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With the ongoing climate crisis, the destruction brought forth by the unsustainable push for constant growth of capitalism and a world filled with increasingly complex and disposable machines and tools, there is very strong need to scale down and simplify our technology and engineering.
Design has become on a lot of ways a self-referential discipline, focussing more and more on aesthetics over creative problem solving or, at the even more basic level, just taking the time to see if there is a problem to solve. Design has been instrumentalized by capitalism to manipulate people, create needs and keep us distracted.
Craft was turned into a hobby by capitalism as global supply chains and globalized markets with their concentration of manufacturing facilities in countries where labor is cheap and environmental regulations are rare. But craft holds the power to decentralize the production and maintenance of a lot of the items we use in everyday life and have them last for generations.
Since I was a kid I was curious about how things worked, from synthesizers and computers to medieval siege weapons and woodworking tools. By taking those apart, and building my own versions with what I had available and plans and knowledge collected from books and websites I developed an ability to repair or build tools for most situations where a tool is needed and also to think of new ways old tools could be used.
I can imagine a future where small communities have integrated craft and functional and critical design and engineering in order to become more resilient, reduce their technological waste and teach these skills to children.
Examples of low-tech technology
People have been making pedal powered machines almost since bikes were a thing, most machines working with a rotational movement or reciprocal movement is a good fit for that kind of energy. The idea being, having a frame with a seat, pedals, gears and often a flywheel (to even out the rotation and multiply the energy generated) that transfer human energy to a rotating shaft which is then attached to the machine directly to make it spin or via a cam mechanism to transform rotation into reciprocal movement.
Resources, inspiration and further reading
- Ressources pour l’écoconception et la sobriete numerique
- Notes on permacomputing
- Sustainable interaction design principles
- Designing for low bandwidth
- Low tech lab
- Long-termism on XXIIVV
- Wild Human Life, nomadic low-tech studio
- The Damaged Earth Catalog