The four categories of technology

Every technology is an expression of human will. Through our tools, we seek to expand our power and control over our circumstances—over nature, over time and distance, over one another. Our technologies can be divided, roughly, into four categories, according to the way they supplement or amplify our native capacities. One set, which encompasses the plow, the darning needle, and the fighter jet, extends our physical strength, dexterity, or resilience. A second set, which includes the microscope, the amplifier, and the Geiger counter, extends the range or sensitivity of our senses. A third group, spanning such technologies as the reservoir, the birth control pill, and the genetically modified corn plant, enables us to reshape nature to better serve our needs or desires.

The map and the clock belong to the fourth category, which might best be called […] “intellectual technologies”. These include all the tools we use to extend or support our mental powers—to find and classify information, to formulate and articulate ideas, to share know-how and knowledge, to take measurements and perform calculations, to expand the capacity of our memory. The typewriter is an intellectual technology. So are the abacus and the slide rule. the sextant and the globe, the book and the newspaper, the school and the library, the computer and the internet.

Nicholas Carr —The Shallows