Technology is NOT what you think

It isn’t circuits or code…

What comes to mind when you think of technology?

Is it software and IT? Is it nanotechnology or machine intelligence? How about research or big data? Maybe it’s companies we label “tech giants” like Facebook, Apple, or Google.

The reason I bring this up is that I love technology and I think the more that people embrace what technology truly is, the better off mankind will be (more about this later).

Unfortunately, because it’s a two-bit word and moves fast, some perceive technology like a veil of mystery and confusion and that view keeps them from participating. We call the frameworks we use to develop software programming languages. What more separatist parlance could we have used! If you don’t speak the language, you might as well be in a soundproof bubble. You’re not conversant with what’s going on — or at least you feel that way.

Whether you feel deluged by the flood of nascent tech, or you’re a bona fide digital native, there’s a good chance you misunderstand the true nature of tech. That misunderstanding just might be holding you back.


So, here it is. End suspense. My definition of technology.

It’s an idea.

That’s it. Technology is just an idea. If you have better tech, you are measuring the results of one idea over another. The cool thing about this is that this definition means everything is technology — and the best idea wins. On page 8 of Zero to One (one of the best books of 2014 IMHO), @peterthiel writes, “Properly understood, any new and better way of doing things is technology.”

I like that. Simple, concise, and real. (Although the old and worse way of doing things is also technology, just inferior.) Here’s an example.

Atlatl replicas, Newfoundland and Labrador. Photo credit: elfshotgallery.blogspot.com

Ever see one of these bad boys? This little piece of technology has been around a long time. In fact, it’s thought to have originated at least 26,000 years before someone knocked the corners off a rock and invented the wheel. It’s called an atlatl. (Say that ten times fast.)

What does it do? It effectively makes your arm longer when you’re throwing spears, giving you beaucoup leverage and cranking up the velocity of your spear throwing. It’s a simple machine, but if a few meters makes the difference between dragging an antelope back to your cave or going hungry, it’s a pretty useful technology.

Technologies have continued springing up throughout our history. Things that we don’t have any appreciation for nowadays, but which were a pretty big deal in their time. Things like the heavy plow, crop rotation, metallurgy, pasteurization, the trebuchet, blood typing, penicillin, or neonatal medicine, for heaven’s sake. You get the gist.

Some of the best technologies were invented awhile ago, but we haven’t yet come up with anything better yet. For instance, in the 1602, the Dutch East India company issued stocks and bonds to the public. During the War of Independence, U.S. war bonds helped finance the revolution. Within 50 years of the time the New York Stock Exchange was created by a group of merchants meeting to trade stocks and bonds on Wall Street in 1792 (just three years after the U.S. Constitution went into effect); publibly traded stocks were clearly the best technology for financing companies.

Free market economics definitely beat Mercantilism and produced more wealth for more people than any previous economic philosophy. Democracy (not the Athenian variety) has worked out remarkably well, though not without flaws. Freedom of religion has been nice — even though the ten commandments are not new, using them to underpin principles of individual liberty and the rule of law has been really useful in the U.S.

So, why did I suggest that misunderstanding the nature and definition of technology might be holding you back? Because if you believe that all technology is software and semiconductors, you might be tempted to think that you aren’t at the cutting edge if that isn’t your thing. And that might prevent you from coming up with a better way to do something. Also, if you are in technology and your view is too narrow, you might miss an opportunity to create a software/other thing alloy that could change the world.

Remember, it’s just an idea. Create something better than what’s out there today. Then execute it, or pass it along to someone else who can and/or will.

One more quote from Peter Thiel, “Humans are distinguished from other species by our ability to work miracles. We call these miracles technology.” The answers to so many problems are occurring to people around the world. Believe and share and work and plan and solve and teach and create all you can… and make the world better.