Have you read any good text about technology lately that doesn’t start reminding the reader how much science and technology has advanced this past century? As much as I dislike repeating this common statement, the success of the application of scientific principles to industrial production, communications and financial operations in the global economy can’t be denied. As a consequence, large numbers of people now live in an all-enveloping technological sphere that shapes human modes of existence.
Although contemporary technology permeates most societies of the world, it has the paradoxical effect of gradually becoming invisible to its users. This is because technology essentially saves us effort, brings us comfort and, through widespread adoption, is slowly taken for granted (or invisibilized). This invisibilization frees technology from criticism, and assists it into being thought of as something “good” or, at least, neutral.
But far from consisting in merely passive tools waiting to be used, contemporary technology’s current hyperconnectivity—i.e., worldwide electronic communication systems, global circulation of commodities and people, as well as infrastructure megaprojects—is inevitably associated with ethical, social, and environmental consequences which accentuates our rather complicated relationship with it.
I attempt to palpate the nature of technology and its earliest history. In this transit we encounter a preliminary definition of the human derived from an analysis in the essence of human activity through philosophical speculation supported by archaeological investigation.
In this occasion, the path traced by spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset (1883 – 1955) will be used to address this question. Ortega, in his 1933 Meditation on Technics (MT), starts by examining concrete life and finds a raw fact: the conspicuous active response of humans towards circumstances (or their surrounding nature); a tendency to radically reshape surroundings, creating and responding to circumstances.
Nature imposes objective, biological needs (like the need for water, food, sleep and shelter) on life. While animals rely on instinct to figure out ways of satisfying these objective natural needs, humans engage life through an autocratic decision—not saying that humans don’t have objective needs, but rather that humans have subjective needs which are driven by will.
The sense and origin of will was not addressed by Ortega, instead he focused on technology as its concrete manifestation. Ortega finds in humans a unique disposition towards problem-solving, or towards altering nature. Stemming from a characteristically “negative ontology”, technology begins where the human succeeds in finding ways of taking care of his objective needs in order to overflow production and addressing subjective needs.
In claiming that humans begin where technology begins  Ortega opened a philosophico-anthropological question that was later addressed in his 1951 Darmstadt lecture “The Myth of Humanity Outside Technology (Der Mythus des Menschen hinter der Technik). The ontological entanglement of archaic humans with technology was expressed in the form of the mythical centaur (a creature half-beast and half-human).
According to Ortega, humans are “ontologic centaurs” in the sense that they are embedded in nature—in what is already given—, but simultaneously; humans are extra-natural—they have an incomplete project of what they want to be—an aspiration to fulfill a vital program.
The ontologic centaur is a concept built from the fact that humans fabricate themselves. Since life, before anything else, is production , such disposition is enabled via two broad factors: the anatomical and the cognitive. These two factors reciprocate each other as they develop and feed into a larger discussion.
Stone Tools to Language
Despite of the relatively limited archaeological knowledge available at the time, Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) observed in his 1867 pamphlet (“The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man”) some implications between production (or work) and human anatomy. He emphasized the role played by work in gradually shaping, through an evolutionary process, the archaic hominid hand into the modern human hand. Not only the hand itself an organ of work, but as the product of work .
Contemporary archaeological discoveries that positively correlate evidence of lithic reduction dated ~2.5 million years ago (mya)—a skill that was displayed by Australopithecus garhi and Homo habilis (Klein, 1995)—confirms Engels’ insight. The fact is that H. habilis developed as a cladistically inherited trait the dexterity to work rocks into tools derived from the gradual assignment of different functions to hands and feet.
Although the human hand is a complex tool, in comparison to other animals, our overall human constitution is rather frail, lacking overall strength and speed. In compensation for a relatively poor bodily endowment, the factor that gave humans a competitive edge against bigger and stronger animals was the increase in brain size along with a complex nervous system .
The cognitive factor is deeply related to the gradual domestication of fire, used as protection from predators and climatic conditions but, most importantly, because it allowed archaic humans to cook food and economize energy in digestion. For example, decisive evidence for fire manipulation and cooking was dated by  in the Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa at 1.0 mya. With fire, food became easier to digest, and so the chemical premises that assisted the transition to modern humans were better taken advantage of.
At this point, archaic humans must have realized not only the impact of focused individual work, but the even more effective impact of coordinated and collective actions. Consequently, the social structure and its interaction must have been based in a means of communicating and forming community. It needed a pre-existent fully syntactical language to share and transmit meaning through abstract representations. Language served as a means of pooling the experiences of a whole group. What parents passed down to their offspring was not simply the lessons of their own personal experience, but the collective experience of the group .
