We have an utterly fucked up idea of what counts as technology. Something that projects many of our biases including gender, and race.

To many these days it's only technology if it's electronic, and used by western men. But to take such a narrow definition is to ignore the amazing technology that surrounds us, and upon which our society is built. As such. It's time for a thread. I'm gonna talk about two different items you use every day, and the technology that goes into them.



Unless you happen to be sat naked on a warm beach somewhere, you're probably wearing clothes as you read this. Have you ever stopped to think about how we got to the very probably woven cotton clothing you're wearing right now ?

Archimedes said there are three basic machines, the lever, pulley, and screw. In the renaissance the wheel and axle, the wedge and the inclined plane were added to the list. But I think something else should be added, a discovery that changed humanity.



Without string, or as some call it, cordage, we would be a lot colder today, and wouldn't be able to build many of the great structures and machines that make up modern life.

When Otzi the iceman was found in the Italian Alps, he had clothing and equipment which used lots of different types of cord from multiple different materials. One of the earliest cords was simple sinue taken from dead animals. This is an interesting material to sew with, but it's strong and quite durable.


The next big technological development in the world of string was to twist fibres together. The bow string on Otzi's bow was made of sinue fibres twisted together. This allows for a strong longer than the raw material, but also stronger. Much stronger. There more to twisting fibres than you might think tho. If you twist a set of fibres one way to make a cord, and do that a few times, then twist those cords together the opposite way. The twists work to keep the cord together.


In the world of spinners depending on which direction you twist the fibres, it's called either z twist, or s twist. And using the two in combination makes for the world of cordage and fabric we have today.

The next big leap is rather than using cord to sew bits of animal together to make clothes, we tangle bits if thread together in highly specific arrangements to make bigger pieces we can use to make clothes from. The invention of weaving changed humanity.


Weaving was essential to move away from a hunter gatherer lifestyle to a settled farming one. It was also necessary for population to grew. It's a lot simpler to farm a field of linen, or to collect fleece from live sheep, than to have to kill an animal each time you needed a new jacket. That's not to say the process of producing fibre from plants is easy. To find a gootube video in how to make linen from flax plants. It's many stages. Laborious and complicated.


Like when Billy Connolly said "who discovered milk came from cows, and what were they doing at the time ?" You have to wonder how the first human came up with the method for getting fibre from the flax plant. It's a multiple step process that requires days to do. And then it all needs to be spun before it can be Woven.

For millennia spinning was done with a tool called a drop spindle. It was slow, and repetitive, and it took a lot of time to make the thread for a simple garment.


Spinning was something typically (in western cultures at least) done by women & girls. Picture the Norse Goddess Frigg weaving clouds from her distaff. (Distaff is a tool used to hold the raw fleece while you spin it with a drop spindle). But using a drop spindle is something you can do while you stir the dinner, watch the kids, walk to the market. But it takes ages. It wouldn't be until as late as the 18th century that this technique would be replaced by the more familiar spinning wheel

Because it was such a slow process it wasn't really something you could make a living from at least not a big one. So spinning remained women's work right up to the industrial revolution.

With the thread woven. Time to weave. The first looms are what we call warp weighted looms. In weaving you have two sets of thread. The warp going up and down. And the weft side to side. With a warp weighted loom tension was applied to the warp using weights. These usually ceramic donut shaped objects...


Are common finds in archeology. Being ceramic they don't really rot. But this design is slow, laborious, and doesn't make particularly wide cloth. It could take months to make enough cloth to make a dress. The technique stood up for centuries. It was the height of fabric technology. That is until the 12-13th century and the invention of the two bar loom.

This moves the weaving from vertical to horizontal, and from women to men.

Why? It's not like it's operated it with genitals?


