Non-Linear Technological Development

In “The Morning of the Modern Mind,” Wong concludes by highlighting the sometimes non-linear nature of technological advancement. She writes that “Tasmanians possessed a much more complex tool kit, one that included bone tools, fishing nets, and bows and arrows” several thousand years before the more recent Middle Paleolithic, who possessed “little more than basic stone flake tools” (Wong, 94). While she attributes this to the rising sea level cutting off the island to the mainland, this idea of non-linear progression prompted me to think about the ways that other technologies may have progressed non-linearly within the context of American culture.

After our demonstration of the telegraph in last week’s class, I thought about how the telegraph—essentially the original method of texting—infiltrated the U.S. long before cell phones did in 1973. Even with ability to talk live, we were still unable to text (until 1992). Although the telegraph and the first cell phone are separated by years of technological breakthroughs and social changes, it’s significant to point out that we have had the ability to text in one form or another since the 19th century.

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Although it may be bit of a leap (hopefully I’m not too off base), we can apply the past/present paradox that Renfrew discusses in “Mind and Matter: Cognitive Archaeology and External Symbolic Storage,” in some ways to this example. He asserts that modern representations of the past, like current hunter-gatherer societies, complicate “temporal” sequence (Renfrew, 4). In other words, technological breakthroughs are not always chronological in nature. And, we don’t always stop using a tool once a newer one has been invented.

In this way, the evolution of texting is more so “dependent upon matters of cultural context,” rather than a timeline (Renfrew, 4). Why and how we text to communicate today differs from what motivated us to use the telegraph. We never lost the ability to use the telegraph or the desire to communicate in symbols with each other over large distances, but those needs evolved to reflect advancements in modern American culture.

Even though the telegraph was the first representation of texting as a means of communication, our current texting capabilities “should not be regarded as living representatives” of the past (Renfrew, 4). Texting as we understand it today is not a direct representation of the telegraph, but we should acknowledge its foundational importance in the context of the history of communication.

To better understand the connection between past, present and future texting communication technologies, I want to focus on this quote: “Every culture has a “network architecture” that directs the flow of knowledge among individuals, institutions, and external memory devices” (Donald, 219). Technology is one of the ways that we can direct the flow of knowledge (i.e., the World Wide Web). The devices we have access to allow us to “engage many minds and their cognitive activities” through the act of “interlinking those minds…into large functioning networks” (Donald, 219). We are linked through the use of technological devices, like a cell phone, which bring us together both spatially and as a community to form a network.


Brustein, Joshua. (2015). “The Story Behind the First Cell Phone Call Ever Made.”, April 24.

Donald, Merlin (2007). “Evolutionary Origins of the Social Brain,” from Social Brain Matters: Stances on the Neurobiology of Social Cognition, ed. Oscar Vilarroya, et al. Amsterdam: Rodophi.

Irvine, Martin (2016). A Samuel Morse Dossier: Morse to the Macintosh, Demonstration of the Morse Telegraph: Electric Circuits and “A System of Signs.” Communication, Culture and Technology Program, Georgetown University.

Kelly, Heather. (2016). “OMG, the Text Message Turns 20. But Has SMS Peaked? –” CNN. Accessed September 13.

Renfrew, Colin (1998). “Mind and Matter: Cognitive Archaeology and External Symbolic Storage,” in idem and Christopher Scarre, Cognition and Material Culture: The Archaeology of Symbolic Storage, McDonald Institute Monographs (Cambridge, England: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research) 1-6.

Wong, Kate (2005). “The Morning of the Modern Mind.” From Scientific American. 292, no. 6: 86-95.