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Social Machines: How to Develop Connected Products That Change Customers' Lives by Peter Semmelhack

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Chapter 6

A Brief History of Abstraction

The advent of social machines is ensured simply because it is in our nature. It is an unavoidable progression whose roots go back thousands of years. It’s based entirely on our deeply ingrained ability, desire, and need for abstraction.

If there is one thing all my research found as I hunted for a logical and historically supportable foundation on which to base all my arguments it was this: We are a species of abstractors. We would all still be living in caves (if we survived at all) had we not mastered the power of abstraction. It is generally agreed that the reason Homo sapiens rule the world today, whereas our evolutionary brethren—Neanderthals and Homo erectus—died out, is because we developed language. It allowed us to use symbols (sounds → words) as stand-ins for real things. The following illustrations show how this basic starting point has put us on an unstoppable path toward a future populated by social machines (and beyond).

Language gave us the ability to convey facts, ideas, and concepts to others without them having to actually experience the reality themselves. Take, for example, the concept of temperature. We can all sense hot and cold. But without language, the only way for me to convey to you how cold it is outside would be to drag to you out into it. I suppose I could make motions and expressions that gave you the sense of it, but for you to really understand what I was trying to get across, there was only one path: experience ...

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