The most important invention in the past two thousand years is the printing press. When William Caxton published 'The Canterbury Tales' in the 15th Century with his newly invented printing machine, he dramatically accelerated the separation of human culture from nature, eclipsing the direct experience of natural processes that continues in the oral tradition and replacing it by words on a page. This cut in two directions. (1) The power of nature diminished so that science and technology could start the systematic program of gaining knowledge for control of nature, liberating people from drudgery and freeing the imagination. (2) At the same time, nature was degraded to a set of mechanisms that humans could manipulate for their own purposes, and the 'rape of nature' began in earnest. We are now reaping twin harvests: vastly expanded potential for written communication through the internet, as in this exchange of views at the Edge web site; and a vastly degraded planet that won't support us much longer, as things are going. Can we use one to save us from the other? We can now connect with each other as never before; but what about nature?
Professor of biology at the Schumacher College