I first came across Vinay Gupta through his article on the State of the Art in Appropriate Technology (2007), where he states bluntly that
“The reason that the developing world is not using these technologies is because almost none of them actually work in practice in field conditions well enough to spread like the cell phone did. The model here isn’t sifting through piles, it’s picking three or four things, making sure they’re well tested and accredited, and then getting them **finished** – polished, tested, refined and then rolled out. Nearly nothing **actually** makes the grade – we’re looking at things which are *close* and hoping for future refinements.”
I was looking for information on taxonomies, about which he had this to say:
“I do not believe that anybody alive understands the actual network of interconnections well enough to produce a useful taxonomy of appropriate technology solutions at this point – for example, the Sustainable Settlements Charrette neither produced nor used such a taxonomy. RMI doesn’t regularly use a taxonomy for infrastructure that I’m aware of.
“Taxonomies are incredibly difficult and require profound thinking on the fundamental questions, and that thinking has not been done yet. It’s the work of years.”
This led me to accept that the best taxonomy, at least for now, is whatever works for the problem at hand. There’s never going to be a complete list of appropriate solutions, or even a complete classification of them; but simply putting them into lists of categories helps to identify what’s relevant and what’s missing.
More broadly, however, I started to get drawn into Vinay’s world, which is frequently mind-blowing. To begin with, most of his writings are collected under the heading of “The Bucky-Gandhi Design Institution: Free science and engineering in the global public interest,” and posted at http://vinay.howtolivewiki.com/blog/. Here’s how he defines the big picture:
If you’re just getting oriented to The Big Problem, here are four basic facts and some useful resources.
- Every year 60 million people die – all causes, all countries, all classes in total. One third – about 20 million – will die before their time because of poverty.
- Nearly all of those poverty deaths can be prevented by basic infrastructure like biosand filters, rocket stoves, composting toilets and so on.
- We have less than 100 years of forest left, never mind global warming, increasing pollution and hyper-consumption. Supporting 1.5 billion middle class people is nearly killing the planet, never mind trying to find the resources for 7 billion. This gap is culturally forbidden to discuss.
- The west is bankrupt because as the rest of the world recovers from colonial oppression, they flex their muscles, increase political pressure, and push for a more equal world – making us poorer. Rather than getting poorer gracefully, we have been borrowing at a national and individual level to make up the gap. We are running out of people to borrow from.
Resources you might find useful.
- Infrastructure for Anarchists and Simple Critical Infrastructure Maps help peel apart how our industrial-technical-political civilization really works.
- Soft Development Paths and The Future of Poverty examine what we might really do about poverty. The infrastructure component can be seen at Ending Poverty with Open Hardware. Appropedia is an open store of appropriate technology and appropriate infrastructure know-how.
- Collapsonomics examines the reality of our financial plight. The Future We Deserve is a collaborative futures project, including an open source book, which is starting a real conversation about solutions.
There’s an enormous body of work here, which you might call “open-source thinking,” and which has me thinking about an open-source approach to building the alternative economy. More on this to come. In the mean time, here are some of the more specifically relevant of Gupta’s pieces:
Armed with Science… and Magic (Nov 2011)
A quick life update… (Nov 2011)