Friday, October 11, 2019

Appropriate Technology Essay

Emerging economies all across Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East frequently look up to the developed ones in Europe and North America. This has less to do with cultural and social values and more to do with their relative level of prosperity. As Alex Steffen (2006, pp. 18-19) asserts, the kids of Cape Town and Novosibirsk don’t want to be Americans, rather they want to be who they are but with the benefits of technological modernity and development. Many pundits wrongly presume that improving less-developed communities requires implementation of a Rostovian model of development – linear evolution from certain economic states to more sophisticated ones –   but the problem is that they have limited success in nations where there are deficits in political will, infrastructure and in some cases, resources. As the Sustainable Times (2008) notes, many of these nations are â€Å"worse off than before they began to ‘develop’.† Village Earth’s (n.d.) Appopriate Technology Sourcebook opines that the result has been the ‘modernization of poverty’ in which farmland ownership has becoming increasingly consolidated, communities have become divided and individuals must operate on the fringe of economic activity to survive. As it stands, much the success of Rostovian models of modernization and development in European and Northern American nation-states have been born from exploitation and colonialism, if not entirely unsustainable. Nonetheless, the issue of development (or lack thereof) descends to levels deeper than just material prosperity, but matters of acquiring basic amenities such as clean water, decent shelter and a reliable food supply. With the aforementioned deficits in mind, it becomes necessary to find creative ways of fulfilling these needs rather than relying on the centralized forms of development which keep developed nations from sliding into a grim meathook future. This is where appropriate technology comes in, which is quite literally technology that is appropriate to the needs of a certain community, and suited to its uniquely salient attributes. Most commonly, this means addressing the deficits that exist because of a lack of capital-intensive development particular to modern urbanity. But a more critical understanding of appropriate technology is the recognition that technology does not follow a single path. Instead it is about realizing that the uniqueness of communities has a particular bearing on what kind of technological future is best suited to their needs. As the Village Earth notes: â€Å"It is a way of thinking about technological change; recognizing that [it] can evolve along different paths toward different ends. It also [recognizes that technology embodies] cultural biases and sometimes have political and distributional effects that go beyond a strictly economic evaluation.† (Village Earth, n.d.) Appropriate technology can be divided between hard technology and soft technology. The former refers to the application of engineering, machine science, physical structures and other forms of material technology devoted towards the realization of economic goals, whilst technologies dealing with the essence of human interactions, motivational psychology and social structures fall under the category of soft technology. (Albertson & Faulkner, 1986) Environmentalists, particularly those of the bright green camp which embrace technological solutions to the concerns of the planet, are known to endorse appropriate technology because they posses many features that are relevant to issues of sustainability such as low cost implementation, maximization of limited resources and to some extent, the development of   closed-loop systems which make such low-cost efficiency possible. For the most part, this involves employing creative solutions to common problems. Take for instance the problem of water supply in sub-Saharan Africa. For the vast majority of its people, acquiring water requires distant trips to water sources that are kilometers away. One solution to this is the Roundabout PlayPump, which utilizes the energy generated by children playing on an outdoor merry-go-round to pump underground water from depths of up to 40 meters into a 2,500 liter tank at the rate of 1,400 liters per hour. Over 500 of these pumps have been installed in South Africa, where clean water is scarce, and freeing children of the time they spend hauling water during after-school hours. (Danby, 2004) Another example of creative design is the Q-DRUM, which is essentially a wheel-shaped water container. It’s a simple approach – making a heavy barrel that bruises the neck and strains the spine into a rolling wheel – that makes you wonder why they didn’t think of it before. By running a rope through the wheel’s hole, the chore of water hauling becomes much less burdensome. (Project H Design, 2007) Surprisingly enough, low cost solutions are not limited to the simplest of needs. MIT-based inventor Amy Smith has developed many low cost solutions to problems in the developing Third World. One of her inventions is a method for producing charcoal, from agricultural waste such as sugar cane bagasse, for use as a cooking fuel. Previously, Haitians harvested trees for their cooking fuel and this innovation has been used to help address deforestation in Haiti, where thousands die annually from massive flooding. (Dean, 2004) Another invention of Smith’s is a phase-change incubator. She has also developed a phase-change incubator that relies on a highly portable fuel source – essentially a cheap chemical compound shaped into marble dimensions – to maintain a temperature of 37 °C for a period of 24 hours and obviating the need for an existing power grid, a concern all too common in the most lowly developed of communities. (Kennedy, 2003)

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