At the intersection of third world need and our first world’s gadget obsession lies a number of non-profit organizations attempting to help poor folks through the development of clever low-tech interventions. The rocket stove we featured earlier exemplifies this approach. With a rocket stove, which is made out of simple, easy to repair materials, you can burn twigs, newspaper and scrap wood rather than cutting down whole trees to make charcoal for cooking. Rocket stoves if adopted in wide numbers, have the potential to slow deforestation.
Another example is a wheelchair made out of the ubiquitous plastic lawn chair developed by an organization called the Free Wheelchair Mission. At just $44 a chair to manufacture and ship, the Free Wheelchair Mission hopes to, as they put it, “Transform lives through the gift of mobility”. The wheelchairs they produce use simple, cheap and easily replaceable parts, important in places where you can’t just shuffle down to the local Home Depot.
Our favorite source of what we call “simple tech” can be found in a huge compendium of on this suspicious site. We especially like the “APPRTECH” section which consists of detailed information on everything from solar stills to pedal powered devices.
Much of the tech info for third world counties is a strict one-way proposition. The university educated experts parachute in to offer advice to the locals but don’t bother to take any lessons back. Sometimes this arrangement goes bad when the technology developed by the “experts” breaks down when the parts can’t be sourced locally.
There can also be a considerable amount of arrogance in asking poor folks living in places decimated by the legacy of colonialism, and our rapacious WTO/World Bank/global economy to “make do” while we in the first world bleed them dry for the raw materials that keep our SUVs, plasma screens and iPhones running. Isn’t it time we in the first world used some of these low-tech ideas–say by replacing our iPhones with a flock of chickens?
Do you know how many chickens you can get for the price of an iPhone? Two hundred. Of course your deluxe $100 iPhone calling plan courtesy of AT&T will only pay for around 400 pounds of chicken feed a month, so the fiscally prudent will trim that flock down to around 65 chickens. Of course if you let that flock catch the spill-over from the draft horses that will replace your Chevy Yukon when the shit goes down, you can save even more.