Appropriate technology is, according to Wikipedia, “technology that is designed with special consideration to the environmental, ethical, cultural, social, political, and economical aspects of the community it is intended for.”
For me, appropriate technology is about using the materials and human resources that are to hand to provide a technological solution. Basically, don’t over-engineer technological solutions.
My sister sent me this link to a Youtube video last week and it is a great example of appropriate technology. It features a slum community in the Philippines where they are using something as simple as a plastic bottle, water and a little bleach (to prevent algal growth) to bring light into the homes of people who cannot afford to use electrical lighting. The Youtube clip is approaching a million hits and the BBC have also been out there to see this in action.
What gets me excited about this sort of thing is not just the immediate consequences, in this case lighting someone’s home, but the greater potential that it has. Light in the home can lead to a better quality of life but also brings opportunities for increased productivity and education that can lift people out of poverty. Quite simply, the ability to read at home for me is the greatest value that this can bring.
If you are interested in finding out more about appropriate technology, there are some great charities out there, such as Practical Action, that work to promote development through promotion of appropriate technology.
I’ve been giving some thought to how I will approach making my home and life smart and sustainable. It’s been quite difficult to come up with something robust and systematic as this is a project that will be ongoing over many years, rather than being a discrete project with a finite period of implementation.
Central to the project will be the formulation of a vision. This will set the scope and parameters of the project (i.e. how much of my life will it extend to and what I want to achieve overall). Then, for each mini-project or significant purchase, a specification will be prepared for what it needs to achieve (for example this could be the purchase of a new television or a project such as getting a new kitchen). By their nature, specifications will be performance-based. Performance will have technology elements (e.g. a mobile phone may be required to have 3G connectivity) and sustainability elements (e.g. a new kitchen may be required to have all wood from sustainable sources). The setting of specifications could get tricky when technological requirements and sustainability goals conflict, but in these cases I will try to have to revert to the vision to try to keep me on the correct path.
After applying the specification it may be that a number of products meet the brief. In these cases, the shortlist of products will be subjected to a comapritive appraisal of their sustainability performance. This is something I have some experience of through my work, and I will be looking to develop an appraisal method to guide me in this respect.
So, going forward the first thing I need to do is set the vision. This will require a certain amount of crystal ball gazing to see where technology is headed over the coming years and that is the next big thing I will be focussing on.