Technology in Our Everyday Lives

Posted by on Jan 31, 2013 in Blog, Technology | 0 comments

It’s very fitting for us to be kicking off the Commons11 blog with some thoughts about how technology fits into our lives – when it’s useful, and when it’s not. So this post is about defining ‘appropriate technology’ and what it implies for people.

What is appropriate technology you ask, and why does it matter?

First of all, ‘technology’ refers to the application of knowledge for a practical purpose. Note that it doesn’t strictly refer to machinery or tools, although we tend to associate the word with computers and gadgets of which we don’t often understand the inner workings. And why ‘appropriate’? For me, this is the exciting part. Technologies – everything from a tea bag to a bicycle – is the product of the surrounding social, cultural, economic and political environment (see here for a classic paper about this). For example, the microwave oven was originally designed and manufactured for young bachelors, yet when it entered the domestic sphere, it became a ‘feminine’ technology because of its association with cooking (see this link for more on this story). As we can see, technologies cannot be separated from their contexts. As in the case of the microwave, its design was a gendered one. Technologies are therefore used in ways that fit into our everyday lives, whether this be for better or for worse.

So an appropriate technology is one that fits into our lives rather seamlessly. It’s people-centred in the sense that using it helps us, rather than hinders us. It was actually designed with the surrounding social, environmental and economic context in mind. Like what? Like the soda pop bottle skylights you might have heard about. By sealing soda bottles into the roof like a skylight, light can pass through leading to a very low-cost (and energy-saving) solution to poorly-lit homes.

We often treat technologies like they have a mind of their own, yet we are the ones who have created them – at a certain time in history, with a particular purpose in mind, and making use of  materials and processes that were available at the time that it was created.

So how can we ensure, then, that the technologies we produce are as appropriate and useful as possible? We can do this by building tech that is inclusive, and that fits into the context, rather than forcing people to adapt to the tech. We need to be aware of the surrounding context as much as possible, so that the ‘right’ features can be developed: whether through mobile, a web platform, or something as simple as a plastic bottle.

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