Beyond computerized systems, technology is applied knowledge and any associated physical equipment. Appropriate technology, then, is any practical knowledge that serves fundamental needs while fitting within the broader flourishing of life. So encourage both the innovation and reclamation of technologies that serve the deeper, broader wholeness of life without leading us into blindly profitable collective folly.
Some related patterns: 32 Fair Sharing of Costs and Benefits
42 Grounding in Fundamental Needs 50 Life-Enhancing Enoughness
57 Nature First 67 Prudent Progress 72 Regenerativity 92 Whole
System in the Conversation
Going deeper …
This is an edited version of the video on this page.
Basically technology is about methodology – the “how to” of things. Flipping a switch to turn on a light is a technology. Even moving one foot in front of the other is a technology of walking.
We need to spread the word technology out to its fullest application. We have lately confined “technology” to electronics, computers, and communications technologies. But these are just the modern manifestations of the concept.
I’m trying with this pattern to deconstruct that. For example, there’s more and more use of the term “social technology”, which has to do with how humans interact to achieve certain things, like organizational forms for organizational development and organizational transformation. These deal with certain forms of human technology. Along those lines we find change processes like Open Space Technology and World Café being referred to as technologies.
Harrison Owen, the guy who created Open Space, was one of the first people to use the word “technology” in the name of the process they created. But it’s useful. Open Space not about computers. It’s about people doing things in openly spacious networked ways.
So one of my purposes here with this pattern is to spread understanding of the word “technology” beyond the computerized world and to look at it as “how we do things”.
The earlier form of this pattern was Appropriate Innovation. So what about the term “innovation”? Innovations are great. We can innovate and create new ways to do things. But innovation itself is not what were trying for here. We’re trying for ways to make life better for people, and to do that within the context of their social and ecological worlds and in the context of the future. So a lot of sustainable ideas and methods and tools come in here. And that includes lots of old stuff!
There’s a whole movement organizing around “re-skilling”, which is learning the old ways of doing things that were much more sustainable but just as effective as what we do now – like learning how to sew your own clothes and how to grow your own food, learning how to can stuff… These are actions that we now have mechanistic, often computerized ways of doing which are not necessarily sustainable.
We need ways of doing things that are more benign to nature, like renewable energy. You know, the flow of water has been a source of energy for ages – windmills in Holland and so on. What we call “renewable energy” has been going on forever. Solar energy in the form of heat has been used over and over again. Solar panels are just a new form of accessing that renewable energy.
Martin and I stumbled on the Hippo Rollers that are pictured here when we were looking for images to illustrate this pattern. The Hippo Rollers were made for women and children who usually have to carry water in places where there isn’t enough piping in the community to readily provide fresh water. The women and children have had to go to where there is a well. They would get water and usually had to carry it on their heads or in their arms, sometimes walking miles. So two South Africans designed these Hippo Roller things that contain 24 gallons (90 liters) of water that you can roll along the ground. The Hippo Roller has a handle and it’s just a giant water container that is designed to roll along the ground. This is technology. It has nothing to do with computers or communications. This is technology that makes life better.
Permaculture is another technology we used in the illustration. It involves an understanding of how micro-ecosystems work and how to design them in order to produce yield for people while the systems are sustaining themselves, with minimal waste and toxicity generated by it.
So those are featured in the images. But lots of other technologies work and are appropriate.
“Appropriate” in this case means “fitting” – in the sense that this is right for the purpose and it fits. One of the things I like to point out about evolution is that the term “survival of the fittest” – which comes from a competitive frame – is not actually what’s going on. What’s going on is survival of the FIT. If you fit in with your niche, you will survive.
There is a collaborative and integrated quality to the word “fit” that is not competitive. FittEST means that it’s a battle and that you’re gonna win. So it’s a different sense of evolution. Here we’re talking about “appropriate” as “it fits” – it fits in its culture, it fits in the needs of its environment over long-term, it fits the needs of the civilization or humanity over the long-term. To what extent does a technology FIT in all these different ways? That makes it “appropriate”.
And so the means of doing things and the ways those means fit in with the needs of the living entities and living systems involved, that’s what Appropriate Technology is about.