Why then does weaving move from women's work to men's work? Because now with a two bar loom fabric can be made a lot faster, and it can be made wider. This allows for it to be made at a larger scale, & crucially, for it to be something one can do professionally. As soon as a technology can be used to provide an income to support a family, it moves from women's work, to men's work. We see this throughout history. See also computer programming. Once we valued it more, the white men took over


From the time the two bar loom took over, until the industrial revolution weaving was men's work. That is until technology advanced and made it so the pay was less, and it was harder to support a family on an industrial weavers salary. Then it became women and children's work.

But the construction of the fabric isn't the only part. We like our clothes coloured and vibrant. That means dying.

A complicated process involving mordants and chemicals and boiling stuff.


Dying cloth was laborious, messy, and slow. And in many regards was too similar to cooking. It also didn't change much until the development of synthetic dyes in the 19th century. At which point, oh look, the men took over...

Developing dyes that don't run, and last well, and in vibrant colours is incredibly complicated (and also really interesting) and all of that is technology. We don't think of it as such. But it really is.


And this is before we get onto the technological marvel that is synthetic fibres. They may be an environmental disaster. But the way the fibres work is an amazing feat of chemical engineering. It unlikely that the clothes you're wearing now are purely made from natural fibres. There's probably some polyester, or elastane in there. They make the fabric more durable. More comfortable. Require less ironing. The amount of research and technology that goes into easy iron clothing is incredible.


But we don't think of it as technology. Not least because most men aren't the ones who no longer have to iron the shirts...

The train of technologies that have been connected together, one after another, over millennia, take us from sinues pulled from a carcase next to a fire right up to the no Iron shirt and the gore Tex jacket today. Each step is a new technology. Technology we all very much take for granted.

When spring comes round, put on some gloves, find some nettles. And ...


Try to make some string from it. There's loads of videos online of how to do it. Give it a couple of hours. Make a couple of meters if string. Then imagine if you wanted to produce enough to make a t-shirt. (Nettle has been used as a source of fibre for clothing, and it's part if the hemp family). You'll gain a whole new appreciation for the technology (and underpaid labour) that goes into allowing you to buy a t-shirt for a fiver...

So that's string. IMHO One of the fundamental machines.


The principles from spun flax fibres have also gone into the making of steel cables that support megastructures like bridges. Or the giant cranes that built them. Woven fibres give us the fibre in carbon fibre. The composites that our aircraft are made from. All of these stem from the basic piece of string. Without it. Modern society would be very very different.

On to the second everyday item. The knife. Goto the kitchen and grab a knife from the draw.


Hold that knife up to the light. Look at it. You'll likely be able to spot two things. 1) it's not rusty. And 2) it probably says something like 18/8, or stainless, or RVS.

That knife you're holding probably cost you maybe a euro or two, most likely at IKEA. Now put that knife back and grab your sharpest knife. Again. Notice. It's not rusty. And you probably haven't needed to sharpen it for a while. But it still cuts just about ok.

Let's look at the technologies that got us to here.


First off put the knife back in the drawer so you don't cut yourself.

I'm gonna skip past the stage of cutting implements made of unboiled rocks. The technologies of the stone ages are fascinating, spanning multiple tens of millennia, and show massive variety in styles, methods, and materials. But if I include all of those I'll still be writing next year.


Somewhere around 5000BC, someone worked out if you boil some rocks just right, at the right temp, and the right conditions. You get copper. That day. The world changed.

First it was just copper, then someone worked out how to add a second type of rock (tin) and it made the copper stronger, hold an edge better, and be easier to use. The bronze age began.

Eventually someone worked out that if you got it hot enough, and used the right kinda of rocks. You could get iron.


Iron. It sounds so simple. But it's one of the most amazingly complex technologies we had for millennia. It's developed changed whole civilisations. If you've ever held a piece of iron, or a non stainless steel, you've probably seen it has rust. Iron really doesn't like being on its own as iron, and really likes oxygen. In the right conditions it can rust in minutes (ask any tool user about flash rust).

In it's natural state iron is usually found as some form of rust.


