You’re a smart person: a believer in science, an acolyte of technology, a 21st century citizen. So answer this: Could you, and you alone, make something as simple as a pencil?
Mark Pagel doesn’t think so. In a presentation at the Falling Walls Conference in Berlin, the evolutionary biologist offered this very thought experiment – pencil manufacturing, after all, involves graphite mining and refining, wood harvesting and processing, machining, rubber harvesting, and many other intricate processes.
His conclusion: “In our everyday lives, we’re asked to make decisions about things about which we have very little understanding and very little knowledge.” From writing utensils to mortgages and cars or frozen chicken, we’re largely disconnected from the processes that generate the things we use. “If we’re honest with ourselves,” Pagel continued, “most of us are just glorified karaoke singers in most aspects of our lives, using things that other people have made and we don’t really understand.”