Historically, in the relationship between human culture and
technology, cultural evolution has lagged behind the pace of technological
innovation. Technology is the human solution to fulfilling human needs. As
these needs change, new technologies will supplement the old ones; inevitable
changing the culture which created it, resulting in a co-evolution of technology
and culture; and impacting the future of their culture. The disparate rate
of cultural vs. technological evolution has consequences which cloud the prospect
of the future of the human race unless we change the historical blueprint
and try to thwart our disposition towards ignoring the responsibility we have
today for the world we will live in tomorrow.
Cultural evolution is the nature of human interaction, their relationship
with the environment and the immediate and long term trajectory of these interactions
as influenced by inherited knowledge, lifestyle and customs is how a culture
adapts itself to the progress within and around it. Morgan "saw the history
of human cultures as a progression from savagery, through barbarism to civilization"
(Chant 54). This progression was inevitably caused by technology.
Technological innovation is increasing human mastery over resources and sources
of energy. Technology has developed because of humans' "fear of death
that our consciousness keeps lurking in the background". Technology historically
has given solutions to the problems of survival by creating more efficient
ways to get food and energy. However, after humans establish themselves at
the top of the food chain, although the threshold between survival and comfort
is unclear; human focus shifts from brute survival and to fulfilling luxurious
wants. As a result of this drastic change in human culture, the focus of technology
becomes satisfying these new secondary needs.
However, the creation of technologies which transcend the rudimentary is not
possible without social stratification. Social stratification is only possible
after humans are not in immediate danger of extinction Social stratification
occurs when resources are limited, and as a result of as a result of agricultural
surplus/taxes (Erlich 265). The smaller the number of people in a culture
devoted to food production, the more people have the free time and in which
to develop it. Technological advances in turn encourage a classed society;
"it is not by chance that today the global maps f illiteracy and poverty
so nearly coincide"(Erlich 268). So the more technologically advanced
a society is, the more stratified it is, but technology has other consequences
The domino effect of technology can be divided into two different categories,
macroevolution and microevolution. Erlich defines cultural macroevolution
as, "the shaping of cultural trajectories by environmental factors"(
260); and microevolution as, "change driven by the internal dynamics
of societies mixed with historical contingency and chance"(Erlich 269)
Other examples of cultural microevolution are "technological advances
and new trade and political movements"(Erlich 269) Technologies will
inevitable change the cultures that create them, resulting in a co-evolution
of technology and culture; and impacting the future of their culture. The
main idea is that microevolutionary events have macroevolutionary consequences.
Technology does not exist in a vacuum. Technology develops to fulfill cultural
needs. "The technological activity of city-building is embedded in social,
political, religious and environmental contexts peculiar to the region"
Chant 48 "Nomads developed technologies suited to their mobile way of
life" Chant 53). Cross cultural sharing of technologies can lead to unexpected
results. If a technology comes from within a culture, it is more suitable
for that culture than a foreign innovation. For example, when the Inuit started
using guns to hunt seals, they quickly died out. This culture could not foresee
the long term implications of this new technology.
Each culture develops technologies to meet what it perceives as it's "needs"
and the impact of these technologies impact supercedes their utility. "Man
has wants which he likes to regard as 'needs'. He has basic physiological
needs for food and drink. He has other elementary wants for clothing and heating.
Finally he has, as it were, 'high standard' wants, like reading listening
to music, traveling, and amusing himself"(Cipolla 35).
Early human technologies maximized human efforts:
"working stone, preparing primitive tools and taming the dog...and fire,
man merely increased his efficiency to exploit the two groups of biological
converters, plants and animals. In this situation, the 'economy' could expand
without prejudice to its future prosperity only up to the point at which annual
destruction of animals and plants equaled the rate at which plants and animals
were replacing themselves. Any expansion beyond this crucial point could take
place only at the cost of contraction in the future. To break this bottleneck
man had to learn how to control and increase the supply of plants and animals
or to discover new sources of energy."(Cipolla 43).
