There was a time when it was possible, through intellectual curiosity and persistent application, for a thinking individual to climb from the ground of primitive understanding, up to the pinnacle of human knowledge – in almost any discipline. Someone like Gauss, for example, was a curious child who received little more than a rudimentary education in mathematics, yet managed to make an indelible mark on the discipline. The same is true of Darwin, Keynes, Freud, Turing – the list is almost endless.
Such would simply not be possible today. In order to make an advancement, one must start from a relatively lofty position, taking for granted knowledge without having explored it from its fundaments.
Those unable to obtain that lofty position are effectively locked out of pursuit of this higher knowledge. I have no idea how to design a circuit board or build a semiconductor, and it would be impossible for me to figure such a thing out. Unless I am given and take for granted the assumed wisdom of those who have come before, I cannot make any notable contribution in that field.
I could start, of course, from scratch. But the futility of the pursuit would soon become clear to me. My lifelong endeavour would have less computing power than a toddler’s wind-up toy.
This basic truth drives a deep disconnect between the technology and knowledge we use, and our sense of ownership over it. It is one of the factors, I believe, which explains how we have become so enthralled to the technology which controls us.
We cannot climb onto the shoulders of giants, so we kneel down and worship their heels instead.