The development of technology has greatly changed human life, turning night into day and making all kinds of things possible in the smart era.
However, the majority of the world’s population is marginalized by the changes. Many poor people in developing countries live in absolute poverty and have to worry about how to find clean water or electricity and can’t even think about using a smartphone.
That’s why some scientists and NGOs are turning their attention to technology that serves the basic needs of all, instead of the most advanced technology like that for smartphones or hybrid cars.
Sung Nak-hwan, a researcher at LG Economic Research Institute, said in a report that the concept of “appropriate technology” dates back to Mahatma Gandhi, who wove his own clothes in a traditional way, in protest of the weaving machines from the United Kingdom that devastated the traditional textile industry and regional economy of India. He called for developing technology that considers the people of each country, instead of recklessly adopting modern industrial advances.
Appropriate technology is based on traditional knowledge and experience, and aims to coexist with ecology. Diverse NGOs and governments around the world as well as universities focus on this.
Sung says now is the right time to expand. “When it was first introduced, many people regarded it as idealistic and too romantic, far from reality … shadowed by the cutting edge technologies that have marked huge growth during recent decades, it only received limited attention.”
The condition has changed, according to Sung.
“People are increasingly concerned about welfare following the global economic recession, and environmentally friendly technology is in the spotlight. The development of information technology has also made it easier to take ideas from diverse people.”
He cites green technology as another positive factor. “Fossil fuels cause climate change by increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And nuclear energy, which comprises the fatal risk of nuclear leaks, makes people pay attention to energy efficiency and environmentally friendly green technology… so appropriate technology, is naturally receiving attention.”
A radio developed by Freeplay Energy for use in Africa, for instance, can be charged manually, and a water pump named Super MoneyMaker pulls up underground water when one steps on the pedals without needing electricity. D-Light S250, a solar light and mobile charger, doesn’t need electricity either.
For the development of technology, it takes new ideas from many people rather than cutting-edge scientific theories. As people are linked to every corner of the world through the Internet, smartphones and social networking services, it has become easier to work on this.
He advises that the most important point in appropriate technology is that it should suit the needs of the people in the target area. In places which lack water and sewage treatment facilities, squat toilets are useful no matter how hygienic flush toilets are. The products should also be low priced so that people there can afford them. Q-Drum, a doughnut-shaped water container developed to help people easily fetch water from faraway fountains, is cheap and the best option for them.
Products based on appropriate technology can end up opening new markets in developed countries through reverse innovation, Sung notes. The Life Straw by Vestergaard Frandesen, a portable water purifier which cleans up to 1,000 liters a day without using chemicals or electricity, was meant to be for people in developing countries who had access to only muddy water, but the demand for the product is increasing in developed countries as well as it can be used by travelers or serve in times of emergency.