Living in the electronic age…

Published 2:02 pm Thursday, April 29, 2010

The idea of teenagers developing carpal tunnel syndrome from texting got me to thinking more about what progress is doing, and perhaps undoing.

I’m sure that some folks have been concerned about progress in each age that we have gone through, from the bronze age to iron age to whatever age to which historians may assign us, and the concerns, even from the bronze age, have not been without merit.

Anyone who watches the History Channels probably has seen one of the programs that tells us, in a sort of an aside, that we can’t make bronze today of the quality that was made during the bronze age. Yes, we make basic bronze, but archaeologists and historians tell us that something is missing because today’s bronze isn’t as good in some ways as at least some of the bronze produced during the bronze age.

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Every so often, one of the programs will have another aside mentioning that we, today, don’t have the same technology as some age in the past, a technology that for some tasks or materials is better than we can do today.

Then there all the libraries that have been lost over the centuries containing who knows what knowledge that is no longer with us, knowledge that might make us better, stronger or any of another many things.

The loss of some of this knowledge may even be behind a recent series on the History Channel seeking to show that space aliens may once have been among us and advising some of the ancients on how to do certain things. Of course, the proof of that, if it happened, or even proof that such visitations weren’t necessary, may be among the knowledge lost with the destruction of some of the ancient libraries, the most famous of which was the one at Alexandria, and among the most recent of which was one in Turkey destroyed shortly after the end of World War I.

Apparently, as we progress in some areas, we regress in others, the old story of taking one step forward only to lose other steps to the rear.

Once, when I essentially cut off a finger while making a fishing rod, I had to go through some physical therapy after the finger was reattached. During the process, the physical therapist told me that I was fortunate that the cut had not been at another location in my hand because I was missing a particular tendon.

I asked her what she meant and she told me that as people moved away from riding horses, through evolution, in some of us a particular tendon no longer developed in our hands. For those fortunate enough to still have the tendon, if damage was done elsewhere in the hand, that tendon could be moved to replace one that was destroyed.

I have to wonder, if, through the evolutionary process, the arrangement of other tendons that leads to carpal tunnel syndrome won’t itself change and that painful condition essentially disappear.

More than that, I wonder what other knowledge, or even body parts, we are leaving behind on our march into the future. What benefit did the appendix provide in some ancient age?

With all the keyboards we use today, may we be in danger of losing the ability to simply write with pen and pencil? That’s not an idle question. Think of the use of calculators that has become common in some math classes.

Through the use of calculators, has not the ability to do math in the mind become less common. Think of the last time you went to the store and a cash register malfunctioned and the clerk had a problem making change because he or she depended on the cash  register to provide the information about how much in change was owed.

In materials, through the use of plastics, have we lost, or are in danger of losing, the formulations of other materials or the means of using them.

One of the things mentioned on the program wondering about the existence of space aliens in our past was a thing called the “Baghdad battery,” a simple device from a few thousand years ago for producing at least a weak flow of electricity. The program’s producers were able to produce such a battery, but was what they produced true to the technology. I don’t think that even they know.

The bigger question is, what happened to electrical production from that day to the modern day when scientists rediscovered electricity, the source of much of the industrial power for our world.

Knowledge is a fragile thing, and obviously so are the libraries that contain it, so the questions remain: What are we losing, what have we lost. How many steps forward have we taken and how many have we taken backward?