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Technology and Invention

We must redefine two special words often spoken as synonyms—technology and invention.

Technology is something that, once released, never disappears. An invention is something that, once invented, is destined to be “un-invented” or made obsolete. We can say with confidence that inventions like the iPhone or Facebook will be rendered archaic, replaced by something fresh which will again be made obsolete by something fresher.

Contrast this with technologies, which, from their inception, only grow in power, utility and necessity. They are rare; so much so that entire generations pass without witnessing a new one emerge. Primitive man lived a life of constant repeats of the same. In their early stages, it’s difficult to recognize them because they’re not immediately useful. There is a stability in this ignorance: It doesn’t provide the tribe immediate benefit to direct attention toward an ultra powerful tool that has the potential to unwind the existing hierarchy.

Some examples of inventions include the camera, microwave, birth control, satellite, airplane, GPS and smartphone. The invention is fueled by the company. The spread of an invention is rapid. When directed by a central party, operations can be refined and scale faster. But as we’ve seen with these inventions (and companies), failure can be as quick as success. Inventions are rarely a hindrance to cooperation, as the market is defined by choice and variation. Because they’re a product, consumers can select different “types” of cameras or smartphones without making an explicit error. A consumer’s selection of a certain company’s product does not hinder their ability to cooperate (or conflict) with individuals who select a different one. For example, if the governments of two warring nations prefer different smartphone carriers, it would never hinder the potential for a peace treaty—but it also wouldn’t provide a significant advantage in total war.

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