Appropriate Technology

Ultimately, we wish technological systems to reflect our value(s). However, many of our currently held values did not exist prior to the use or invention of some technology. In these cases technology is an amplifier of our initial values.

Technology as an amplifier

  • Technology amplifies our physical faculties (ie: telescopes, tractors, the internet)
  • Technology amplifies our chosen social function (ie: agricultural technology)

Appropriate technology

Technology transfer occurs when a more developed society comes into contact with a less developed society. This usually occurs in the hope of solving problems such as food shortage, poverty, lack of medical care and other social problems. However the efforts often fail to achieve what they set out to. This is shown in the documentary, the computer and the goddess.

Overview: the computer & the goddess

For centuries, rice farmers on the island of Bali have taken great care not to offend Dewi Danu, the water goddess who dwells in the crater lake near the peak of Batur volcano. Toward the end of each rainy season, the farmers send representatives to Ulun Danu Batur, the temple at the top of the mountain, to offer ducks, pigs, coins and coconuts in thanks for the water that sustains their terraced fields. Outsiders have long considered the rituals of Agama Tirtha, "the religion of holy water" an interesting but impractical way to grow crops. Development companies have spent millions trying to improve on the ancient system.
This involved moving to Western agricultural practises, which attracted pests. The use of pesticides and the new farming methods were expected to increase the yield of the crops, however for the first time in history the productivity was decreasing.
With the help of an ingenious computer program, anthropologist Steve Lansing and ecologist James Kremer have shown that the Balinese rice growers have been practicing state-of-the-art resource management. Besides placating the goddess, it turns out, the island's ancient rituals serve to coordinate the irrigation and planting schedules of hundreds of scattered villages. And as a new computer model makes clear, the result is one of the most stable and efficient farming systems on the planet.

Ernst Friedrich "Fritz" (E.F.) Schumacher & 'Appropriate' technology

E.F. Schumacher (1911-1977) was a internationally recognised economic thinker with a professional background as a statistician and economist in Britain. He is best known for his critique of Western economies and his proposals for human-scale, decentralised and appropriate technologies.
He proposed a number of consequences of introducing inappropriate technology to the 3rd world:

  • Creates an economic dependency on the 1st world
    • In terms of capital borrowed
    • Economic dependency because of the high-cost of the product
  • Creates a technological dependency on the 1st world
  • 1st world technology is designed to operate within the context of a high-technology environment
  • The 3rd world country will probably lose control over the technology
  • It could trigger a centre/hinterland demographic transition

Bruno Latour

Bruno Latour was a French sociologist that argued that scientific theory does not necessarily apply to the real world; he states that we construct a metaphorical 'laboratory' within the real world where these theories apply.


Values embedded in appropriate technology

  1. The form of technology ought to produce a system which provides the local people with:
    • well-being (health, employment, economic)
    • autonomy / self-sufficiency
    • freedom
  2. Inserting the form of technology into the economic, social, ecological, political and cultural system of the third world country ought to result in a system that is stable under normal conditions and resilient to outside disturbances.
  3. The form of technology should produce a system that is controllable by the local people

Intermediate technology

Schumacher proposed the concept of intermediate technology; technology more efficient than traditional techniques but less sophisticated than first world technology.

  • Intermediate in sophistication (so the locals can understand/teach it and local industry can support/maintain it)
  • Intermediate in capitalisation (the locals will be able to financially support it)
  • Intermediate in employment intensiveness (more employment than 1st world technologies)

eg. Schumacher's 'Egg-basket' example
To solve the problem of egg-carrying in grass baskets, we could introduce 1st world technology (egg-carton factory). However:

  1. 1 factory (at full capacity) can produce 4 million egg cartons a year (100 years-worth of Nigerian demand)
  2. 1 factory employs 6 workers
  3. In order for the factory to maintain in operation it requires massive amounts of paper pulp
  4. It will require foreign expertise & capital to install, operate and maintain the factory

An intermediate technology could be employed, such as manually pulping and stamping paper using moulds.

  1. Not excessively sophisticated (local people can operate & maintain)
  2. Intermediate in capitalisation (starting capital is small)
  3. Intermediate in the number of people employed

Appropriate technology in the global context

Appropriate technology is context dependent. For example, the example proposed by Schumacher does not suit a country such as India or China.

A form of technology is appropriate if and only if:

  • It increases the values of the local community (health, employment, autonomy, self-sufficiency, freedom, wealth)
  • Inserting it into the environment creates a system that is stable and resilient
  • It produces a system controllable by the local people

Developing a competitive market niche

What as technologies appropriate for Australia to keep it in a Wealth Cycle

  1. Adequate local resource support
    • Technology backed by abundant local resources may produce a stable system (locally controllable, ensures autonomy and economic independence)
  2. Intermediate to small sale of capital
    • concentrate capital to ensure a monopoly / large market share
  3. Intermediate to small-scale client-tailored high technologies
  4. Serving significant Asian market
  5. Adaptable to export market serving Asian developing nations (bring wealth and stability to Australia)
  6. Capital / employment intensive industries

Competitive niche technology

  • Biotechnology
  • Legal and financial services
  • Information processing technology servicing large multinational corporations
  • Pharmaceutical research and development tapping into alternative medical knowledge
  • Solar desalination, solar process steam and other solar technology

Appropriate technology is a device or technique which when placed in a system, amplifies desirable values.

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