Kyle and the kids heading downtown for a swim in the River
When I was living at the Possibility Alliance in Missouri (check out this article in the Technoskeptic about the PA) I heard a tale told of some local Amish who decided against putting lightning rods on their barns. They weren’t pro barn fires but they were pro-community and realized that losing the occasional barn to a fire is an opportunity to strengthen the fabric of their community. Similarly, when I asked an Amish man I was working with why they didn’t own cars I expected his answer to include reasons promoting simple living but Instead he said cars made it too easy for their community to fracture. They decided that horses and buggies were more appropriate for their goals as a group. Both of these stories point to a level of consideration and wisdom usually absent from the average American discussion around community.
The term “Appropriate Technology” was coined by EF Schumacher in his seminal work, Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered back in 1973 to describe technologies that promote the values of health, beauty, and permanence. And Gandhi is seen as one of the original purveyors of this idea with his work on small-scale, village-centered economies in early 20th century India. For Gandhi, it was a means of providing dignified work for while maintaining cultural values amidst the crushing weight of British imperialism.
On our urban homestead in Reno, NV where we’re interested in good living and concerned about our impact on the planet, I ask myself, “What are the appropriate technologies we can use to meet our needs in a conscientious manner?” Here’s a list of several we employ:
• Passive solar design for light and heat
• Bicycles and trailers
• Sun Oven
• Mass in our buildings for heat retention
• Greywater systems
• Solar wall heaters
• Solar food dehydrators
• Masonry heater (heats, cooks, entertains, dries clothing, dries fruit, heats water)
• Root cellar
• Natural building (and using natural materials for art and beautification)
• People, in numbers
Much on our list appropriately involves solar because we live in the high desert with year-round sunshine. But, deciding what’s appropriate for you will involve considering location and environment as much as rethinking technology and how you seek to meet your needs. Here are my tips:
• Simplify your understanding of technology:
• Look around, where can you simplify, change, improve with technologies that meet all of your needs
• Move away from thinking that focuses on objects (or nouns) and towards means (or verbs):
• “I need a means of getting into town” instead of “I need a car”. Maybe this leads to walking, biking, living closer to town, sharing a car, choosing an electric vehicle...
• “I need a way to clean my clothes” instead of “I need a washing machine”. This doesn’t have to mean that you boil your clothes in water heated by your rocket stove fueled by your neighbor’s cow patties (which would be rad). It could mean that your rethinking leads you to use a laundromat, to sharing your neighbor’s machine and it’s costs, to being more mindful of how you wear your clothes…
Friend Conrad Rogue uses this language for designing buildings better: “I need a sleeping place” instead of a “I need a bedroom”....
Consider People Power Before Machines
Need a big hole dug, walls built or demolished, soil moved to your garden beds? Get a group of people together, add some grub and beverages, maybe some music, and Voila! Jobs done, fun had, memories made, community strengthened all at the same time.
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