[PDF | 17,40 Mb] Rachael Ray Every Day – December 2018 – Download Magazine

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    Zhi, “paper,” signed by Sun Xiaoyun, a leading contemporary Chinese calligrapher, and dedicated to the author.

    To Marian:



    The human mind is often so awkward and ill-regulated in the career of invention, that it is at first diffident, and then despises itself. For it appears at first incredible that any such discovery should be made, and when it has been made, it appears incredible that it should so long have escaped men’s research.

    —FRANCIS BACON, Novum Organum, 1620




    CHAPTER 1:


    CHAPTER 2:


    CHAPTER 3:


    CHAPTER 4:


    CHAPTER 5:


    CHAPTER 6:


    CHAPTER 7:


    CHAPTER 8:


    CHAPTER 9:


    CHAPTER 10:


    CHAPTER 11:


    CHAPTER 12:


    CHAPTER 13:


    CHAPTER 14:


    CHAPTER 15:


    CHAPTER 16:


    CHAPTER 17:


    CHAPTER 18:









    The Technological Fallacy

    PRIGHT AND PIOUS PIERRE LE VÉNÉRABLE, PETER THE venerable, a twelfth-century monk from the Cluny monastery in France, visited Spain and observed that the Arabs and Jews there, rather than using animal skins, wrote even religious texts on leaves made from old clothes—what quality stationers today call “100 percent rag paper.” He recognized that this was a clear sign of a degenerate society.

    Throughout history the role of technology and people’s reactions to it have been remarkably consistent, and those who worry about new technology and its impact on society would do well to reflect on the history of paper.

    We tend to think of “technology” as referring only to the development of physical devices, mechanical in the nineteenth century, and now electronic. But the word can also be applied, as Merriam-Webster’s dictionary says, to any “practical application of knowledge.”

    Technological inventions have always arisen from necessity. Numerous inventions preceded paper. First came spoken language, then drawing, then pictographs, then alphabets, then phoneticism, then writing, and then paper. Paper was then followed by printing, moveable type, typewriters, machine-driven printers, and electronic word processors and the electronic printers that go with them. As needs present themselves, solutions are found. Every idea engenders a need for another. In this case, the original inventions—spoken and then written language—are not physical, man-made objects, and so are not “technology” in the traditional sense of the word. But the way they function in and influence society and history is like a technology—a founding technology. Speech was the wheel that eventually led to the cart that was paper.

    Studying the history of paper exposes a number of historical misconceptions, the most important of which is this technological fallacy: the idea that technology changes society. It is exactly the reverse. Society develops technology to address the changes that are taking place within it. To use a simple example, in China in 250 BCE, Meng Tian invented a paintbrush made from camel hair. His invention did not suddenly inspire the Chinese people to start writing and painting, or to develop calligraphy. Rather, Chinese society had already established a system of writing but had a growing urge for more written documents and more elaborate calligraphy. Their previous tool—a stick dipped in ink—could not meet the rising demand. Meng Tian found a device that made both writing and calligraphy faster and of a far higher quality.

    Chroniclers of the role of paper in history are given to extravagant pronouncements: Architecture would not have been possible without paper. Without paper, there would have been no Renaissance. If there had been no paper, the Industrial Revolution would not have been possible.

    None of these statements is true. These developments came about because society had come to a point where they were needed. This is true of all technology, but in the case of paper, it is particularly clear.

    As far as scholars can tell, the Chinese were the only people to invent papermaking, though the Mesoamericans may also have done so; because of the destruction of their culture by the Spanish, we cannot be sure. And yet paper came into use at very different times in very different cultures as societies evolved and developed a need for it and circumstances required a cheap and easy writing material.

    Five centuries after paper was being used widely by the Chinese bureaucracy, Buddhist monks in Korea developed a need for paper also. They adopted the Chinese craft, and took it to Japan to spread their religion. A few centuries later, the Arabs, having become adept at mathematics, astronomy, accounting, and architecture, saw a need for paper and started making and using it throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Spain.

    The Europeans initially had no use for paper until more than a thousand years after the Chinese invented it. It was not that they had only just discovered the existence of paper, however. The Arabs had been trying to sell it to them for years. But it was not until they began learning the Arab ways of mathematics and science, and started expanding literacy, that parchment made from animal hides—their previous writing material—became too slow and expensive to make in the face of their fast-growing needs.

    The growth of intellectual pursuits and government bureaucracy, along with the spread of ideas and the expansion of commerce, is what led to papermaking. But its international growth was a remarkably slow process. The use of printing presses, steam engines, automobiles, and computers spread internationally over far shorter periods of time than did paper.

    Paper seems an unlikely invention—breaking wood or fabric down into its cellulose fibers, diluting them with water, and passing the resulting liquid over a screen so that it randomly weaves and forms a sheet is not an idea that would logically come to mind, especially in an age when no one knew what cellulose was. It is not an apparent next step like printing, which various societies would arrive at independently. Suppose no one had thought of paper? Other materials would have been found. Improved writing material had to be found, because the needs of society demanded it.

