No Technology Ever Dies

Kevin Kelly, an editor for Wired and Cool Tools, points out something that is both simple and profound. No piece of technology, once it becomes widely used, ever goes extinct. It doesn't matter if that technology has become obsolete. There are and always will be people who will continue to produce it. Robert Krulwich of NPR reports:

Nothing? I asked. Brass helmets? Detachable shirt collars? Chariot wheels?

Nothing, he said.

Can't be, I told him. Tools do hang around, but some must go extinct.

If only because of the hubris — the absolute nature of the claim — I told him it would take me a half hour to find a tool, an invention that is no longer being made anywhere by anybody.

Go ahead, he said. Try.

If you listen to our Morning Edition debate, I tried carbon paper (still being made), steam powered car engine parts (still being made), Paleolithic hammers (still being made), 6 pages of agricultural tools from an 1895 Montgomery Ward & Co. Catalogue (every one of them still being made), and to my utter astonishment, I couldn't find a provable example of an technology that has disappeared completely.


Link and Link via GearFuse | Photo: Archaeology.org

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The thesis was that nothing goes extinct, not that it is impossible to do it again even if you have a death wish. Technology can and does indeed go extinct.

The notion was not that it is impossible to replicate the technnologies but that they never cease to be used. Some things that once were widespread, could be replicated but have long ceased to be used are: using lead in wine as a sweetener, the use of woven asbestos table cloths, making and using radioactive toothpaste, and making ormolu. Nobody continues to produce them. They are extinct.

Some technologies are genuinely lost. For example, despite many theories, thus far nobody has replicated the technology that Stradivarius used to make his violins of incomparable tone. Lost. Extinct.
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damascus steel was actually re-invented/re-discovered by a metallurgist several years ago: http://projects.olin.edu/revere/Cool%20links/damascus%20sci%20amer%20jan%202001.pdf
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We should revive that whole gold an mercury thing. With modern ventilation it can't be any worse than powder coating and some other industrial processes. Just need the right safety equipment... Anyone up for the project? Link to instructables?

Greek Fire = napalm... The concept here is not the identical product but the technology/item itself. We don't use whale blubber for candles but we still have candles and if you want a whale blubber candle, you probably can find one somewhere between Japan and Hong Kong. Damascus steel specifically may be a lost recipe, but clearly we still make swords as close to it as we can...

And now with etsy and the internet, any niche recreationist group can enjoy their obscure retro art...

Oh, and the mud flats thing... yea, and we don't have horse archers as good as the mongols but we still have archers and horses and such... just not as talented...
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