That’s a question I’ve frequently wondered about, and one that Lewis Mumford sought to answer in his 1934 classic Technics & Civilization.
Below are four of the ideological shifts that Mumford believes prepared the way for the modern development of technology:
1) The Invention of the Clock
The invention of the mechanical clock—which appeared in medieval cities in the 13th century—was prepared for by the European monasteries, which desired to create a more ordered and regulated existence apart from the chaos that dwelt outside their walls.
2) A Changed Understanding of Space and Movement
The Middle Ages tended to conceive space as primarily symbolic of the divine. According to Mumford, “a revolutionary change in the conception of space took place” between the 14th and 17th centuries,
3) The Influence of Capitalism
The shift from a barter economy to a capitalist one brought about “constant reference to abstract symbols of wealth: gold, drafts, bills of exchange, eventually merely numbers.
4) A Turn from the Supernatural to the Natural
“Meanwhile, with the transformation of the concepts of time and space went a change in the direction of interest from the heavenly world to the natural one… Nature [now] existed to be explored, to be invaded, to be conquered, and finally, to be understood.”