    There are other important lessons to be learned from the history of technology—and other commonly held fallacies. One is that new technology eliminates old. This rarely happens. Papyrus survived for centuries in the Mediterranean world after paper was introduced. Parchment remains in use. The invention of gas and electric heaters has not meant the end of fireplaces. Printing did not end penmanship, television did not kill radio, movies did not kill theatre, and home videos did not kill movie theaters, although all these things were falsely predicted. Electronic calculators have not even ended the use of the abacus, and more than a century after Thomas Edison was awarded a patent for a commercially successful lightbulb in 1879, there are still four hundred candle manufacturers in the United States alone, employing some 7,000 workers with annual sales of more than $2 billion. In fact, the first decade of the twenty-first century showed a growth in candle sales, though the uses of candles have of course greatly changed. Something similar occurred with the manufacturing and use of parchment. New technology, rather than eliminating older technology, increases choices. Computers will no doubt change the role of paper, but it is extremely unlikely that paper will be eliminated.

    The history of technology also shows that Luddites always lose. The original Luddites were artisanal workers in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Britain who protested the loss of their skilled jobs to machines operated by low-wage, unskilled workers. Originally, the movement was active in a wide range of fields, including printing, but by the first decade of the nineteenth century, it was largely focused on the textile industry. It is uncertain why its proponents were called Luddites, but there was a mythical anti-machine rebel of the eighteenth century named Lud who, like Robin Hood, was said to live in Sherwood Forest. The Luddites opposed such technology as power looms, and they attacked mills, smashed machinery, and fought against the British Army. One mill owner was even assassinated, which led to the Frame Breaking Act of 1812, making it a capital crime to break machines. This eventually led to mass trials that crushed the movement.

    Today, the term Luddite is used to mean someone who opposes new technology. And those who rail against the use of computers today are truly heirs to the Luddites, because the machine that the Luddites originally opposed, the mechanical loom, could be programmed to weave in various patterns through the use of punch cards—an early mechanical forerunner of the computer.

    In his seminal work Das Kapital, Karl Marx said that the Luddites failed because they opposed the machines instead of the society. He observed: “The Luddites’ mistake was that they failed to distinguish between machinery and its employment by capital, and to direct their attacks, not against the material instruments of production, but against the mode in which they are used.”

    In other words, it is futile to denounce technology itself. Rather, you have to try to change the operation of the society for which the technology was created. For every new technology, there are detractors, those who see the new invention as destroying all that is good in the old. This happened when the written word started to replace the oral word, when paper began replacing parchment, when printing started to take work away from scribes—and it is still happening today, with electronics threatening paper. In all these cases, the arguments against the new technology were similar: the functioning of the human brain was imperiled, we would lose the power of our memories, human contact would be diminished, and the warmth of human engagement would be lost.

    These early outcries against technology went largely unheeded, much the same way warnings about computers are going unheeded today. It is true that the greater the aids to memory, the less we depend on our brain. But that does not mean that our minds are being destroyed. Illiterate people have better memories than literate people. But few would see that as an argument in favor of illiteracy. The introduction of the written word demonstrated that such aids, though they make us more dependent, also make us more powerful.

    You cannot warn about what a new technology will do to a society because that society has already made the shift. That was Marx’s point about the Luddites. Technology is only a facilitator. Society changes, and that change creates new needs. That is why the technology is brought in. The only way to stop the technology would be to reverse the changes in the society. Printing did not create the Protestant Reformation; the ideas and the will to spread them is what created printing presses. The Chinese bureaucrats and Buddhist monks were not created by paper. Paper was created for them.

    To argue that a technology somehow changed society would entail a technology that radically changed the direction of society. But this simply never happens. A technology that is intended to redirect society will usually fail. In fact, most technology companies do not introduce new technology but new ways to use ideas that already exist. They spend a great deal of time and money on market research—that is, determining where society already wants to go. Only once this direction is determined do they tailor a new product to meet that need.

    Not all technology is the future. Some technology succeeds in a changing society and some fails. And even when an idea is right, the machine that introduces it to the society may not be. Cai Lun did not invent paper, Gutenberg did not invent the printing press, Robert Fulton did not invent the steamboat, and Thomas Edison did not invent the lightbulb. Rather, these were people who took existing ideas or machines that were not suiting society’s needs and reworked them into technologies that did. It says something about our world that we seldom remember the person who came up with an idea, but canonize the pragmatist who made it commercially viable. Already we have forgotten the people who created most of the important computer concepts and instead celebrate the people who became rich on them.

    Another important lesson is that technology usually becomes less expensive over time, as well as more accessible and of lower quality. Paper is far less expensive now than it used to be, but eighteenth-century paper was of much better quality than nineteenth-century paper, which in turn was better than much of today’s paper.

