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The Most Delicate Technology: Appropriate Technology

Imagine drinking a bottle of ice water from the refrigerator on a scorching day. It will definitely make you feel refreshed. Unfortunately, one sixth of the world’s population has difficulty finding clean water to drink. Many people in developing countries drink contaminated water. According to the World Health Organization’s recent document in 2015, one child dies every 90 seconds because of contaminated water. In order to solve the fundamental problem of water insufficiency and its contamination in such countries, Vestergaard Frandsen, a Danish company, invented the “Life Straw.” This straw can filter up to 700 liters of water while a user drinks, without the need for any other devices. The life straw is one famous example of “appropriate technology,” which is also known as “good technology.” It strives to narrow the gap between developing and developed countries technologically and economically. In this article, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) introduces the appropriate technology that has achieved huge importance in working as a helper to marginalized people and gives Kingos a chance to think about the relationship between technology and human society.

What Is Appropriate Technology?

Appropriate technology aims to improve the quality of people’s lives with much consideration on what the society’s culture and environmental conditions truly need. Moreover, the technology usually focuses on marginalized people who need help from others. The technology reflects the hope for the world to be full of happiness and comfort by alleviating the plight of less fortunate people. As appropriate technology values humanity, not the technology itself, it is also known as “technology with the human face” or “warm technology.”

Significance of Appropriate Technology It is true that the trials for aid toward marginalized people, such as low-income families, started a long time ago. The support, however, has mainly included monetary donations that are often one-time deals and cause financial overreliance that results in greater economic difficulties. On the other hand, the introduction and development of appropriate technology provided the technological support that suits to the situation of the targeted society.

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This has significance in that it leads to constructive changes in society by strengthening their economic autonomy for a better future. This emphasizes the importance of technology that can provide real solutions for daily life problems of struggling people and can give social contributions to the world.

History of Appropriate Technology

The concept was first introduced in the 1960s by an economist, E. F. Schumacher, who coined the term, “intermediate technology.” He suggested that society need mid-sized technology in order to accomplish positive social developments. This is because intermediate technology pursues small scale production with less capital and relatively simple skills that enable the users in underdeveloped countries to participate in the production with local materials. Later, researchers in the field expressed a concern that the term “intermediate” might imply that the technology is unfinished or inferior than high technology. As a result, it is now called appropriate technology. As the concept was initiated 50 years ago, society’s attention toward the technology have withered. Since the 2000s, however, appropriate technology started to regain its popularity and attention with the expectation that it is sustainable and practical in the field of social contribution and business. Moreover, BOP (Bottom of the Pyramid), a new business concept that targets the low-income bracket, raises the stream to focus on appropriate technology.

Scope of Applications

Developing & Developed Countries

Although the products adopted by appropriate technology have been designed mainly for developing countries, they can also be used in developed countries. It is important to recognize that appropriate technology is becoming a larger concept that is not only for one specific target, such as low-income people. In developing countries, trials focus on fulfilling the basic needs of society with effective technological methods. In developed countries, appropriate technology can be understood as a technology that is environmentally sound and related to sustainable development. The notion that appropriate technology is provided exclusively for marginalized groups can mislead people to pay less attention to the technology.

Developers of Appropriate Technology

The developers of appropriate technology have changed as time passed. Before the 21st century, a few government branches and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were the ones that led the technology. The main examples are the United Kingdom’s NGO called Practical Action, which works to help people in poverty, and the United Sates’s National Center for Appropriate Technology.

Starting in the 21st century, many schools, research centers, and companies also started to participate in the development of appropriate technology. For instance, hundreds of universities, such as KAIST, are conducting collaborative projects with Engineers Without Borders (EWB) by the name of EWB-KAIST. According to the EWB-KAIST website, the organization was founded in 2012 and plans to continue their support for Nangi, a mountain village of Nepal, until 2017.

Examples of Appropriate Technology

By understanding the specific needs of the target society, appropriate technology can bring positive changes with massive impacts. Appropriate technology can be widely used not only at the individual level for drinking or eating, but also at the social level for education and agricultural reasons. Some technologies can lead to economic development by creating jobs or increasing income in the region. The following examples are representative technologies that brought a huge impact on society. The supporting details prove why appropriate technology’s other name is “good technology.”

