simple living sustainability technology

The future’s bright, the future’s low tech

I’m quite a fan of appropriate technology, E F Schumacher’s belief in human-scaled technology, as exemplified in projects such as appropedia or practical action. According to Schumacher, technology has a tendency towards giantism and complexity, and so moves ever further away from its human operators. Appropriate technology on the other hand recognises the ‘actual size’ of human life, preferring innovations that are small and simple and ultimately more empowering.

Low Tech magazine is a a blog that explores this vision of technology, showcasing inventions and techniques that demonstrate how unnecessary high tech often is.  (It’s not updated very often, but when you see how much work Kris de Decker puts into each post you will understand why. See this article on human-powered cranes as a case in point.)

Technology seems to dominate our imagining of the future. Browse the Paleo-future blog and you’ll find all manner of wonderful predictions, all of which involve more ambitious technology and more complicated gadgets. And we haven’t learned. Compare this 1925 vision of New York and this 2010 vision of the city of the future, and there are more similarities than we might like to admit.

Pretty though these visions are, and I’m still hoping for the jetpack one day obviously, the future is more likely to lie with appropriate technology. Oil is a highly concentrated form of energy which has allowed us to create machines of an unprecedented scale. As oil depletion becomes a reality, we will be forced to think smaller. We won’t be returning to horses and carts, but we will need to think closer to home.

The questions we ask will change. Rather than asking how we can travel further and faster, we’ll work out how to avoid travelling at all. We’ll stop wondering how tall a building can be, and concentrate on local materials and maximum efficiency. Longevity and easy maintenance will become new priorities. Instead of individual solutions, we’ll want shared facilities. We’ll value the modular over the monolithic – dispersed technologies. The internet works this way, like a beehive, and the national grid could too with some tweaking. And we’ll need some rural visions of the future, rather than forever glamourising the city.


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