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@quixoticgeek well lets go back and kill that first guy. This lead to weapons and plastics. We never should have left the trees, in fact I think leaving the oceans was a questionable idea.😎

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@quixoticgeek I see (& love) your story about knife-as-technology & raise you this one : about knife as energy&material extracted/received from nature/gods, that _must be_ returned (or: is lovingly returned) in the form of appreciation, humbleness, reciprocity, sharing (ritual, ceremony, offerings, devotion) … & if we “forget” & keep on taking, it is reclaimed back in some other form… thesunmagazine.org/issues/304/

@quixoticgeek As a fibre nerd, thanks for this thread. I'm kinda surprised the jacquard loom and its relationship to early computers didn't get a mention.

Also, assume you've read Women's Work: the first 20,000 Years? If not, well worth a read for anyone interested in learning more about textiles and the history of civilisation.

@Tatjna mainly as I hit 40 posts already and I was trying not to make a full book... Lots of people have commented about it tho.

@quixoticgeek Oops sorry, I didn't read the comments before posting :)

@Tatjna not a problem. Life is generally better when we don't read the comments... :p

I think with computer programming, there is currently at least the intention to make it "cheap" work.
At least that is what the whole "AI" stuff looks to me:
Trying to get to a "good enough" threshold for code quality so that "end user" type employees can test it to find code that "works".

@wakame Yes, there's certainly a race to the bottom and a lot of enshitification. but the reality is that the first computer programmers were women, often women of colour. As it became better regarded, they got pushed out, and the white men took over. See the film Hidden Figures for some fine examples of the early years of computer programmers and computers in general.

Reminds me of the switchboard operators, which had in Germany the very fitting (inofficial) name "Fräulein vom Amt" (meaning an "unmarried woman operator"):
While automatic dialing systems had already been invented, it was decided to hire women, because they were "friendlier than men and cheaper".

And the early definition of a programmer is "the person who rewires the computer or types in the instruction", not the smart man who wrote the program...

At the university, I found it interesting to discover a whole hierarchy of "unmanly"/"weaker" engineering.
"Real" mechanical engineers would look down on the "wire people" (electrical engineers), the "cast iron" engineers would mock those who worked with aluminum.
Computer science was obviously "is that even an engineering discipline if you don't force matter to behave like you want?"

@quixoticgeek I was just reading that this same thing happened with beer brewing! It was women's work (alewives) and provided income for women separate from a husband's until it got bigger/more valuable. Then men took it over 😖

@3x10to8mps @quixoticgeek Ditto raising & keeping chickens (at least in NL), for eggs and for meat.

@quixoticgeek There is an older technology underpinning both of those, the breeding of plants and animals to improve the raw inputs into the overtly technological later stages.
It’s easier and faster to turn the variability of domesticated life into self-improving multiple useful benefits than it is to do all the hard work of bettering just one step in an opaque physical process without insight.

@quixoticgeek"Like when Billy Connolly said "who discovered milk came from cows, and what were they doing at the time ?"

The people who first put it together probably weren't violating boundaries with cows, they were probably just nursing mothers. Just sayin'

@quixoticgeek I think it's in @LeMoustier's #Kindred book that talks about a particularly wear pattern often found on #Neanderthal teeth that suggests they were also making string.

It makes them seem very much closer to us somehow..

@quixoticgeek my friend once asked me what I'd do if we survived and apocalypse, i said, " yell at you to shut up and make string!". I stand by that statement.

@quixoticgeek Anyone who doesn't understand the necessity of string can watch 2-3 hours of any survival reality show and how essential it is that they bring, make, or find cordage. (Alone, Naked and Afraid, etc. Esp. Naked and Afraid since they're much more limited on what they can bring.)

I recommend those kinds of shows to anyone to help realize how difficult and complicated survival really is, and to help connect oneself to our ancestral roots.

@quixoticgeek @zachklipp not totally related to where this thread goes, but ties into part of it:

did yall ever come across the book _The Travels of a T-Shirt_? it’s a neat dive into the history of cotton, and technology behind its advances, and how it fits into the global economy bookshop.org/p/books/the-trave

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