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Appropriate Technology [Design
Posted on March 23, 2015 @ 04:22:00 AM by Paul Meagher

The Wikipedia page on Appropriate Technology defines it as:

Appropriate technology is an ideological movement (and its manifestations) originally articulated as intermediate technology by the economist Dr. Ernst Friedrich "Fritz" Schumacher in his influential work, Small is Beautiful. Though the nuances of appropriate technology vary between fields and applications, it is generally recognized as encompassing technological choice and application that is small-scale, decentralized, labor-intensive, energy-efficient, environmentally sound, and locally controlled. Both Schumacher and many modern-day proponents of appropriate technology also emphasize the technology as people-centered.

These are a nice set of attributes for technology to have.

We can apply this definition to various technologies on the horizon and ask ourselves whether the proposed technology is an "appropriate technology" or not. Given the pace of technological development in A.I related-areas, it can be useful to invoke the "appropriate technology" definition as a way to evaluate technology. Or shall we just accept that if it is new it must be appropriate as well?

We don't have to look into the future to find examples of inappropriate technology, they are all around us. Many would argue that farming has many inappropriate technologies like pesticides, reliance on synthetic fertilizers, and heavy machinery on the landscape, and so on. The design of our urban and suburban landscape also has alot of inappropriate technology such as an over-reliance of cars for transit, methods of heating, methods of building, dedication of productive landscape to lawns, wastewater management, and so on.

The fact that we have so much inappropriate technology represents a large opportunity for entrepreneurs to create appropriate technology. The problem is the solution.

If you create appropriate technology you will have the ability to market that technology using on a long list of favorable adjectives. So appropriate technology is arguably very marketable.

The way of the future is towards appropriate technology as solar and wind technologies continue to supply local capacity to our power grids. The future of renewable power generation is to become more appropriate. The fact that it is renewable energy makes it appropriate, but how the power, money, and employment associated with local power generation is distributed in the local community is where another level of appropriateness comes in.

I want to conclude this blog by zooming in on one aspect of the definition of appropriate technology, namely, the idea that it is "labor intensive". This aspect of appropriate technology can be understood in the context of farming practices and the observation that in countries like India they did not benefit much by adopting modern Western agricultural practices that included big machinery and dependence on non-local sources for pesticides, fertilizers and GMO's to plant (unsustainable debt loads). In the Indian context, smaller scale labor-intensive technology makes more sense and is more sustainable (smaller debt loads). That is not to say, however, that Indian farmers want their work to be labor intensive. It is that you cannot currently avoid it if you want more sustainable systems of food production.

Using computers to make a living involves using a technology that is not labor-intensive unless you count keystrokes as being labor intensive. I wonder if computers could be made more "labor intensive" and therefore more appropriate? The standing desk computers are one attempt to move in this direction, but a more labor intensive computer would be one that you had to generate power for through your own physical exertion. So I googled "bicycled powered computer" and found a few images that I'm sharing with you below.

Are these "appropriate computers"? Perhaps "labor intensive computing" will be the next big thing :-)

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