According to Guns, Germs, and Steel, why was sedentary living important for the history of technology?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond explains that environmental differences rather than supposed racial superiority are responsible for Eurasian peoples developing technology more rapidly than other civilizations and expanding around the world. In order for nomadic hunter-gatherers to convert to an agrarian lifestyle, an area needs to have storable edible vegetation high in carbohydrates, a climate conducive to food storage, and animals that can be domesticated. These conditions lead to population growth and consolidation in villages, towns, and cities. Specialization of occupation in turn leads to technological innovation.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines "sedentary" as: "not migratory, settled." Food production allows sedentary living, which in turn allows specialization that leads to technological development. Additionally, as Diamond explains in Chapter 13, "Necessity's Mother," a sedentary lifestyle makes possible not only portable technology such as bows and arrows that can be carried from place to place, but also larger items that cannot be transported. Diamond also emphasizes the importance of the diffusion of technology from one populated area to another, which depends upon favorable geographical and ecological situations. In summary, Diamond writes:

Hence, all other things being equal, technology develops fastest in large productive regions with large human populations, many potential inventors, and many competing societies.

In summary, sedentary living is made possible by food production. An abundance of food leads to large population centers. Large population centers give rise to specialties in occupations, which lead to the inventing of new technologies. Because the inventors are sedentary, they are able to invent large-scale as well as small-scale items.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The answer to this can be found toward the end of Chapter 13.  Specifically, it can be found on pages 260 and 261 of the paperback edition.  As Diamond tells us on p. 260

Sedentary living was decisive for the history of technology, because it enabled people to accumulate nonportable possessions.

What Diamond means here is that people who live nomadic lives cannot really develop technology.  The reason for this is that they have to carry everything they own with them as they move from place to place.  This means that even relatively little things like clay pots are not really practical for nomadic people.

Once people start to farm, they are able to settle down in one place.  Now they can make technology for themselves.  They will be able to have technology that is too big to carry.  They can have pottery.  They can have looms and spinning wheels.  They can start to develop much more technology than they could before.

The important of sedentary living, then, is that it allows people to develop technology that would be too big to carry around.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Illustration of a paper plane soaring out of a book

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial