On Advances in Technology
Updated: Nov 1, 2018
The first car my father owned, the one I recall from my earliest childhood, was a, by then, very aged 1934 Singer 11 Saloon. It was nicknamed "Leaping Lena" after a famous stunt car of the same era. It was a very old car when my father owned it (the black car in the photo, that's me on the right), and its mode of advance was indeed one of leaping and leaning. It had spoke-wheels, and in order to start the engine it had to be manually cranked from the base of the grill. I recall it rolling backward down a steep hill and on one occasion, one of the front doors fell off in mid-drive.
Cars have advanced somewhat since then in capability, though, in my eyes, modern vehicles have fallen way behind in design. Technological advances have entirely changed the lives we live today, much more extensively and more rapidly than in the past. For a child growing up in the twenty-first century, the 1950's and 60's must seem a lot more distant than my father's or even grandfathers generation seemed to children of mine. I recently saw the film of a trial carried out on a group of mystified schoolchildren who were given cassette recorders (the type that first appeared in the 1960s and was in use as recently as the beginning of the present millennium), and were asked to work them. They had no idea what to do.
Although at a far slower rate, changes were constantly occurring in the more distant past as well. In the Middle Ages there were many ground-breaking innovations in agriculture and industry. In some of these, the crusader states were at the forefront: in the evolution of castle design, for example, in the development of weaponry and armour, and in industry, most famously perhaps, in the development of sugar refining. One example was the introduction of little clay tripods used to separate glazed ceramic bowls in a kiln during the firing process. Without them, vessels had to be placed individually in the kiln during firing so that they would not stick to one another. This innovation allowed potters to stack large numbers of bowls in the kiln, each separated from the others by a tripod. As a result, much larger numbers of vessels could be fired in a single firing than was previously possible. This innovation boosted the industry of the kingdom of Cyprus to the forefront of Mediterranean ceramic production in the thirteenth century.
Like most technological achievements in the crusader states, these tripods were not an invention of the Latin settlers. This was an adaptation of technology originating in the Far East. But like other innovations, they applied it so effectively that it achieved huge success. It is often not so much in the ability to think of something new, as in the understanding of how to make the most of it, that real advances are made. The Latin settlers in the Levant appear to have understood this.