Appopriate Technology LeadIfny Lachance of Free Geek, ethical computer recycling.
with input from Troy Piper, Amy Walker, and Terry Lowe
A stone used as a hammer is considered a form of technology as is a computer processor. Political systems, flow charts and crocheting are also technology. They are tools or methods we use to accomplish tasks, like grinding espresso beans, performing a tonsillectomy, or processing fiber into cloth. As we know, some technology has terrible effects on our bodies, our natural environment and communities. So how can we be more responsible users of our knowledge and tools?
“Appropriate Technology” is a term popularized in the 1970s by E.F. Schumacher, the statistician and author of Small is Beautiful. The term is often used to describe tools developed from humanitarian efforts in less industrially developed countries. We invite our readers to consider an Appropriate Technology approach right here in North America, by looking at the basics of life.
Small is beautiful, less is more. Reducing consumption is the keystone of sustainable living. If there is a single trait that defines North Americans, it is our love of purchasing things: All too often, we are what we buy. Altering these purchasing habits has a powerful influence on our collective future. The easiest way to do this is to reduce the amount of things purchased, and simplify our lives. www.lawsofsimplicity.com
Local food is better. Buying at a farmer’s market or from a CSA program (Community Supported Agriculture) benefits the local economy, and will improve your health. A 2008 survey of farmers markets by the United States Department of Agriculture showed the number of farmer’s markets in the U.S. had increased by 3,000 since 1994, because, says a USDA administrator, “Food buyers like the opportunity to interact with the producers.” www.farmersmarketonline.com
Making you own clothes or having some tailored provides you with your choice of fabrics, a perfect fit and exactly the style you want. With a boom in DIY and craft, tailors and seamstresses are becoming easier to find and the more we support them, the more we will find their services available. Natural fibres such as wool, hemp and silk are durable, renewable and provide great comfort. www.etsy.com
Buildings account for roughly half of CO2 emissions. Main considerations for homes are the insulation and air-tightness of the building. Prevent heat seeping in or out to lower your energy use. Think of your house holistically: It is a whole system and every part contributes to its net effect. Be aware of how much energy you use daily. A whole house energy meter is a great tool to raise your awareness and reduce energy consumption.
“Work less, live more” is the mantra of the Work Less Party, which espouses a four-day work week. Many people work too much at jobs they dislike. Rather than using our industrial efficiencies to produce more, we can choose to work fewer hours and do work that truly engages us. When we find work more meaningful, there is less need for escapism and mindless diversion. “Workers of the World, Relax!” www.worklessparty.org
One way to enjoy the benefits of energy-intensive technologies like cars is to use them more efficiently. Sharing works. Susan Shaheen, Co-director at the Transportation and Sustainability Research Center at U. C. Berkeley, says that car-sharing programs are attractive to consumers because they’re convenient and cost-effective. People see the traditional automobile as a fixed cost, she says, “Since they’ve paid for it, they’d better use it.” But car-sharing, transit, bicycling infrastructure, etc. give them options and flexibility. www.zipcar.com
Philosopher Ivan Illich proposed that we look for technology that is equitable, efficient, and convivial. For a tool to be convivial it would increase opportunities for meaningful relations between people, and would not segregate or exclude certain groups.
The World Wide Web is the ultimate convivial tool. Among the favourite aphorisms of Lee Felsenstein, a pioneer of personal computers, modems, and sociable computing were: “To change the rules, change the tools,” and “If work is to become play, then tools must become toys.” www.clevercycles.com/tools_for_conviviality