Have you ever wondered what was the very first thing some primitive man made and used for a tool?
An interestingly shaped piece of wood, perhaps, that he found and figured he could use for something. Or a bit of stone that he could pound things with.
And then, perhaps, the attempt to make another one when the first one broke.
How did someone discover that when meat was cooked, it tasted better and was easier to eat? Who was the first man to rig up some kind of boat?
How did the men at England’s Stonehenge, using nothing but sticks and poles, move hunks of rock many miles to build their intriguing structures? Once in a while something slipped and someone got squashed.
Physical things appear to have come before writing, but this became necessary when trading began and there needed to be a way of keeping records. At the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea were the cities of Tyre and Sidon, and they developed alphabets that were different. No matter; they worked and accomplished what was necessary.
But the notable thing, as all of this happened over long periods of time, is that it began to come a little faster than it had been. Gutenberg, in Germany, developed moveable type, but it was some 200 or more years before the first crude typewriter appeared.
But only decades later came the linotype for setting type that could be re-melted and the metal used again.
This is skipping great blocks of all kinds of knowledge in all fields as inventions and discoveries built on the work of what had gone before to present even more new – and faster – ways of doing things. Faster, always faster. And spreading wider into new fields steadily.
And the same thing was happening in all fields of work and science. New discoveries. Faster, always faster.
In the mid-20th century came the first computer. Named The Eniac, it weighed tons and took up two rooms of wires and tubes. One “expert” of the day looked at it and said that five of these things would be all they would ever need.
Today, pre-school children have little keyboards and learn to operate them. The computer has shrunk in size to that of a pocket telephone, but parts of that are amazing in what they can do.
I read one time of a machine in The Boeing Co. that could handle 16,000 items at once. But those are not in the possession of ordinary people.
What is in our hands is a little whichit about the size and shape of a small Roma tomato. It can transfer data in a matter of a second. Mine still spits in my eye (they do that very well), but I have hopes of getting to learn to run it. They call it various names – flash drive, memory stick and others.
Stonehenge was not the beginning, but it is pretty far back.
Several years ago I was asked to talk to a college class about the printing process. But the students threw me when they asked me to speculate on what was likely to happen to the printing process.
And I am told there are new things coming. But don’t ask me about them. How can I speak about the future when I haven’t yet caught up with the present?
Elizabeth Widel is a columnist for
The Chronicle. This is the 2,850th column in a series. She may be reached at 509-826-1110.