How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson

Random knowledge is sort of my thing. I am somewhat fixated on knowing a little about a lot. The world is so vast and there is so much information out there.

Though we may deem some knowledge as random, no knowledge is truly random when you pull back far enough. Everything is interconnected in some way and many times they are connected in very unexpected ways.

In How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson you get a fascinating image of our world. The butterfly effect is a popular notion used to describe how one seemingly arbitrary event can have a significant impact across the planet. Johnson, however, uses a more accurate and more powerful notion: the hummingbird effect. As he puts it, we can understand a world with flowers but no hummingbirds, but we cannot comprehend a world with hummingbirds but no flowers. The anatomy of a hummingbird exists because the flower exists, the flower does not depend on the hummingbird.

Technology is similar to a hummingbird, most technologies could not exist without something else. Ideas for computers, batteries, and engines have been around for ages but without existing technology the ideas had to stay dormant.

This book is flat out one of the most interesting books I have ever read. It is amazing how simple ideas have given way to technological revolutions. It is amazing to see how much technology has evolved in a matter of two centuries. For millennia light only came in one form: fire. For millennia information only travelled at the speed of a man’s gait. For millennia a man never saw his reflection. Today, that and so much more has changed.

It is so easy to forget how simple innovations have changed the world, and it is easy to forget how much the world has changed.