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You probably don't remember how short your focal length was when you were three, or four. You might not remember anything about being three or four, but if you did, you would remember a world where everything was very clear for about ten or twenty feet in front of your eyes and then quickly faded off into an endless indistinct jumble of images. Your world was probably your room and the rest of your house, and then somehow connected to that was a series of other places. Preschool, your grandparents house, your friends house, but how these things were all connected was something that you couldn't figure out. The same was probably true in time as well as space: you were probably just starting to understand what yesterday and today meant, and the future, Christmas or your birthday were also vague shapes in the far distance. Looking backwards, things became even more indistinct.

But out of all of this, you were probably slowly putting together a map of the world. In Piagetian terms, this is when you are starting to put together some type of concrete operational view of the world. Objects in space are starting to take on known properties outside of their momentary appearance, and some are taking on symbolic value. When you push a truck, it keeps moving, but it will eventually slow down, and it will stop if it hits something else. When you build a tower out of blocks, you should put the smaller blocks on top, and the bigger ones on bottom, or else it will fall down. When you are playing with a water table, some things float and some things sink.

The term "technology" has come to be synonymous with computing, and sometimes biology. But ballpoint pens don't grow on trees. Everything that we manipulate to survive is technology. Every time we apply a concept to the world around us, even one as simple as "things fall", is technology. And people use technology for two reasons: because it is necessary to survive, and because without that sorting the universe into concepts and into factors to be manipulated, your mind would be stuck in the constant flux of unrelated images that you had as a young child with a short focal length.

But trucks and blocks aren't the only thing you play with as a child. You play with other people, too. Sometimes you play with other children while playing with other things, and sometimes you play a game where socializing is the main theme. From the time before you can remember, when other infants were just blurs in the corner of your eyes, you start to realize more and more that they are like you. You talk to them and they talk back. Concepts form. Soon, entire roles take shape. One child tells you what you build, and you build it. The trucks in the sandbox become a family of trucks, each voiced by another preschool student, playing out family drama. And so at the age when you are learning that heavy things are hard to pick up and things float in water, you are also learning that people like to be in charge, and if you do what people ask they might be your friend. Relationships are just another form of technology, and one we learn pretty young.

In some ways, just like learning any other form of technology, learning to treat other people as technology, to understand the role they play is something we need to survive. On the other hand, it is easy to overlearn lessons. Just as the concrete operational understanding that some things float in water has to later give way to the formal operational understanding of Archimedes principle, the concrete operational understanding of people and their roles will later on have to give way to a more abstract and deeper understanding of human motivation and individuality. And sometimes it is the people who have the hardest time learning those lessons early on who may understand later the impossibility of ever doing so, that relationships are not just another form of technology. For them, trying to see and understand another person is like trying to fix their focal length some infinite distance, such as the half hour drive to their grandparents house.

And since this is about technology, I will pass on a piece of technical advice I learned. Most people's understanding of relationships starts in the concrete operational phase. Some people's stays there, with varying degrees of blatantness. Sometimes the externals of the technology have improved, while the internals of it are still stuck at that young age: kind of like putting a Packard-Bell 486 into a shiny new futuristic computer case. There are many people who have complex, seemingly sophisticated (and at first generous and healthy) relationships, who are in their mind still doing the equivalent of pushing around a Tonka Truck while making vroom vroom noises with their mouth. Beware these people.

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