Homo Sapiens and the Emergence of Technology

Kevin Kelly just knocks it out of the park with this brilliant essay on early man and “the world without technology.” Part of his forthcoming book on the origin and future of technology, he charts the beginning of tool-making and links the rise of language to the spread of humans around the world.

To really appreciate the effects of technology – both its virtues and costs — we need to examine the world of humans before technology. What were our lives like without inventions? For that we need to peek back into the Paleolithic era when technology was scarce and humans lived primarily surrounded by things they did not make.

Few writers in anthropology or sociology understand technology like Kevin, and few technology writers attempt his scope. The Technium is going to a pleasure to read.

If we do not know them all


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Either we do know all the varieties of beings which people our planet, or we do not. If we do not know them all -— if Nature has still secrets in the deeps for us, nothing is more conformable to reason than to admit the existence of fishes, or cetaceans of other kinds, or even of new species … which an accident of some sort has brought at long intervals to the upper level of the ocean.

—Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, 1870

Kevin Kelly outlines the history of the All-Species Project and the Encyclopedia of Life. Like Kevin, I see the “all-ist” nature of the project as crucial; the semantic shift from “catalog as many species as possible” to “catalog all life on earth” tips the endeavor from the simply monumental into the sublime.

Making a living on the web: 1000 true fans

You can always count on Kevin Kelly to sense the emerging dynamics of a system and crystallize his insight into a simple and compelling idea that he freely shares with everyone. Then this idea spreads into collective understanding such that it is hard to imagine how one actually viewed the issue beforehand. It’s almost uncanny how consistent this is.

Kevin is at it again with a recent blog post articulating a strategy for creatives to make money on the web through building and maintaining a moderately-sized patronage system, a model he calls 1000 True Fans.

…The long tail is a decidedly mixed blessing for creators. Individual artists, producers, inventors and makers are overlooked in the equation. The long tail does not raise the sales of creators much, but it does add massive competition and endless downward pressure on prices…Other than aim for a blockbuster hit, what can an artist do to escape the long tail?

Young artists starting out in this digitally mediated world have another path other than stardom, a path made possible by the very technology that creates the long tail. Instead of trying to reach the narrow and unlikely peaks of platinum hits, bestseller blockbusters, and celebrity status, they can aim for direct connection with 1,000 True Fans.

Definitely read the whole post for the full effect. I think Kevin’s observations and insights hold true not just for individual artists, but for a new generation of niche web services that are not necessarily designed to go viral and attract millions of users, but will instead leverage the 1000 true fans strategy to make a decent living for their creators. We are seeing this already with an explosion of small social networking sites, but I have a feeling there are many more of these human-scale services to come.