Background – Writing About Technology
When we think of writing about technology, inevitably a lot of us think of computers and such. But if you go back in time, what’s the cutting edge tech? And if you’re writing about a primitive people off earth, their development should probably be similar.
Types of Technology
Writing about technology inevitably means going into a few basic categories. Of course, there are plenty of other types of tech. But the earlier you go, the more basic they become. You can divvy them up more or less this way.
Agriculture and Animal Husbandry
When we go very far back, your writing about technology may very well involve paragraphs about domesticating animals. The creation of towns (and, eventually, cities) goes hand in hand with agriculture. For hundreds if not thousands of years, the most sophisticated tech people knew about was probably grain milling.
When does language come about? How about writing? What happens when people start to carry messages for each other? How about when they start telling and writing stories?
From the telegraph to the walky-talky, communications tech is some of the most familiar tech to most people.
Do your characters have antibiotics? What about anesthetics? Do they use leeches, or pray for cures? Are they bleeding people, or beating the so-called demons out of the mentally ill? And do they realize the importance of hygiene?
Also, take into account the differences between midwives and doctors, from about 1850 and earlier. Why did so many higher class women die in childbirth? Because (in general) doctors would go from autopsy to birth and not wash their hands. But midwives did one thing very well—and they would wash their hands.
Metallurgy and Toolmaking
Of course, tools predate metallurgy. But eventually, someone starts to notice that there are some rocks which give off shiny substances when they get too close to the fire. Who made the leap of logic to melting those shiny substances down and making something from them?
This dovetails, at least in part, with domesticating animals. Transportation speed is also vital because it can get materials to people faster (or more slowly). This might make a difference in other inventions. Imagine an inventor dying because the medicine didn’t arrive in time.
Like it or not, it’s an enormous part of our lives. When people graduated from rock throwing to spears, what did they dream of making?
You will need to do much more in-depth digging than I have done here. But these should get you started in writing about technology in history. These are down and dirty, mostly from Wikipedia (yeah, I know, I know. This is for illustrative purposes and not scholarship!). You should go to primary sources instead.
In the Year … 1900
If you’re writing about technology at the turn of the last century, then you’re probably writing about trains. Penicillin doesn’t happen until the 1940s. Cars and airplanes are from the first decade. And in the 50s and 60s, we even start to go to space.
Writing About Technology In the Year … 1800
It’s the start of the nineteenth century. President Washington has just died. What sort of tech are people using? The horse and carriage (or wagon). To communicate, they are writing letters or sending messages with people. Pony Express? Not until 1860.
The US Civil War is probably the first truly modern war. There was trench warfare, and they invented the submarine. But soldiers with crushed limbs would get field amputations. At least ether existed, and it was already used in the 1840s. But if you think they had enough to go around…
In the Year … 1600
Let’s skip a century. The further you go back, less happens and there are fewer inventions. So, Queen Elizabeth I is nearing the end of her reign and life. But hey, how ‘bout that Italian Renaissance?
The first known opera premiers. In about 1606, Galileo invents a thermometer based on the expansion of gas.
In the Year … 1200
This is just after the Renaissance of the 12th century. It’s the end of a period called the High Middle Ages. In the 1210s, Genghis Khan mobilizes his troops, preparing for war with China.
In the Year … 1000
We’re just starting the High Middle Ages. And one vital piece of tech has been invented but isn’t in wide usage yet—the compass.
In the Year … 700
We’re around 47 years before the birth of Charlemagne. And about 18 years after the Eastern Roman Empire started using Greek Fire in warfare.
In the Year … 500
It’s not too long after the Roman Empire collapses in the west. It’s about 8 years after Aryabhata, an Indian astronomer and mathematician, calculates pi to the fourth digit.
Writing About Technology In the Year … 200
The Roman Empire is threatening to split up (and it does, in 286). It’s about 10 years after Greek astronomer Cleomedes teaches that the moon’s light is a reflection.
In the Year … 1 BCE
The Emperor Claudius takes a wife named Livilla (spoiler alert—it doesn’t go well). It’s about 10 years after the Aeneid is published.
In the Year … 400 BCE
Greek engineers invent the catapult! And London is just about being founded.
Writing About Technology In the Year … 700 BCE
In China, the minister of agriculture is teaching crop rotation to the peasants.
It’s been less than 50 years since the founding of Rome. And money is starting to become a thing.
In the Year … 1000 BCE
David is about to become the king of the United Kingdom of Israel. This is when the Phoenician alphabet was invented.
In the Year … 2000 BCE
Horses are first being tamed. And the last woolly mammoth goes extinct.
In the Year … 5000 BCE
In China, people are starting to cultivate rice. And in Africa, herders are starting to move into the Nile Valley.
Writing About Technology In the Year … 6000 BCE
Cultures are starting to make wine. And in Poland in 5500, people start to make cheese.
In the Year … 7000 BCE
Some people are starting to domesticate pigs (although the earliest period is about 6,000 years before this). They are making bread.
Jericho becomes a 3,000-person settlement—probably the biggest ‘city’ of the time.
In the Year … 8000 BCE
About 10,000 years ago, people were planting crops—but the potter’s wheel hasn’t been invented yet.
In the Year … 10,000 BCE
Agriculture is starting. But pottery is already pretty old. Jericho is founded in about 9600 BCE.
Writing About Technology In the Year … 12,000 BCE and Earlier
The goat is first domesticated. Sheep are domesticated about a thousand years before. The first evidence of warfare is from 2,000 years previously. Right about then (14,200 BCE), we have evidence of the earliest known domestic dog. In about 20,000 BCE, pottery is invented in China.
And in about 50,000 BCE we have the first evidence of sewing needles.
Not too much earlier than this, and modern humans are hanging around with Neanderthals.
Writing About Technology: Takeaways
All of the little things we take for granted were dreamt up by someone. Do your research when writing about technology, so you don’t accidentally introduce anachronisms. And have some fun with it!Writing About Technology #amwriting Click To Tweet