Appropriate Technology

The other day, we had a big snowstorm.  It dumped 12 inches (30 cm) of the white stuff, and made everything very beautiful.  Around here, with snow means snow-shoveling.  As the storm eased up, I headed outside, and grabbed our shovel, which consists of a blue curved metal shaft (ergonomic), a blue plastic handle, and a blue plastic blade. 

 With this simple tool, I proceeded to pick up snow, and toss it some feet over to the side of the paths or the driveway.  Pick up, toss, pick up, toss.   Like leaf-raking, this is an energetic-but-meditative repetitive rhythm of body movements. It gives a good work-out in the fresh air — in winter wonderland surroundings.  It’s a bit like going skiing really, except in your driveway with a shovel.  I felt so good! It occurred to me that the shovel is an exquisite example of appropriate technology – it is only as high-tech as minimally necessary, while utilizing Nature’s engineering of the human body effectively, and providing us a tune-up as we work.

I imagine my intermittent arcs of snow looked not unlike the continuous arcs of snow coming out of snowblowers, which many of my neighbors were using.  These are heavy machinery, run on gas instead of lunches, and the human behind them shuffles slowly behind the thing.  They are quite popular, and some of my friends enjoy them.  But compared to my shovel, I thought, the snow-blower under-utilizes what nature has already provided – our body.   It is not appropriate technology for the task of moving snow from my personal driveway.

While I was working, a big snow plow trundled by, pushing snow to the side of the street.  Seeing me, the friendly driver also pushed a bit of the snow from our driveway to the side.  Thank you, anonymous snow plow driver!   I recalled stories from Austria, where mountain villages used to be cut-off from the world for weeks while men opened up the roads with hand shovels.  Hm.  The snow plow, I thought, is appropriate for the task of clearing roads.

So when is a technology appropriate and when is it not?   Of course, we can’t make a neat categorization that matches each task to some technology, that would be silly – for snow, it depends on how big your driveway is, what your time allows, what your body can do.  And I like my high-tech, including internet and computer, as much as the next gal.  But we can strive to utilize the wonderful, amazing, strong, and flexible capacity of our human bodies and minds, while using as simple a Thing or Technology as possible.  That would get us closer, I think.

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