While I was in India a few years ago, I saw people doing lots of manual labor – in the most literal way.  They were moving things with their hands and their bodies.

Someone I was travelling with said that we could get rich selling these folks wheelbarrows: “Make ’em in the States, ship them over to India, and make a big profit!” I politely agreed that it was possible, but I knew it would never work. Transportation and labor costs were big immediate blocks – why make them (with expensive American labor) and send a shipping container around the world when they could be made more cheaply locally, and avoid the international shipping? The other big thing I saw is that human labor is cheap in India. Very cheap.

A more appropriate technology would be to assist in that physical labor, something low-cost and lightweight, something that would do the job the same way, but better. Something like a hard-hat with a carrying ring.

I like the idea of appropriate technology.  Don’t try to sell a John Deere to a place where there are no fueling stations.  Don’t take a battery-powered device to a place where there are no batteries.  Don’t have the technology exceed the infrastructure.  A space shuttle on its landing wheels is not launchable without a means to stand it on end.

Traditionally I have seen appropriate technology mean that something is degraded to fit the local techno level.  But I like this quote:

Appropriate technology is technology that fits.

And I have put that to use a couple times recently.  A friend wanted to replace an old laptop and had narrowed it down to two models, one with slightly more oomph.  Memory, hard drive, and screen size/resolution were about the same, but one had a stronger CPU.  It was also about fifty bucks more.  Then he told me what he was going to use it for: light web browsing, email, maybe balancing his checkbook.  Oh, and dumping movies from a camcorder into computer files.  He’s a private investigator, and part of his job is to produce this evidence.  That made the choice real easy: go for the horsepower.  He won’t use it most of the time, but it will be available when he wants it.  That’s appropriate.

I also wanted to transfer about 40G of files from one PC to another.  Even though they were physically close, they couldn’t see each other across the network.  Fine – set up an FTP server on the receiving one, and shoot them across from the sender.  But they still couldn’t see each other.  Bummer.  Then I remembered Tornado, the USB-based transfer hardware/software.  Got them talking right away.  I started the transfer, went and ate lunch, and it was done when I checked back later.  Very appropriate.

And local – I keep it with my computer toolkit.  Hard to beat that for technology goodness.