everything we have and take for granted today has its roots in much earlier invention.  The telephone was actually invented in 1876, and had this magnificent breakthrough not been made we would not be texting and FaceTiming and Snapchatting today.  Similarly the first motion picture was made in 1892 and demonstrated to the public a year later, and whilst the silent, flitting monochromatic images may bear little relation to today’s instant YouTube media, 3D and special effects the link between the two is clear and the stages of progression from one to the other can by traced with some accuracy.

The examples are indeed almost endless.  From the Wright brothers to space travel, from the Benz Patent Motor Car, through the Porsche and the Lamborghini to hybrid, electric and driverless vehicles, the genealogy is there for all to see.

Whilst it is sometimes tempting to think of the modern technological age in isolation, all progress in actual fact has its roots in history.  When you think about it it’s only logical – innovators build upon knowledge that is already in the public domain, and invention happens whenever somebody takes what is already there a step further.  The Amstrad Commodore may be cause for much amusement around the tech community today, but in its own day it was revolutionary.

The pace of innovation is accelerating

What is perhaps most inspiring of all is that far from stopping or slowing down discovery and innovation by their nature will always accelerate.  A worldwide fascination with gadgetry has bred an impatience for more, and designers of software and hardware have every incentive to respond to this insatiable demand.  Or to put it another way, the more that is already out there the better equipped they are to create something even newer and more exciting.  It’s a great time to be an electronics geek.

 

Our love for all things modern should cause us to celebrate the past, not to mock it.  Who knows what wonders Edison and Bell would have been inventing today if they’d been blessed with the knowledge and information that their protégés had to work on?