History of the Seven Kingdoms
“LOOKING back at Paleolithic times, we can observe an evolutionary phase when human tools were embryonic, when the technium existed in its most minimal state. But since technology predated humans, appearing in primates and even earlier, we need to look beyond our own origins to understand the true nature of technological development. Technology is not just a human invention; it was also born from life.
If we chart the varieties of life we have so far discovered on Earth, they fall into six broad categories. Within each of these six categories, or kingdoms of life, all species share a common biochemical blueprint. Three of these kingdoms are the tiny microscopic stuff: one-celled organisms. The other three are the biological kingdoms of organisms we normally see: fungi (mushrooms and molds), plants, and animals.
Every species in the six kingdoms, which is to say every organism alive on Earth today, from algae to zebra, is equally evolved. Despite the differences in the sophistication and development of their forms, all living species have evolved from predecessors for the same amount of time: four billion years. All have been tested daily and have managed to adapt across hundreds of millions of generations in an unbroken chain.
Many of these organisms have learned to build structures, and those structures have allowed the creature to extend itself beyond its tissue. The hard two-meter mound of a termite colony operates as if it were an external organ of the insects: The mound’s temperature is regulated and it is repaired after injury. The dried mud itself seems to be living. What we think of as coral–stony, treelike structures–are the apartment buildings of nearly invisible coral animals. The coral structure and coral animals behave as one. It grows, breathes. The waxy interior of a beehive or the twiggy architecture of a bird’s nest works the same way. Therefore a nest or a hive can best be considered a body built rather than grown. A shelter is animal technology, the animal extended.
The extended human is the technium. Marshal McLuhan, among others, noted that clothes are people’s extended skin, wheels extended feet, camera and telescopes extended eyes. Our technological creations are great extrapolations of the bodies that our genes build. In this way, we can think of technology as our extended body. During the industrial age it was easy to see the world in this way. Steam-powered shovels, locomotives, television, and the levers and gears of engineers were a fabulous exoskeleton that turned man into superman. A closer look reveals the flaw in this analogy: The extended costume of animals is the result of their genes. They inherit the basic blueprints of what they make. Humans don’t. The blueprints for our shells spring from our mind, which may spontaneously create something none of our ancestors ever made or even imagined. If technology is an extension of humans, it is not an extension of our genes but of our mind. Technology is therefore the extended body for ideas.
With minor differences, the evolution of the technium–the organism of ideas–mimics the evolution of organisms. The two share many traits: The evolution of both systems moves from the simple to the complex, from the general to the specific, from uniformity to diversity, from individualism to mutualism, from energy waste to efficiency, and from slow change to greater evolvability. The way that a species of technology changes over time fits a pattern similar to a genealogical tree of species evolution. But instead of expressing the work of genes, technology expresses ideas…” -Kevin Kelly, What Technology Wants