High Tech Stone Age

The real news is old news: We belong here on this planet. We are natives. The recent news is that we are currently finding ways to behave as natives by using new technologies to live in an old way—a High Tech Stone Age.         

Basically, it is about returning to our old niche of energy, matter, and information by using brand new technologies. Illustrative examples are food, light, and relationships.


We used to live as hunter-gatherers, foraging a rich variety of wild plants and animals that lived for their own sake (being wild means to have your own will). Now, through agriculture, we have become extremely dependent on a select few domesticated plants and animals (more than half the calories eaten by humanity comes from only four crops). The machinery and fossil fuel use involved in running nature according to our will is rising steeply, soils are eroding, and monoculture allows for pests.           

Returning to a foraging lifestyle will be difficult with 7-11 billion people on the planet. But a wide variety of technologies, from the very simple to the very complicated, provides new possibilities: Leading chefs lend their expertise by rediscovering forgotten resources in the wild, for instance, edible insects and little-known marine animals. Information technology makes foraging easier. Urban agriculture is on the rise. Many people turn away from the particular kinds of food that only arose with agriculture (the starch in bread, pasta, rice, corn, and potatoes).           

Thus, the old niche of wild foods and perennial plants is becoming relevant again through the crafts of chefs and scientifically based techniques, such as fermentation. In the long run, it may well turn out that unregulated growth of biomass (as opposed to the highly structured monocultures) will provide a higher yield of edible biomass. The change will be like going from libraries with books categorized before use to searchable documents on the Internet that only become categorized when actually in use.           

The Stone Age strategy is to let nature grow by its own will. The high tech hack to that is to post-process the available biomass into being edible for humans (select, cook, ferment, breakdown with enzymes, etc.).


Natural light from the sun, bonfires, and from candles is thermal radiation exhibiting a full, continuous spectrum. Look at it through a prism and you see a rainbow. The incandescent light bulb is the same since it is also thermal. But energy-saving light bulbs and other fluorescent lights do not provide light with a continuous spectrum; they give a line spectrum with only some of the colors of a rainbow. Therefore, there has been a severe loss of light quality and color rendering ability in modern lighting. The incandescent bulbs have been phased out, but the replacement (energy saving light bulbs) gives bad light.           

LEDs have the potential to solve the problem by producing light with almost continuous spectra with a low energy use. However, present LED light for domestic and office use is not yet of a high enough quality in terms of color rendering. Our perception has adapted to seeing objects in the light from sources giving out a full rainbow, but LEDs are not there yet.           

They will get there and the next wave of lighting technology will be even better at producing a continuous spectrum. The use of quantum dots—artificial atoms—will allow for the production of light, which looks thermal but does not have the same energy waste as thermal sources.           

Solid state lighting like LED and quantum dots can therefore recreate the kind of light we have adapted to as hunter-gatherers, but with a small use of artificial energy.


The flat, peer-to-peer based network of relationships found in hunter-gatherer cultures is ideal for regulating hunting and gathering. But the advent of agriculture meant centralization with cities, depots, kings, and control. Thus, social structure lost the dependence on bottom-up self-organization and became reliant on top-down, rule based societies. They are very good at many things, but not good for keeping civil society vibrant and alive. Also, regulating common resources is sometimes difficult for the anonymous state and market.           

A growing emphasis on communities that govern commons—sometimes called commonities—is rising as a result of the climate challenge. Headquarters have been disappointing in their ability to take real action, but windmills, city gardens, and the sharing economy are no longer just naive and vain attempts; they are changing social structure. With the coming advent of decentralized production (3-D printers, fermentation hubs, and web-based culture), the traditional globalization trend will be followed by a localization trend.           

Information technology will allow humans to return to a niche of decentralized, self-organized production adjusted to the local environment. To close the loop of matter flows, local regulation is essential.

The real news is that new technologies and new social strategies allow us to return to a very old resource base: the decentralized solar energy and the local flow of matter and information.           

It is good news.