However, the advent of agriculture and industry made it possible to support
larger populations. Before, early Technologies served to increase the efficiency
of human energy. The advancement of energy use leads to the development of
The individual circumstances of any people will determine what technologies
they need and which ones they develop. The culture will dictate how technologies
are used and therefore what the consequences are. For example, the United
States is the top consumer of fossil fuels in the world. One reason is widespread
use of cars which is possible by low car and fuel prices. In other countries,
people do not drive a lot because they cannot afford cars or fuel; or there
are not enough roads, or there are adequate and affordable methods of public
transportation. Because the United States is a car culture, the carbon dioxide
emissions of the United States average twenty metric tons per capita . The
United States are contributing to global warming, going to war for oil, and
filling up landfills. This is demonstrative of a vulture which has not even
signed the Kyoto pact.
Perhaps this is because Americans, like most humans who invent a technology,
they are concerned with an immediate need and have the mindset that this technology
will serve them a long time; as a result, the long term ramifications or feasibility
this new technology are overlooked; until they become an immovable part of
Many early technologies if not still in use today were the precursors to modern
ones. In For examples, "Nomads developed technologies suited to their
mobile way of life" (Chant 53). Drower describes how early farming in
northern Africa and the middle east relied on water technologies, including
learning how to take advantage of natural river flooding. Some examples of
early technology are wells or cisterns, which made possible the intensification
of land use (agriculture). Ultimately any new technology becomes a part of
people's lifestyle and both this technology and its corresponding lifestyle
becomes a permanent part of a culture. Humans allow the increasing environmental
pressure caused by agriculture and industry leads humans threshold develop
a new technology to push the threshold of production up a notch. In feminist
theory, a technological solution to a cultural problem is known as the Tech
It is easier to just change technologies than to reform a culture. This is
supported when the course of human history shows that it is easier to adapt
new technologies to solve our problems than it is to change the circumstances
which create these problems in the first place. Microevolution and macroevolution
and technologies are a continuous, intertwined cycle.
The interaction of culture and technology is a cycle. One technology can arise,
and become a part of a culture, change this culture, and create a new void
which a new technology must fill. As populations grow, human trend is to live
in areas in which finding food was more labor intensive- this is drove the
invention of new technologies. Technology changes the environment, then we
need technology to adapt to the new environment. Ex- tech fix. Sometimes the
cycles seems to reverse "progress", as in the case of Easter Island,
even regression. But this was progress, since people adapted new lifestyle
to environmental factors.
The pressure on the environment in turn increases the dependence on technology.
Two of the "Cultural evolutionary responses to the pressures of population
growth" are "intensification of resource extraction
centralization and bureaucratic stratification(required to deal with ever
larger populations of people), the spread of birth-control practice and technologies,
and migration" (Erlich 278). In an interview on NPR, Erlich says that
knowledge about environmental issues will lead to development of new technologies.
He also stresses that we as a culture, have to take responsibility for microevolution.
One example he gives is that the government should take steps to promote green
technologies and make them affordable, overlooking the short term financial
considerations to insure future economic sustainability. But this is not happing
yet. Our economic systems are not capable of adapting to the fast rate of
environmental change. Human culture and behavior adapts to the current population
density; when the population balloons, behaviors and culture are slower to
change than human capacity to employ new knowledge.
Culture lags behind the rate of technological evolution this has macroevolutionary
circumstances. This was the case on Easter Island. The main staple of this
society's culture, a slow growing tree, was a resource which was not replenishing
itself at the rate it was being consumed. This cultural addiction to non-renewable
resources; or disregard of replanting trees becomes so ingrained in a culture
that it is almost blind to the fact that this is will not be possible in the
future. Easter Island was an isolated location, but today, we have a 'global
economy' and environmental resources are no longer locally controlled. If
indeed, the underlying human trait is that we fear death, (find source) "how
to keep national and transnational societies that are organized around free
markets from destroying humanity's life support systems? Has human culture
evolved from the social small groups to the global community and economy of
In conclusion, historically there is no trend to show that humans will change
their cultures to adapt to the limited resources the environment naturally
provides. It is easier to develop new technologies than to change the cultures.
The earth has reached the threshold, of human life that can be supported;
in order to survive, humans need to take a two fold approach- the industrialized
world needs to put into practice green energies; and all human cultures need
to anticipate the macroevolutionary consequences of the daily culture and
lifestyle. Choices need to be made, keeping sustainability in mind. History
has shown that human law, religion, government and policy greatly influence