Ancient Greece
In this mini-series, we look at some historic events where screen sharing might have made a difference. And even though this is, of course, a bit of a playful thought experiment, we can always learn from history – even if it happened thousands of years ago. In viewing those events through a modern lens and wondering how screen sharing might have changed their outcome, we also find some lessons that can apply to the modern-day workplace. While the previous entry was all about war, military strategies and keeping your confidential information safe, today’s post is about the exact opposite: Invention, collaboration and the sharing of ideas.

Part 2: The Ancient Greek Railway (and Collaboration)

The Situation:

Did you know that the Ancient Greeks had an operating railway as early as 600BC? Of course we can’t compare this track called diolkos (Δίολκος) to the rails our modern high speed trains run on, but the idea was just the same: tracks along which certain types of vehicle can move swiftly without leaving their designated path. The diolkos played an important role in trade and naval warfare, as it allowed heavy warships as well as cargo to be transported across a narrow land passage rather than having to circumnavigate the entirety of Greece.

It ran for a span of about five miles and operated for over 600 years – it was even open for public use against payment. Those numbers are pretty impressive and make you wonder a bit why the concept wasn’t developed further. The main reason why the Ancient Greeks didn’t develop a train system was probably because the steam engine wasn’t invented until the 18th century, right?

Well, not quite. As it turns out, those Ancient Greeks didn’t just have a rudimentary form of the railway, they also had a rudimentary steam engine. Hero of Alexandria is credited with the invention of the aeolipile in the 1st century AD. The device was constructed out of a bowl, a hollow sphere, and pipes and placed over a fire.

What was it used for? Apart from finding out more about the physics and water, the aeolipile was most likely used as part of a so called temple wonders. These were a bit of a specialty of Hero along with inventions for theatre productions – he also built a wind-powered organ and a water-powered mechanism that opened temple doors as though by a mystic power.

A sharp, inventive mind like Hero’s paired with the practicality of diolkos could have led to incredible developments – because what do you get when you put a steam engine and a railway together? That’s right, you get a pretty substantial aspect of the industrial revolution – a steam train. Due to geographical and political limitations, those two ideas weren’t put together, but what if there had been a way?

Steam Engine

What Mikogo could have done:

While you want to keep your confidential data safe, as we discussed last month, the principal idea behind Mikogo is facilitating collaboration through screen sharing – that’s what we’re here for. If you can share your sketches, drafts, and schematics with others in real time and look at theirs in turn, who knows where the combination of your ideas might take both of you. On its own, each idea could be pretty cool. Together, they could be actual game-changers.

Mikogo gives you all the right tools for seamless collaboration. With screen sharing that works across different platforms and is compatible with all major operating systems, you can invite anyone to a screen sharing session. And since it’s so easy, they can even join if they are as savvy with modern computers as someone from the 1st century AD. You can talk via Voice over IP or one of our 30 international dial-in numbers, scribble your ideas down using the Whiteboard feature, and switch the presenter role back and forth as required. You can even record the whole session for posterity, so that historians in two thousand years will know what great minds shaped their world – or, you know, so that you can take another look at the session later when you want to put the creative flow into structured notes.

So, what can we take away from this?

Try to imagine the world if the Ancient Greeks had developed the steam train over a thousand years ahead of time. Even when taking into account the time it would have taken to actually put the pieces together and come up with a working steam-powered vehicle that runs on rails – this could have changed the course of history completely. The fast transportation of people, goods and ideas would have made the world – at least Eurasia as it is connected by land – a much smaller place much earlier on.

Imagine steam trains going through what was Alexander’s short-lived empire and maintaining the cultural exchange – or, a couple of hundred years later, imagine the Roman Empire on rails. It’s impossible to divine exactly what would have happened, but it’s safe to say that the world would have turned out a very different place if those two Ancient Greek inventions had been put together.

Collaboration in invention and research is very common these days, in startups as in scientific research groups. Crowdsourcing ideas, brainstorming with your team, combining expertise in different areas – the division of labor is one of the basic principles of our modern society, and it only works if people work together.

More often than not, though, those research groups and teams are still geographically bound to a certain location. Don’t limit the progress of your ideas and your company that way. It doesn’t matter whether someone lives across the country, the continent or even the world if they are the spark that will ignite your vision of innovation. All the tools you need are there – make use of them and collaborate! And when you do, make sure that your team is on the same page… but more on that in the next post. Stay tuned!

Up next: A prime example of miscommunication leading to an embarrassing wartime surrender!