What If We Had to Start Over?

I've done a lot of writing that tries to explain how technology works, but the technology I write about has all developed over the past fifty years or so. I think we forget how much accumulated technological knowledge is required to make our world run the way it does. Start with a finished product we all use, like a house. How many of us could build a house, or even a simple shed, using whatever we find at a Home Depot? Then work backwards from there. What if you didn't have power tools but could buy all the materials needed to make an electric motor. Could you build one, even a crude one? Or how many of us could fell a tree with a handsaw without endangering our lives?

These are the thoughts that went through my head when I saw the following video, showing a young man who is first creating mud bricks, then using the bricks to make a kiln to fire clay tiles, all using materials found in the woods.

(Note: there's no narration--you can turn on captions for more information but it's easy to follow the idea without them.)

If something happened to our civilization and we needed to start over, this is the place where we'd begin, with the knowledge we can put to use with just those things found in nature. These ideas are foundational, both in the literal sense (bricks) and intellectually.

More broadly, we take the workings of the world for granted and forget how much knowledge we need to pass on from one generation to the next. Of course, no one person can absorb it all, but we must each learn and pass on as much as we can. I'd like to think I'm doing my part, but with programming for people all over the world, and with more general topics like mathematics and music with my daughter. How about you?

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