How We Got to Now | Steven Johnson

Summary of: How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World
By: Steven Johnson


Get ready to delve into the fascinating world of ‘How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World’ by Steven Johnson, where we explore the interconnectedness of seemingly unrelated innovations and their profound effects on our lives. The book summary sheds light on the concept of coevolution, long-zoom history, and the butterfly effect, emphasizing the importance of viewing historical events through a wider lens. Discover fascinating tales of how flash freezing fish led to advancements in family planning, and how mirrors may have influenced the Renaissance. This journey will help you appreciate the intricate web of innovations that shape our modern world.

Coevolutionary Relationships

Evolution is not always just about competition and survival of the fittest. Coevolutionary relationships occur when two species evolve together, benefiting each other in the process. An example of this is the relationship between flowers and insects. Flowers evolved colors and scents to attract insects and in turn, insects’ bodies changed to better extract pollen from flowers. This mutualistic relationship led to hummingbirds evolving wings that could create lift to hover in mid-air and feed on the nectar produced by the flowers. Such coevolutionary relationships are key to understanding how all living organisms are interconnected. A single modification in one plant or animal can lead to a change in another. This incredible complexity of evolution and coevolution showcases a more profound and beautiful story about the development of life on earth.

The Bigger Picture

Long-zoom history is an approach that explains historical change by considering the interrelatedness of multiple events and perspectives. While a short-term view of Google’s free search engine might only reveal the convenience it offers, a long-zoom perspective reveals its larger societal impact, such as the significant effect it had on paid advertising in local newspapers. Long-zoom history enables us to recognize the cause and effect of seemingly unrelated industries affected by a company’s small change in its business model. Unlike the butterfly effect, which involves a long chain of virtually unknowable events, long-zoom history enables us to explicitly trace the links between events such as the evolution of a hummingbird’s wing and the interdependent relationships between flowering plants, nectar production, pollinating bees, and hovering hummingbirds.

The Surprising Connection between Frozen Fish and Family Planning

Clarence Birdseye’s discovery of flash freezing not only revolutionized the food industry but also led to a breakthrough in human procreation and family planning. His innovation enabled the preservation of human semen and eggs through oocyte cryopreservation, providing options to women, gay couples, and single parents for having biological children much later in life. This discovery highlights how innovations can have unexpected and far-reaching effects beyond their original purpose.

Mirrors and the Renaissance

The role of mirrors in the cultural movement of the Renaissance is explored, highlighting how the invention of mirrors indirectly contributed to the birth of the artist self-portrait and the creation of the novel. Mirrors helped create the conditions necessary for Renaissance ideas to flourish, fostering a society becoming more self-reflective with an emphasis on the individual and their place in the world.

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