Technology is a vastly interesting, frustrating, and empowering thing. When I was in San Diego, I visited the Museum of Man in Balboa Park and it got me thinking about how stone tools are used. Maybe you know, but there are at least two distinct types. One is called ground stone and include things like mortars and pestles. The second is flaked stone and includes project points, biface blades, scraping tools and a whole bunch of other things. There is not only the difference in use types but the stone type is different. Flaked stone tools are often made of a group of materials called Silicates. These are like flint, chalcedony, chert. Obsidian as a volcanic silica was easy to create different tools in as well. Way back when I found this piece I believe up in Oregon.
Hard to believe that dusty and dirty thing probably weighing in at 30 pounds can be used to make stylized and beautiful technology and art like this.
As my flintknapping instructor used to tell me within each piece of source material was a projectile point or knife blade struggling to get out. He had this system of “imagineering” what the finished thing would look like and then producing to that vision. Of course mine were usually referred to as footballs and I managed to break thousands of test points as I got them to the final point. John would laughingly tell me that the finished product must be broken in my desired state.
The main point here is though we learn by experimenting with technology and it teaches us whether its the difference in a pestle or a projectile point. It shapes us and we shape it and then the knowledge perhaps transfers and multiplies. Soon its not just the point that is shared but the tools, how to do it, what to do with it and its embodied in a new culture that will carry it forward with their own traditions.
The second big thing in this is change. No technology can remain static and as we have seen in the last few years; things that were borderline or edge devices have become mainstream and education and enterprises invest. One is the humble chromebook. Once thought the refuge of a group users that did not have particularly high requirements, the device is a bridge and is replacing more expensive devices in schools. Think back on the analysis of stone tools for a minute. People did not only need to know how to make it and how to use it they needed more. They needed to transfer this knowledge to succeeding generations. Chromebooks are doing that. Schools with perhaps tight budgets for technology find themselves making choices now that will be transferred to future generations. Basically, as my daughter’s school found out making thousands of chromebooks available meant that students could more easily utilize Google Docs and different education offerings that were included in the Google-fied school district. Some she told me were interesting and basic:
- Homework became easier to produce and share using a chromebook
- Chromebooks have great batteries. Perhaps she forgot the charging cable sometimes and the chromebook was able to last an entire busy day at school
- Resetting one was easy and she had to learn basic support because school staff were not always available
- Teachers and admin and faculty “ate their own dogfood” and classrooms were filled with everyone using them.
All of these basic things to me point at not just the use but the transmission of knowledge. The schools are investing in a cheaper technology swing that is sustainable. The MACs and iPads go away and a cheaper and more accessible device comes in. More can be procured and given with limited budgets.
As the hunter-gatherer soon learned you could not make a stunning projectile point with Quartzite, obsidian would also make a bad grinding stone unless you wanted pieces of glass in your food. Remember Obsidian is glass. That piece above was hurled out of a volcano that lost its mind. Classified as pyroclasic ejecta, this rock is suitable to make finely defined points but lacks in a suitable make up for grinding acorns.
Each thing has its use but the other factor is none of it stays the same. Everything changes at all times or it left behind. John told me to imagine the future state of the thing built and guide the hand that produced it. For me, its trial and error and always has been but to get to the desired state perhaps we have to experiment and find that silicate material that will work for us.