    For more than a thousand years, papermaking was the mark of civilization: an advanced civilization was one that made paper. When the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés arrived in the New World in 1504, he was extremely impressed by the Aztecs. They had built the largest city in the world and were advanced in mathematics and astronomy, but it was their papermaking ability that most impressed him. To the Spaniard, a society that made paper was an advanced civilization.

    Using the paper test as the mark of civilization yields a surprisingly different but not inaccurate picture of history. In this version, civilization begins in Asia in 250 BCE and spreads to the Arab world. For centuries, the Arabs were the world’s dominant culture, while the Europeans were among the most backward people on Earth. They didn’t read, they had no science, and they could not do simple math; even when tracking their own commerce, they had no need for paper. The “barbarians” who destroyed Rome in the fifth century were still barbarians in the eleventh century.

    Most historians today emphasize that the “Dark Ages” were not nearly as dark as they were said to be. But it is irrefutable that the Europeans were far behind the Asians and Arabs in many ways. Christians had not reached the intellectual level of Muslims and Jews. This became obvious when the Christians took over Muslim Spain, destroying the civilization of Muslim al-Andalus, and when they systematically destroyed one of the most advanced civilizations in the world in Mexico, suppressing their language, religion, and culture, and burning their books.

    When Europe finally began to develop, it did not do so in the geographic order that many today might assume it did. Italy developed from the south up, starting with Sicily. Ireland developed far ahead of England. Much of Europe also progressed by adopting Arab ideas, especially in the areas of mathematics, science, and accounting. Later in history, Europe’s leap forward, to a position ahead of its Arab and Asian competitors, was facilitated by moveable type, a Chinese invention. The Europeans could make that invention work for them because, unlike the Asians and Arabs, they had an alphabet that was well suited for moveable type. This also meant that Europeans got to write history the way they wanted it to be read.

    THE IMPORTANCE OF the written word can be seen in the number of religions that have sacred texts, and in how often it is claimed that a god wrote these texts. The Egyptians believed that the ibis-headed Thoth, the scribe of the gods, gave humanity the gift of writing. For the Assyrians, it was Nabu, the god of writing. The Maya believed that Itsama, the son of the creator, invented writing and books. Sacred texts were distributed on a variety of writing materials prior to the invention of paper, and some, such as the Jewish Torah, are still preserved handwritten on animal skin.

    But it is worth remembering that despite the importance of religion and culture, and science and mathematics, one of the greatest motivators for technological inventions, then as now, is the pursuit of money. The written language, paper, and computers were all developed to facilitate the expansion of business.

    In his celebrated work The Question Concerning Technology, Martin Heidegger asserts that technology is “a means to an end,” and then goes on to assert that even more than a means to an end, “Technology is a way of revealing.”

    According to Heidegger, to understand this we need to ask what causes a technology to be developed. All technology starts with an original, brilliant idea that future inventions simply help to reveal. In this sense, the automobile is a further exploration of an original great idea—the wheel. And paper is also a development from a great primary invention—written language.


    Chapter 1


    HAT DO HUMANS DO THAT OTHER ANIMALS DO NOT (aside from the curious observation by Pliny the Elder in the first century CE that “only man has ears that do not move”)? Much is made of our opposable thumbs, but many animals do quite well without them, carrying, climbing, and otherwise going about their lives with teeth, claws, or tails. Indeed, the skill with which a cat uses its claws to snatch food from an inattentive human’s plate suggests that thumbs may at times be overrated; though it is true that paws are not much good for typing.

    The ability to build and change one’s environment is not a uniquely human trait either. Beavers build dams that completely alter rivers and their banks and surrounding life. Neither are humans uniquely violent. Most ants spend their lives at war. Other animals, such as wolves and cats, laugh, joke, and play, just like humans do. Their sense of humor and play may have developed during evolution to hone certain survival skills, but the same may be true of us. Nor is communication uniquely human. A variety of animals—including some insects, wolves, monkeys, porpoises, and whales—communicate with sounds, sometimes even by composing music.

    But there is one truly unique human trait: people record. They record their deeds, their emotions, their thoughts, and their ideas . . . they have an impulse to record almost everything that enters their minds and to save it for future generations. And it is this urge that led to the invention of paper. Other recording devices such as stones, clay, boards, barks, and skins existed before paper, but once paper was developed, its advantages made it dominate.

    Dard Hunter, the great American paper historian, wrote that human development could be divided into three “stepping stones”: speaking, drawing, and printing. It is curious that he left out writing, but in the long stretch of human development, the few thousand years’ separation between the emergence of writing and the emergence of printing seems like only an instant. Human beings have existed for between 3.5 and 5 million years, depending on what stage is recognized as human, but only started writing about 5,000 years ago. This means that humans spent 99.9 percent of their history without writing; in addition, during most of their brief literate phase, only an elite few actually knew how to read and write.

    Using the general definition of technology to mean a practical application of knowledge, humankind’s first technologies—basic tools and speech—seem to have developed at the same time. Th


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