The long process of hominization, where H. habilis and H. erectus emerged and perished, laid the anatomic and cognitive foundations for complex and abstract thought, communal interactions and the emergence of symbolic culture. The earliest evidence of this, reported by archaeological and linguistic researchers, is found in paint workshops and personal ornaments found in African sediments dated around 160 to 80 thousand years old .Thus, the full capacity of the mind-activated human body was manifested most crucially not in simple tool-making but in language and symbol-making .
The active and constantly modifying relation between symbolism and meaning—the gradual harnessing of abstract thought—provided the basis for mythology and magic as well as bringing dramatic improvement of aesthetic design and social organization. Language was a key cultural innovation that assisted early H. sapiens’ emergence from Africa and diffusion to other continents which, according to , happened around 50 to 70 kya.
When we taken into consideration the fact that the oldest Homo sapiens remains found (315, 000 years old; ) are almost three times younger than the oldest evidence for simple tool-making or fire domestication, it would seem that technology is an evolutionary utilitarian adaptation for hominid supremacy. The emergence of abstract thinking and the way symbol-making fostered technical facility and widened the human technical horizon is of course also the beginning of human history.
Life as production is recognized in tool-making—a trait which remains unclear if originated with Australopithecus garhi and was then adopted, or perhaps even discovered separately by H. habilis. From this event, populations start to grow and multiplication of people. From the exchange between them, more complex relationships develop from which language, ideas and representations emerge. Increasing activities and social exchange starts to isolate work and specialize tasks.
Although the ethical, social, and environmental consequences of technology mentioned at the outset are out of the scope of this delivery, in an Ortegan sense, the effort employed by the human to not belong or conform in nature (i.e., a reaction against objective needs in aspiration to address subjective needs) is the ontological orientation of the human towards technology. The ontological centaur of Ortega is prone to create what is “objectively superfluous”, the effort that saves future effort. Technology is what we do to avoid completely, or in part, the tasks imposed on us by our primary circumstance .
 Ortega y Gasset, J., 1933, “Meditación de la Técnica” en Obras Completas, 1962, Revista de Occidente, Madrid: tomo V, p. 317-377:18
 Ortega y Gasset, J., 1933, “Meditación de la Técnica” en Obras Completas, 1962, Revista de Occidente, Madrid: tomo V, p. 317-377: 17
 Engels, F., 1876, “El Papel del Trabajo en el Proceso de Transformación del Mono en Hombre”, en “Dialéctica de la Naturaleza”, 1961, Editorial Grijalbo, p. 142-154:143
 Childe, V.G., 1936, “Man Makes Himself”, Mentor Books, p. 194. / Childe, V.G., 1936 “Los Orígenes de la Civilización”, Breviarios Fondo de Cultura Económica, p. 288: 28
 Berna, F., Goldberg, P., Kolska-Horwitz, L., Brink, J., Holt, S., Bamford, M., Chazan, M., 2012, Microstratigraphic evidence of in situ fire in the Acheulean strata of Wonderwek Cave, Northern Cape province, South Africa, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109 (20): E1215-1220: DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1117620109
 Engels, F., 1876, “El Papel del Trabajo en el Proceso de Transformación del Mono en Hombre”, en “Dialéctica de la Naturaleza”, 1961, Editorial Grijalbo, p. 142-154: 144; Mumford, L., 1972, “Technics and the Nature of Man” in “Philosophy and Technology: Readings in the Philosophic Problems of Technology”, eds. Mitcham, C., Mackey, R., Free Press, p. 77-83: 79; Childe, V.G., 1936, “Man Makes Himself”, Mentor Books, p. 194: 30
 Klein, R.G., 1995, Anatomy, Behavior, and Modern Human Origins, Journal of World Pre, Vol. 9, No. 2, p. 167-198; Atkinson, Q.D., 2011, Phonemic Diversity Supports a Serial Founder Effect Model of Language Expansion from Africa, Science 332, 346-348.
 Mumford, L., 1972, “Technics and the Nature of Man” in “Philosophy and Technology: Readings in the Philosophic Problems of Technology”, eds. Mitcham, C., Mackey, R., Free Press, p. 77-83: 78
 Atkinson, Q.D., 2011, Phonemic Diversity Supports a Serial Founder Effect Model of Language Expansion from Africa, Science 332, 346-348.
 Richter et al., 2017, The age of the hominin fossils from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, and the origins of the Middle Stone Age, Nature, 546 (7657), p. 293-296.
 Ortega y Gasset, J., 1933, “Meditación de la Técnica” en Obras Completas, 1962, Revista de Occidente, Madrid: tomo V, p. 317-377