Appropriate Technology and Development

Please, That’s Not Appropriate Here…

Appropriate Technology, a somewhat condescending (from the receivers point of view) title for a movement that arose in the 1970s, focuses on providing an improved intermediate step on the technology staircase between developing and industrialized countries. While some of these ideas have been expressed for many decades (see The Ugly American by William Lederer and Eugene Burdick), the success of the movement has not been universal. Skeptics claim that while the ideas have merit in reducing the destruction of natural resources and improving living conditions with minimal outside investment, the entire idea typically fails to take into account the economic aspects of technology transfer and development.

Weaving Cloth in West Africa

 

The appropriate technology movement was appropriate in its backlash against failed post-World War II aid programs from rich countries to poor ones. Most of those programs focused on large scale industrilization and infrastructure projects with little thought of the long term needs or societal stability and human capital required to sustain them. The world has since wisely turned its back on those methods for the most part.

A good first step would be for us to admit that we don’t control societies or economies as well as we think we could or should. The development of industrialized nations into sustainable industrialized nations and of developing nations into the same is not merely a systems engineering problem, where we can drop the right pieces of technology into place and arrive with a well functioning machine. Culture, desires, profit and livelihood, history, concrete present and fuzzy future all play a role in every population’s collective decision on where to progress next. As an engineer, many of those studies were not included as part of my formal training, but that doesn’t mean that I can ignore them. The complexity of our world is increasing in many ways and the solutions must keep up. This challenge is what will define real progress or our lack of it for this century.

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