When our distant ancestors moved up the food chain past mere survival and protection to enhancing their physical surroundings - scratching lines onto sticks, chipping stone into tools and adorning the cave walls creatively - they were engaging in what French anthropologist Andre Leroi Gourhan has deemed a significant turning point in the history of humanity: taking our mental thoughts and exteriorizing and amplifying them into physical form. The result? Our lives improved and our powers expanded. "Our most basic instincts have been driving us to climb higher and higher ever since," observed Stefano Marzano when he was CEO & Chief Creative Director of Phillips Design (he's currently Chief Design Officer at Electrolux) in a really interesting essay "The Culture of Ambient Intelligence".
"Simply surviving is not enough," he continues. "We want to become invincible, immortal and essentially demi-gods - at all costs and as our top priority. This deep-seated human longing is widely reflected in myths and legends, and popular culture: in the Faust story, for instance, and in Superman, and Bionic Woman. It is also reflected in many religions, where gods or goddesses are often seen as all-powerful and in essentially human form." Our drive to be everywhere, do and know everything, enjoy more power - and all accomplished with a minimum of effort and maximum of comfort - lies at the heart of our collective wanderlust. While airplanes are considered passable because they can take us most places, Marzano notes that if flying was less like cattle transport and more like what a bird experiences, it would be far closer to the ideal. And being beamed around Star Trek style, would, of course, be the ultimate.
And this trio of wishing to be superhuman, desiring omniscience and craving comfort is what drove once-giant clocks to became slim wristwatches, phones & audio systems to be crammed into smart gadgets and room-filling computers to be slipped into a stylish sleeve - all manifestations of this extremely long-legged trend of Miniaturization. "Many of the devices that we have created to exteriorize and expand our powers will make the journey back inside us - and become effectively re-interiorized," he adds. "But why are we driven in this way? Simplifying, I believe, exists because we want to survive, to attain the highest possible levels of comfort and freedom, and to make sense of the world. Today, the means may be different, but the goal of our activities is the same: Empowerment through comfort, freedom and simplicity."
- Lesley Scott
(images via Phillips; Lascaux cave painting via Wikipedia)