| Appropriate Technology in Post - Modern Times |
The importance of technology for social and economic development and for the environment has generated few reflections on its complex nature. Technology is more than hardware. It involves entire systems of knowledge, skills, techniques, management and organization. Cars and computers are more than tools, they are extensions of nationwide, even world-wide systems. Behind them are fuel stations, pipelines, refineries, oil wells, power grids, factories, workers, engineers, banks universities, and so on. Between the use of hand tools and modern technical artefacts lies the transformation of entire societies - and of the minds of the individuals who have grown used to command forces much greater than their own by turning a switch or pushing an accelerator. These transformations have reached such an extent that technology forms a regular part of the society and the environment in industrialized countries. Here the question of technology's influence on culture is outdated and should give way to a fresh look at the technological culture and the ideology that has emerged with it. This ideology culminates in the imperative that everything that is technically possible must be done, and in an indiscriminate belief in technical progress. One of the most serious consequences is that social changes associated with technology transfer to the South are either neglected or believed to be 'normal' and easy to achieve.
The all-embracing nature and ideological impact of modern technology account for the difficulty of maintaining a rational attitude towards it. Appropriate Technology is a reaction to the irrational technology practice of Western societies, and to the dangers of advocating the same practice in entirely different societies and environments. AT is a very global concept because the multiple dimensions of technology - psychological, social, economic, environmental and political - relate to global problems like poverty, economic crisis, and cultural and environmental deterioration. These problems are global in a double sense: they affect both the North and the South, and they form complex overall constellations which do not allow simple solutions. The need to consider technological options against an almost endless variety of socio-cultural and economic objectives, physical parameters, and environmental effects makes any concise definition of Appropriate Technology very difficult.
Confusion about the nature of technology is one cause of the failure of AT to gain greater influence on the regular technology practice. Others include AT's self-imposed constraints: limiting activities to the South, concentrating on few technical artefacts, and neglecting political, institutional and economic issues. None of these factors is an argument against the viability of Appropriate Technology. There are no intrinsic conceptual or technical obstacles on the way towards a large-scale AT practice.
The wide spectrum of participants at the international workshop AT in Post-Modern Times in May 1992 indicates that Appropriate Technology is of concern to a range of groups far beyond those bearing the label in their name. The global nature of the AT concept has allowed it to pervade many fields of work and to achieve a variety of impacts. This is easily overlooked if the analysis is limited to conventional project assessments. Overcoming the constraints arising from the traditional form of cooperation in isolated projects is in itself an objective and a partial achievement of the AT movement.
All this does not make it easier to define Appropriate Technology concisely, but the movement can live with this difficulty. The workshop illustrated the diversity of the AT concept and practice. Fritz Schumacher's ideas have not become obsolete but continue to influence approaches towards technology and development. Certain criteria for the appropriateness of technologies have been confirmed in practice. Technologies are considered appropriate if they (1) contribute to meeting basic needs, (2) use and develop local natural and human resources, including capacities in autonomous technology development, (3) overcome economic dependence and promote self-reliance, (4) are compatible with the culture and knowledge of the users, (5) lead to creative participation and reduce excessive workloads, and (6) avoid pollution and depletion of natural resources. But it has also been understood that general criteria are never exhaustive. They must be modified, supplemented and weighed according to the specifics of each case.
The workshop indicated significant progress in putting the global AT principles into very diverse local practice. Numerous specific ways have been found to achieve the delicate balance between autonomous innovation and external support. A wealth of experience has been accumulated which calls for systematic evaluation and wider application - lessons wait to be shared.
Among the most important results of the workshop are the participants' perspectives and proposals for future action. They are clearly directed towards supporting people's initiatives and grassroots organizations. Suggestions for strengthening AT through improved concepts, methods and cooperation instruments are in line with this priority. The existing diversity can be turned into a source of strength if exchange and cooperation between partners within and outside the AT movement is intensified. To promote this process will be among the priorities of GATE's work in the coming years.