In looking for a good introduction video for the subject of appropriate technology, I wasn’t finding much. Not surprising, when you think about it. And though this one focuses a lot one one issue, Iland really does a good job of introducing the idea, and showing how it applies in an area which illustrates well the needs of the third world and the excesses of the first.

Appropriate Technology, an idea that goes back to Mohandas Gandhi, is simply the idea that we should think deeply about which technologies we used based on the environmental and social context. Instead of simply favouring the most “high-tech” machines possible, the appropriate technology crowd seeks to design ones which best fit the people who will be using them. That means things like using local renewable materials (ie: bamboo or mudbricks), energy and generally making things as cheap and simple as possible so that people can learn to build and repair them.

10 Cases of Appropriate Technology –

How the One Laptop Per Child scheme made it onto this list is a little puzzling. It is, without a doubt, probably the greenest, most ambitious and humanitarian computer projects of all time. But as Iland points out, there’s still some major problems. There are at least a billion kids in the Developing World, and even if they can cut the cost down to $100 per laptop, that still means a total budget of at least a hundred billion dollars. Since so many other AT projects cost only a few dollars a piece and can be built entirely from local materials – such as the family scale composting toilet which can provide biogas to a kitchen stove. If you were starving right now in Africa, without clean water, affordable food, proper sanitation, medical treatment or clothing, how would you feel about a bunch of white people from rich nations who have everything you could ever imagine deciding to raise more money than your nation has ever seen from them before, because of the horrific notion that your kids do not have their own laptops? If you tried to advance an idea like this in an anthropology journal which talked about development would be laughed away. The first rule, as any undergrad learns, is that if you really want to help people, you have to focus on what they tell you they need, not what you think they do. If we’re going to give $100 per child to all Third World families, (which we should) it can surely be better spent than this.

Then again, with the price tag of the Iraq War, now over ten times that amount, you could easily afford everything up to and including a “one Gerber Multitool per child” program without flinching. But that’s topic for another post.

One Laptop Per Child – Yaacov Iland – Google Video (82 min)