The Technium

Only One Machine

images-3Every organism on earth borrows its life from another at birth, and remains tied to the living for its growth and being. Both buttercup and butterfly trace their origins to a common ancestral disturbance, a shared impossibility we call life. This life has been immortal to date. Every living organism today, without exception, continues the journey of a cell that began dividing 4 billion years ago. Without interruption this cell has successfully replicated a trillion times. While the character of this cell has shifted and altered and split into a hundred million directions, it shares an original life which is forwarded every generation. You and I share the life of that immortal cell, known to science as the stem cell. We sheltered it in our gonads. This astounding cell will continue multiplying, reticulating as long as life perseveres.

Both ant and anteater are nodes in a network of tissue launched by that primeval cell long ago and made ever more distinguished and specific over the eons. All life today shares a constitution, each manifestation interacting in the same grand game of adaptation or death. The sparrow in the field is host to myriad parasites and billions of microbes under feathers, all small and dependent, but remarkably related to their host. Similarities between non-symbiotic life are less obvious but still present. The relentless push of life everywhere is identical. It is identical for a very good reason: there is only one life.

Likewise there is only one machine. When the blade of a knife carves the handle of an axe, and the axe shapes the beam of the bellows in the blacksmith’s fire, burning the ore into iron, then the tool no longer ends at its tip but extends into an enlarging circle. The hammer begets the anvil, the anvil the forge, the forge the plough, the plough the city. No tool stands alone; Each tool harbors other tools, birthed by opportunity.

Call that one tool which issues from our collective hand the technium. Just as a single unbroken line of life runs back through evolution, a single web of creation weaves all technologies together.

There is no hammer in my hand without the ecology of blacksmithing, steel forging, iron-mining, transportation and retailing. Take away computers and you take away modern pharmaceuticals. Injure space satellites and you kill petroleum engines which depend on global positioning for mapping new oil sources. The technology of the city would wither to ruins without the technology of agriculture feeding it. You cannot unhitch the technology of TV from the many hosts it depends on: radio, silicon transistors, LCD screens, cameras, artificial lighting, and electrical generation. When you pick up a piece of paper, you are picking up civilization.

The one life that streaks forward for 4 billion years is the same life that is present everywhere and in all living beings on this planet. The technium is the summation of all technology and culture on earth, and at the same time it is also the single improbable disturbance that began at the big bang and continues it constantly unfolding itself into more improbable forms.

  • Anthony


    Proof? No. But if it happened more than once, and more than one lineage has survived through today, there must have been enough horizontal gene transfer to make the two lines indistinguishable, or else the other lines are now so rare we haven’t seen them.

    Otherwise, why do all living things use the same 20 amino acids (only a handful of bacteria have learned to use a couple of additional ones), encode their DNA and RNA with the same codons, have cell membranes made of the same compounds, or have DNA, RNA, and proteins at all?

    Given all the ways life could have evolved, the profound similarity of all known life should be enough to suspect it only happened once, or else that only one lineage still survives on any large scale.

  • John

    Are you saying that all life started from one cell, that life has only happened once? think so? got any proof?