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Mindful techno-fixes


Between my finger and my thumb / The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.  (Seamus Heaney).

These days it’s a smartphone between our fingers and thumbs and we are more attracted to tweeting and texting with pace than to writing with profoundness, although I will make a poor attempt at this as I write this blog while inspired by the late great Heaney.

Technology can disconnect us from nature and each other. We are lured more by gaming in darkened rooms than by hiking in the great outdoors. Phubbing replaces conversation and Facebooking means more to us than friendship.

Smartphones are becoming weapons of mass consumption and 3D printing accelerates our want for more stuff when we are already dealing with the damaging effects of our out-of-control lifestyles. They have an escalating footprint with carbon emissions from data centres and base stations and with all kinds of mining impacts from hardware’s perpetual use of minerals and metals.

These are among the more extreme downsides. The more mindless and irresponsible uses of technology are problematic.  Does this mean we reject it and could we reject it, even if we wanted to?

Better management of technology’s footprint and an unleashing of its positive enabling power is surely the way forward.  Smarter and more mindful uses present huge opportunities.

If done right, technology can decarbonise, de-mystify, dematerialise and even democratise our high-impact systems such as energy, transport, and manufacturing.

The Climate Group’s Smart 2020 report reminds us of the gigatonnes of carbon emissions that can be saved through ICT.  Smart buildings, grids and logistics brought by ICT are part of technology’s positive enabling power.

Our vast consumer appetites are increasingly informed by more digitally-aided conscious consumption and even tempered through technology-enabled collaborative consumption.  For example, the Marine Conservation Society has developed and excellent Good Fish Guide App to inform us on which foods to buy and which to avoid.  And, there has been an explosion of social networking sites that support leasing and/or sharing of vehicles, rooms and household goods, dematerialising the conventional provision of such things.

3D printing reduces the logistical impacts of traditional manufacturing and transportation of goods, although its use of plastics presents a problem.  However, Janine Benyus of Biomimicry 3.8 points out if we instead copy nature’s use of a small number of natural feedstocks, then 3D printing can embrace the use of recyclable materials and help drive the circular economy forward.

3D printing, crowd-sourcing platforms, and crowd-funding sites provide new democratising opportunities – inclusive interventions that can constructively disrupt systems.  For example, local business and/or community-led green energy schemes are starting to challenge utilities in the power sector in various markets, whose progress around alternative energies is slow.

These are just some of the more enlightened approaches that ensure our use of technology travels in the right direction.  As part of such mindfulness, technology is not seen as providing a silver bullet.  The appropriate fixes in public policies, business models and citizens’ behaviours are also required for positive world changes.

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