I've found myself humbled by really thinking through the scale of the man made world lately. We live in an almost completely constructed world. Every physical product, every aspect of infrastructure, every element of every building, and every piece of software is ultimately the result of people designing and running processes over raw materials again and again until they become the world we live in. The designs and processes have been tried and refined again and again for generations to get where we are today.
A relatively easy to understand example of this concept is a wooden chair. Obviously wood starts as trees. The least sophisticated way to make something we could call a chair is to break off the branches attach them together into a basic shape someone could sit on. Trying to do this without examples is actually fairly complicated. You would have to figure out how to attach the branches to each other in a way that would support the weight of someone sitting. Basically it requires inventing something like rope, nails, or both the concept and tools required to fit pieces of wood together. Even with those concepts, you would have to come up with the idea and design of the part you sit on, not to mention a seat back. Someone came up with every one of those things, and there are probably hundreds of attempts for every one of them that were tried and didn't get repeated.
Looking back from a modern wooden chair, even one of the most basic examples, we could think of tons of examples of these kinds of achievements in both design and effort of hundreds of other people throughout the years. It was a massive undertaking to figure out how to process trees into relatively standard lumber. The basic processing needed to change a circular tree into a straight board that can support weight, the tools that needed to be created for that processing, the work and management of the people that continually need to be doing that processing, and the ongoing maintenance of that process are all a huge undertaking by other people in the world. Taking that standard lumber and turning into an actual chair requires all of the further chair design iterations, chair production tool creation, ongoing chair manufacturing, and material transportation. From there chairs need to be transported to market places, which are their own human systems, and finally sold.
When I think about these things as existing systems, it just seems like a lot of work that keeps a lot of people involved. When I think about these things as systems and processes that didn't exist at one point and wouldn't continue to exist if people didn't keep doing them, I'm incredibly humbled by the amount of ingenuity and work it took to come up with them in the first place and consistency to keep them working smoothly.
When I take this relatively high level exploration of a simple product and try to expand the concept to complicated ones, like a computer, my brain wants to give up long before I can accurately try to map it. There is so much going on, so many ingenious designs built on other ingenious designs, so many ongoing manufacturing processes, so many levels of mapping conceptual logic to 1's and 0's, and a thousand other things I less than half understand that I just have to accept it as something that exists more than understand how it came to be most of the time. Once in a while I can stop and try to appreciate what it is though. Something like a computer is the cumulative result of thousands of people like me, and smarter than me, coming up with ideas, inventing machines and processes to make those ideas real, maintaining those machines and processes, trying constantly to improve them, and working hard constantly to do a great job.
One of the most interesting things about all of this are the intelligent elements of what gets designed an built that only conveyed to the public in the design of a product rather than actually being explained. Car seat ergonomics, digital interfaces, knife handles, ball point pens, and a thousand other things are designed a certain way because of ergonomics, physics, and many other considerations. For the most part we just accept them and don't think about them, but someone did at one point. I find it fascinating.