We haven't been "man, the tool-maker" for a long long time...

And not just because Jane Goodall proved that other species make tools too.

For a long time we've had this preconception that what sets us apart from other primates is our ability to make tools. As a kid, I always imagined an individual genius caveman chipping a wheel out of a rock, the act of which marked the begining of our species dominance over the planet.

And that image is somewhat correct. For hundreds of thousands of years human ancestors made hand axes (or bifaces)... and not much else. Man, the tool-maker, spent literally thousands of generations making one tool. Over and over and over.  (There is even a theory that these "axes" weren't actually tools per se, but rather artworks used to attract mates, but that's a concept for another post.)

Not only isn't tool-making a human-only activity, but for hundreds of millennia it's also didn't do much to make us the dominant species on the planet.

So what did?

Obviously technology plays a huge role, from domestication of plants and animals to the creation of clothing and pottery, from long bows and atom bombs to penicillin and anesthetics. Our technology, our tools, have helped us colonize every square inch of planet Earth. So if not man, the tool-maker, then man, the tool-user? How unsatisfying is that?

I think it's something else. I think it's something to do with the fact that we are social. That we can "stand on the shoulders of giants." That we can outsource.

I think we are man (and woman), the collaborator. I believe that we are social inventors/builders/crafters. That's the power of the human race. That we can share the burden. That we can bounce ideas off each other. That we can specialize. That we don't have to invent or make everything ourselves.

This TED talk got me thinking about this... it's awesome.

Thomas Thwaites: How I built a toaster -- from scratch | Video on TED.com.

What do you think?