Technology

Schumacher opposes any form of technology that takes away from people the joy of creating. He states that work fulfils at least three different functions: to give every person the possibility to use and develop their skills; to encourage people to overcome egoism by doing things together; and to produce articles that are not superfluous but necessary for everyday life.

Ivan Illich focuses even more on the role of power: 'We must develop and use tools that guarantee man's right to work efficiently without being controlled by others, and thus eliminate the need for slaves and masters' (Illich, 1978).

There is a tendency to regard technology as neutral and to believe that political aspects only come into play when technology implemented. A knife can illustrate this view: it can be used to cut bread or to kill someone. But when an industrial robot becomes part of a workforce, it is obvious that it not only increases productivity but also redefines the whole nature and qualitative conditions of work at that production site.

From the history of the building industry we have seen how small changes in the use of materials can have far-reaching consequences. Until about 1930 nearly all mortar used was lime mortar. Bricks could, therefore, only be laid in meter high shifts since the mortar needed time to harden. The bricklayers had to take a break and often used that time to design or do other detailed work. Then, with the introduction of Portland cement, this changed the situation drastically. Within a few years, architects and engineers took over the task of detail design, which had been the mason's job for centuries.

Most of today's technological structures still place efficiency and profit before a human's qualities in work. Real, long-term service value to the consumer is seldom the result, and the environment has often suffered. The technology philosopher Langdon Winner maintains that 'much could have been left undone'. His colleague Jonas follows with the statement: 'One shall only do a part of everything one is actually capable of doing'. Today's society is ruled by a high degree of technological determinism. It is taken for granted that the technological development has its own momentum, which cannot be hindered in anyway.

As early as in the 1960s, Lewis Mumford stated: 'From late Neolithic times in the Near East, right down to our own day, two technologies have recurrently existed side by side: one authoritarian, the other democratic, the first system-centred, immensely powerful, but inherently unstable, the other man-centred, relatively weak, but resourceful and durable' (Mumford, 1964).

Thus there is an issue of more or less democratic building materials. On the one hand products with a low degree of technology and processing, such as clay, natural fibres and timber, and on the other, highly industrialized products such as aluminium and plastics. The industrial ecologist Hardin Tibbs wrote about the potential of combining benign materials with eco-networking. The key, he said, 'would be first to identify a set of materials which have a long-term geophysiological compatibility. A fairly small set of acceptable materials could probably be used to supply 80% or more of all production needs. The next step would be to devise clusters of production processes that use some or all these materials, and which can be interlocked ecosystem-style. Once this was done, the resulting industrial clusters or industrial ecosystems might stand a reasonable chance of being stable over time' (Tibbs, 1998).

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