An invitation to a social event crossed my desk today that shows a reproduction of Leonardo Da Vinci's famous sketch of Vitruvian Man from 1492.
I got to thinking about how technology and science are changing our lives, and how Leonardo himself innovated in art, science and mechanics. He used the technology available to him to advance our knowledge of the universe. He studied nature. He used his brushes to represent human experience on canvas. He used available tools to design and build machines that were years ahead of his time.
But what is technology without thought?
In today's world, it seems to me that we often play with new devices because we succumb to the allure of slick marketing campaigns. We buy gadgets and learn how to use them; and too often end up doing only that -- learning how they function. Then we repeat some those functions over and over again. Think, for example, how many of us use a computer only for e-mail; how many of us sit on the couch and use the remote control to surf aimlessly up and down the dial. We fill our time with media consumption that is based on access to it; not necessarily to accomplish something.
What a difference it makes when we apply technology to some higher purpose.
I read on the back of the card that Leonardo drew Vitruvian Man after reflecting on the observations of an ancient Roman architect, Vitruvious. It was Vitruvious who saw the human body as the model of perfection. It was he who observed that the human body, when seen with arms and legs extended, fits into both of the so-called "perfect geometric forms": the circle and the square. He used these ideas of human proportion to design buildings.
So Leonardo was simply using his talents to draw a visual representation of Vitruvious's earlier thought. The same can be said of another genius who lived after Leonardo, Shakespeare, who based so much of his celebrated work on earlier stories from classic Greek and Roman literature.
Real credit goes to our predecessors, on whose thoughts we build our world. The works that endure are those that relate to deep, shared aspects of the human experience.
Technology is always just a tool.