Kevin Kelly, an editor for Wired, recently made a bold claim on NPR: “I say there is no species of technology that have ever gone globally extinct on this planet. . . I can’t find any [invention, tool, technology] that has disappeared completely from Earth.”
Nothing? I asked. Brass helmets? Detachable shirt collars? Chariot wheels?
Nothing, he said.
Can’t be, I told him. Tools do hang around, but some must go extinct.
If only because of the hubris — the absolute nature of the claim — I told him it would take me a half hour to find a tool, an invention that is no longer being made anywhere by anybody.
Go ahead, he said. Try.
If you listen to our Morning Edition debate, I tried carbon paper (still being made), steam powered car engine parts (still being made), Paleolithic hammers (still being made), 6 pages of agricultural tools from an 1895 Montgomery Ward & Co. Catalogue (every one of them still being made), and to my utter astonishment, I couldn’t find a provable example of an technology that has disappeared completely.
Robert Krulwich, the NPR correspondent who interviewed Kelly, asked readers for suggestions on dead technologies and included a few in a follow-up article. No one seems to have found an example yet. Can you think of one?