To be human is to adapt, whether we like it or not.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin

Over the long weekend I had an experience usually elusive to the working mother: going to the movies! We opted for Werner Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” a documentary about Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave in France and the spectacular cave drawings discovered there in 1994. This being Herzog, he uses the cave drawings as a mere jumping off place for exploring deeper issues, such as what it means to be human and the history (and possible future) of our planet.

At one point in the film he asks the chief archeologist “What is humanness?”. The gist of the answer was our ability to adapt to the world. Which struck a chord with my technological frame of reference.

Anyone using a computer has to deal with a ridiculous rate of  technological change, and thus must constantly adapt to new systems, programs, etc. The RATE of change is faster now than ever before, so the humans of this third millennium are truly testing the limits of our inherent adaptability.

In Chauvet Cave there is one panel with two drawings side by side. By carbon-dating the drawings they discovered that those two drawings were done 5,000 years apart. Five THOUSAND years apart. In 32,000 BP the drawing technology of choice was a burnt stick. Flash forward 5,000 years and the technology was… a burnt stick.

What luxury to have such a slow rate of change! How relaxed the cave people must have been! No need to stress about if a better version of charcoal will come out two days after you bought yours! Yes, early humans were masters at adapting, but they sure took their time about it.

Flash forward 30,000 years, and our technologies change rapidly and continuously, at an ever-increasing rate. We’re able to keep up, because we’re human. Do we like having to adapt and change? Definitely not. But are we still really good at it? Yes!

As much as we all hate change, it’s where we really shine as a species and we should celebrate that in ourselves. Technology doesn’t separate us from our ancient ancestors, it connects us, through our special gift of adaptability. Every time we learn a new operating system, or get a new phone, we are calling back through the eons to the first people who pulled sticks from the fire and walked, in the flickering light, toward the cave walls.

- Asha Kinney

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31. May 2011 by Asha Kinney
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