Why technology choice matters

September 11th, 2011

It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m writing this blog on a train heading north from London to Bradford to give a lecture at the British Science Fair tomorrow. This is part of a whole series of events we’ve been attending this year to publicise the centenary of the birth of our founder, the economist Fritz Schumacher’s birth.

 Tomorrow I will be talking about the ideas Schumacher espoused back in the late 1960’s and, in his book Small is Beautiful, in the early 1970’s concerning an alternative view of economics ‘as if people mattered’. Given that it’s a science festival I will also be talking about how Schumacher came to believe that the choices we make around the development and use of technology shape the societies in which we live and can have huge consequences in terms of limiting the choices others can make now and in the future. There are examples of this all around us today, if you think about it. The development of biofuels in the US leads to a surge demand for corn in international markets and a rise in the price of tortillas, the staple food in Mexico. Our global addiction to fossil fuel based technology creates an inheritance of climate change for our children and grandchildren. Schumacher argued that we need to rethink our relationship with technology. And so on…

It’s my belief, and that of Practical Action, that to ensure greater equity of opportunity for a decent standard of living for everyone on the planet today, and a chance for a sustainable future for all of us, we need a new principle to govern the development and use of technology. That principle we at Practical Action call technology justice. Technology justice combines a right – that all people should be able to choose and use technologies that assist them in leading the kind of life they value – with a corresponding responsibility – that this right could be enjoyed only so long as that choice does not compromise the ability of others and future generations to do the same. My point tomorrow will be that the principle of technology justice is as relevant to our lives here in the UK as it is to those of the poor and marginalised living in the developing world. Our challenge in our own society and as a global community is to find a way to govern the development and use of science and technology so that it better meets the principle of technology justice in the future.

I’m looking forward to an interesting debate!

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