LowTech – Improve your life with the least you can use
After the golden age of High-Tech, Low-Tech proposes another direction by promoting a sobriety of consumption and production thanks to simple technologies with low environmental impact.
Today the electric light is 120 years old, the internet is 50, the WorldWideWeb (www.) is 29, and the very first smartphone is 12. We are living in a time where technology is developing rapidly and where we are surrounded by high-tech devices that help us make our life easier than never before.
What is less noticeable is the hidden cost of these high-tech devices: precious resources, energy consumption, unrecyclable materials, pollution, etc. We need to improve many factors before we can become a high-tech global sustainable world!
That’s why some people decided to make a shift in the range of solutions and alternatives, by using what is called the Low-Techs.
Low Technologies (or LowTechs) are simple technologies, often of a traditional kind, such as crafts and tools that predate the Industrial Revolution, adapted to modern sciences and understanding of the world. It is by definition the opposite of high technology.
As Kris De Decker, founder of the Low-Tech Magazine describes, Low-Tech is “the potential of past and often forgotten knowledge and technologies when it comes to designing a sustainable society. Interesting possibilities arise when you combine old technology with new knowledge and new materials, or when you apply old concepts and traditional knowledge to modern technology.”
They are simple technical solutions, sometimes “updated”, generally local and that use the least possible resources, for a sustainable environmental and social impact.
Low technology can typically be practiced or fabricated with a minimal investment by an individual or a small group of individuals.
Also, the knowledge of the practice can be completely understandable by a single individual, free from the increasing specialization and compartmentalization.
As a result, those who develop low-tech products or services fervently fight the planned-obsolescence of high-tech objects.
A movement with its own principles
Kennen Muir, writer in Medium, describes the movement in those words :
“Low-Tech is doing the most with the least possible effort.
Low-Tech is about saving time.
Low-Tech is about saving energy.
Low-Tech is about saving resources.
Low-Tech is not avoiding technology.
Low-Tech is about using the simplest technology available to solve a problem.”
In our current world, people who are creating and using Low-Techs are usually doing it because they are either searching for resilience, willing to be less energy- and capital-dependent, or willing to reduce their carbon footprint and waste.
Low-techs are :
- Tools, techniques and technologies easily replicable on an individual or collective scale;
- Zero-waste initiatives: bulk sales, composting, instructions – returning packaging to the store;
- Smart-city: technological innovations in a city such as city bike stations, solar ovens, water recycling showers, solar water heaters, etc.;
- Collaborative workshops for repairing objects like RepairCafe, HackerSpace, FabLabs:
- But also some recent innovations like smartphones. For example, the Fairphone which is sustainable, completely reparable, socially ethical.
Low-Tech: a lifestyle?
Low-techs are pretty much linked to DIY (Do It Yourself) movements, that are also representing a lifestyle, by means of accepting that a product is sometimes less powerful, reappropriating the process of creation, as well as refusing some products and tools that are usually expensive and which contain components that are not always good for the health and the environment.
The idea is not to fully disregard the high-techs, but to use and produce them responsibly.
“The idea is not to snatch people’s smartphones. But it is to give up the obsolescence of desires wanted by the marketing that makes you change your phone every 18 months”, says Philippe Bihouix, French Engineer, author of The Age of Low Tech (2014). And adds: “Why not say to change it every 5 years? This could reduce the impact of the digital system in the broad sense by 50%. Similarly, we do not necessarily need 8K TV … “
Green-Tech VS Low-Tech?
Note that Green-Techs and Low-Techs are not the same thing. Green-Techs are a kind of high-tech mean to help humanity become more resilient and sustainable in the long term. Which means that the goal might be similar but the approach is different.
“After, in green tech, there are things that are amazing: people who work on short circuits and zero waste, architects who work on the issue of reusing materials”, says Philippe Bihouix.
According to the report “For a digital sobriety“ of the think tank The Shift Project, digital is responsible for 3 to 4% of global energy emission, a figure that increases by 9% per year.
Since 2013, CO2 emissions have increased by around 450 million tones. “I think there is a lot of skepticism about the promise of solving everything with high-tech technologies. While the reality is different and the planet continues to deteriorate“, concludes Philippe Bihouix.
Low-techs are part of a growing movement touching more and more people everyday, willing to minimize their impact and practice a more responsible consumption. They represent innovations from another perspective, which do not mean going back to Stone-Age, yet just a more concious lifestyle, promoting a more resilient and sober way of living that could sustain everyone and our planet.
🌄Further information, to deepen the subject :
- Participatory Wiki about Low-tech : https://wiki.lowtechlab.org/wiki/Accueil
- Magazine online sharing many Low-tech solutions : https://www.lowtechmagazine.com
🌄 Sources for this article:
- For a Digital Soberty by Shift Project : https://theshiftproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/2018-10-04_Rapport_Pour-une-sobri%C3%A9t%C3%A9-num%C3%A9rique_Rapport_The-Shift-Project.pdf