This morning I was catching up on some reading when I ran across a post by +Alexis Smolensk titled Age. The post is about how Alexis deals with age limits on demi-humans as compared to humans. Now in the post Alexis makes the follow comment:
". . . Tolkein's elves . . . sit and sit and wait and occupy themselves with unaccountable tasks - singing, I suppose, or other art forms that are only obliquely addressed. Over 1,000 years, it doesn't seem like much of a life. Why they don't develop the technology and skills mankind invented within 800 years after the re-education of Western Europe is never explained. If we are going to talk about skills, it doesn't take 800 years to learn to use a sword better - it doesn't even take 800 years to replace the sword entirely with gunpowder, cannon and rifles - but the elves seem uncommonly maudlin, unambitious creatures . . ." (Age)
The answer to why elves haven't advanced far beyond the understanding of humanity - or even simply developed a more modern technology - is procrastination. Procrastination affects all of us, and there is no reason to suppose that it would not affect a creature who lived a thousand years to a greater extent.
We see the effects of procrastination in our everyday lives as we put off planting flowers, building decks, and finishing series we've been writing. It permeates existence and has caused the trite saying, "There's never enough time," to be the standard lament of every elderly person to appear on film in the last twenty-five years. So when the question is asked, why haven't the elves advanced technologically beyond the scope of human understanding, the answer is clear: procrastination. In other words, Elves haven't advanced beyond our keen because they've always got tomorrow.
Humanity advances, in part, because we view our lives as these short little things that have to create a greater importance for ourselves than a simple existence would allow. We alter the face of the earth and endlessly toil with mechanical chores to make our lives easier so that we can do more. Cranes can move more earth than a man with a shovel. Guns kill game and our enemies better than a rock ever could. Books whisper our words through the ages to people who will remember our names a thousand years from when we put pen to paper.