Hippo Water Roller

The Hippo Water Roller was invented in 1991 by two South Africans, Pettie Petzer and Johan Jonker. They both had experienced the effect of the water crisis during their lives in rural communities, where access to water is a daily struggle for millions of people. The inventors’ mission was to improve the water access of the African communities in an effective and easy way. With traditional ways of transferring water, people had to carry full water buckets on their heads, which is harmful to children’s health and growth. Eventually, the roller enabled the transfer of 90 liters of water per use just by rolling the product. The roller is composed of two parts: a container and a handle. Also, it has UV protection to maintain a certain temperature of the water under the sunlight. The user can easily roll the cylindrical container with the handle that is made of steel.

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This invention is similar to another product called “Q drum,” which was also invented to alleviate the suffering caused by water crisis. The Hippo Water Roller, however, can transport 20 more liters of water than the Q drum. As the roller can be used for up to seven years, the product seems successful. According to the product website, however, it states that it is not a permanent water solution. It does offer an immediate and appropriate response to the issues surrounding water access, but the cost of the roller is quite high, and donations and further support are necessary.

Pot-in-Pot Cooler

The Pot-in-Pot Cooler is a pot refrigerator used in African countries, and it enables people to keep food in fresh condition even when there is no electricity. In practice, the hot and humid weather in African countries accelerates the contamination of food in a short time and usually leads to diseases. The Pot-in-Pot Cooler was devised by a Nigerian teacher named Mohammed Bah Abba, who was able to solve the problem by using the simple principle of evaporation. By putting a smaller pot inside a bigger pot and filling wet mud or sand in the space between, the fruits or vegetables kept in the smaller pot can be kept fresh and cool by the evaporation of wet mud or sand. This device, with a simple technique, increased the storage period to be nine times longer than before. This successful example recognizes the importance of putting the local problem before simply giving an effective solution. Even with no electricity, the natural cooler is highly used in hot countries, including Chad and Ethiopia, in order to keep local food fresh.

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Help Desk

Children in India, except some living in the metropolis, cannot afford to go to school because of a lack of sufficient educational environments. They lack pencils, desks, and backpacks, which are commonly regarded as the basic supplies for a student. Mumbai’s nonprofit organization called Aarambh, figured out how to give support to children by making a folding desk called “Help Desk.” Help Desk is made with paper and can also be used as a backpack. The cost of the help desk is only 20 cents, a mere \250 in Korean currency. This low cost burden enables the construction of a production cycle in the country. The organization receives only minimum profit from selling the product, and the profits are used to keep the manufacturing circulation. Nowadays, over 10,000 students in 600 schools have received a Help Desk. Furthermore, the organization stated that they are working to make new help desks with waterproof materials in order to mitigate the existing risk that the paper easily gets wet and is hard to be utilized for a long time.

The Future of Appropriate Technology

Existing Concerns

There are many failures of appropriate technology due to the lack of comprehension and research of the local communities. Many companies and organizations tend to rush in making inventions with brilliant ideas. New ideas are good; however, only focusing on ideas can interfere with the utility of technology due to the impetuous designing by the developers. One of such failures is Merry-go-round, which is a pump that was designed to also work as playground equipment. The purpose of the pump was to gain water along with the children’s joyful experiences of playing. The business was so successful that over 1,500 pumps were provided in Mozambique. A few years later, however, the locals no longer used the pumps because the children did not enjoy the pump as play equipment due to its low speed. Furthermore, the technology was ineffective in gathering ground water because doing so required a large amount of power. This inefficiency led to some awful cases that some children had to play with the pump forcibly instead of going to school.

Future Expectations

The current trend and needs of societies require appropriate technology to be environment friendly as well as tailored to meet prudent understandings of the society. Moreover, the high-technology seems to be adapting to appropriate technology. For instance, General Electrics produced a low price digital ECG (electrocardiogram) recorder for the Chinese and Indian markets. The machine, however, achieved success in the American market which expects to spread the meaningful role of appropriate technology. It seems true that appropriate technology, which can bring huge impacts with relatively small changes, will gain momentum as time passes.

Warm intentional technologies make the world better. The various activities under the one purpose to make a better world shows how the little steps of consideration for society can change the world. The practical use of appropriate technology retrieves the smiling faces of people by solving their real problems. The technology lets us know that the burden carried for so long can be set aside with the assistance of technology. As appropriate technology, the good technology, grows larger, the technology is becoming much more human.

임용희  eloise05@naver.com

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