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  Technology (Greek techne, ‘skill with hands’ + ology) is the application of scientific principles to the problems of everyday living. It is an ability of no other species but humans: a weaver-bird\'s nest or a honeycomb, for example, is constructed but not planned, and there is a perceptible difference in Nature between a finch using a twig to gouge insects out of bark and a human being devising a tool for the same purpose. Technology requires analysis of a practical problem, pondering of the principle(s) involved in solving it, and a combination of practical and intellectual inventiveness in devising means to applying that principle in the most elegant and least expensive way. (This last point explains why even the simplest gadgets, hammers, for instance, or bottle-openers are constantly being redesigned.)

Since the beginning of human history, technological activity has been a measure of the process of civilization. One can imagine a society without technology, but it could hardly be ‘advanced’ or long-lived. Some results of technology—ploughs, guns, the harnessing of electricity—are concerned with brute survival; others, writing is a prime example, more concern the intellectual environment. Of itself technology is morally and ethically neutral: modern ‘technofear’ is a projection on to inanimate systems of our incomprehension of how this or that gadgetry works, and our anxiety about controlling it. But the uses of technology can be bad as well as good. It is hard, for example, to make absolute judgements about the benefits or disbenefits to the human race of such things as the invention of high explosives, the internal combustion engine or television. Good or bad, however, technology is a central activity of human thought, a main function of human curiosity and ingenuity, and therefore one of the core activities that makes us, ‘Humans the Toolmakers’, what we are. KMcL

See also aerodynamics and aircraft; civil engineering; gearing systems; measurement; photography; prosthetics.Further reading James Burke, Connections.



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