The History of Technology Rewritten

I admit that I love technology.  I love computers, electronics, gadgets and having a healthcare background, I’m exceptionally fond of “machines that go PING!”  I understand the complexities of electronics.  I know that the reason Columbus made his journey tying to reach Asia was not, in fact related to spices or silk, but was necessary to access all those wonderful electronic devices that are made in Japan, Taiwan and of course, China.  If Columbus hadn’t pave the way, Sam Walton would have had no purpose in life and the locations of Wal-Marts would have been squandered as parks, playgrounds and Civil War battlefields.

The Asians discovered the secret of electronic components in 458 BC.  We know it was a Thursday, but their reckoning of months and days was not yet solidified.  Fire was well known and had proven useful in making tools from bronze and iron.  Initially smoke was seen as a useless by product, but one enterprising individual discovered after much trial and error that if you trapped the smoke in a small package with wires coming out of it, you ended up with a device that could do amazing things.  The trick was that the device would work so long as the smoke remained inside it.  If you saw smoke leaking out, you knew it would no longer work.

The first devices, called components (compo – “full of”; nents – “smoke”) were resistors and capacitors that did not provide much usefulness.  Early Asian scientists amused themselves by storing an electrical charge on a capacitor, then tossing it to co-worker who received a shock.  This had no commercial value since, like the hand buzzer, it may be funny the first time but is anti-climactic after that.

Components advanced to more complicated states.  This was not due to a desire to make practical devices, but was seen as similar to origami, eating with chopsticks or trying to reason with teenage children – something to help pass the time.  It was only by the strangest of coincidences that two older men were sitting together, chatting amicably and weaving components together that it was discovered that one device could transmit sounds and the other receive it.  Initially no practical use was foreseen, but when two way communications could be maintained, the teenagers immediately started using it to communicate among themselves.  Daughters no longer insisted on telling their parents every excruciating detail about their day in school (who wore what, who likes whom, what someone said behind someone else’s back, etc.).  Instead upon returning from school they immediately used the device to call their girlfriends.

These devices were called “Telephones” because the parents would instruct their daughters to “Tell” the device rather than tell the parents.  The first of these were housed within large conch shells which helped to focus the sound in the same way you can use one to “hear the sea.”  As such, the teenagers started calling them “shell phones” a tradition which continues although the pronunciation has been corrupted.

Eventually components became smaller and were used for many types of communication devices and eventually devices that almost seemed to think.

So next time you get a call from a telemarketer or the phone rings when you’re sleeping, blame Columbus.

2 responses to “The History of Technology Rewritten

  1. It was “the machines that go PING!” that drew me in. I never can pass up a good Python reference.

    Thanks for the giggle.

  2. Loved this! From one who, up until recently, was part of the technologically illiterate, I had no idea that technology has such an interesting history. The next time I pick up my Blackberry to use it, I will remember to thank the Good Lord above for that fateful Thursday in 458 BC when components were accidentally discovered. Or, maybe I should thank Columbus. . .

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