Old Technology, New Invention

Isaac Lavitt ’25


Imagine that you’re in a room. You see a clock, a collection of simple machines. Wheels, gears, levers, screws, and wedges fill this mechanical wonder as it ticks every second of the day. A ballpoint pen rests on your desk. This device, containing a spring and a rotating sphere in a socket, allows ink to flow onto many pages. As you observe, your phone buzzes in your pocket. This technological spectacle contains a myriad of lights, electric wires, and receivers. These are all ancient machines that have been rebooted into the modern age. Just as time turns on the clock’s hands, machines evolve. And it all started with the most complicated machine of all, us.

We are machines: a collection of moving parts powered by energy and triggered by electric signals. Our ‘processor,’ the brain, sends pulses down a large wire, the spine, to motors, our, muscles. We were the first machines, yet we were not satisfied with our bodies’ limitations. We needed tools.
When we think of ancient technology, the spear, the club, the hand axe, and the bow come to mind. These became extensions of our bodies and gave us added strength, precision, reach, and safety. We rested easier knowing that we could slay an animal that threatened our home or spear our prey from a safe distance. We could use the hand axe as a wedge and the club as a lever. This was the beginning of the innovation.

Necessity is the mother of invention. From the wheel, axle, and screw in ancient Mesopotamia, to the Greek bronze, and the Roman aqueducts, Mother Necessity fueled the continuous fire of ingenuity.

Scientists poured oil on that fire through the discoveries of electricity, the laws of gravity, particle theory, and physics. And that brings us to today.

Look back at the ballpoint pen on your desk. A lever that lets you extend the nib. A wedge lets you write with ease. Air pressure pushes the ink down the tube and the paper absorbs it through pores.

The clock on your wall, invented in the 1300s, has become accurate to the millisecond. Coming from 30 minutes of error in past centuries, we have invented the most accurate, and reliable timepiece in history. Quartz, atomic, and digital clocks have entered the ecosystem of invention and become more popular than the original mechanical device. That is what invention is. Modern technology is building off and eventually dwarfing the old.

Invention does not come from nowhere. It is history. We do not make modern technologies: we evolve old ones. When humans, generations from now, look back on our lives, we will look primitive, but then they will look back to their clock and remember that we are not too far away from them.

Photo Credit: Jeepika https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32368149

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