Guns, Germs, and Steel Chapter 13 Summary
by Jared Diamond

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Chapter 13 Summary

In 1908, a clay disk bearing writing was excavated on the Greek island Phaistos. The disk bears forty-five symbols, probably of a syllabary, which were stamped into the clay. Nobody has yet deciphered this writing. Archaeologists believe it may have been the first printing system in the world but that it dropped out of use. A similar printing system did not emerge elsewhere until 2,500 years later and 3,100 years later in Europe.

Some inventions happen because people need a technology and set out to create it. Other inventions come about because people tinker and experiment and create something for which they only later find a use. Diamond argues that this latter process is more common in history. He also believes that invention depends less on the work of a few rare geniuses than on the accumulated efforts of many people who improve on the work of those who came before them. Most famous inventors, such as James Watt and Thomas Edison, were improving on similar, less useful inventions. The likes of Watt and Edison simply managed to push inventions to a level that made them usable on a mass scale.

People often assume that the inhabitants of some continents are predisposed to be technologically backward. Diamond feels that such assumptions are speculative and that they neglect to take into account that native societies are highly varied. Some individuals and tribes adopt new technologies rapidly when they are introduced even when their close neighbors do not. Diamond believes it is impossible to assume that people across whole continents are systematically better or worse at creating and adopting new technologies consistently over many millennia.

Technological progress happens more and more rapidly over time. The Industrial Revolution brought more new technologies than the Bronze Age did, which had brought more new technologies than the advancements before it. Technological advancements depend on the mastery of basic problems and the development of complementary technologies. Sustainable printing depended on the existence of paper and moveable type, for example,...

(The entire section is 501 words.)