There are both proponents and opponents about the impact of small in the realm of technology, economics and environmentally sustainable development. In economics, scale of operation has so long been so important that failing to adhere to the economic dictation for viability and profitability of an economic enterprise would render the owners thrown out of market. So, scale of operation and matching technology often demanded relatively bigger one since the days of first industrial revolution in England about more than three hundred years ago. Growth-centric development vision has gone a long way to cloud the sustainability centered vision of today's reality. GDP became an ever dominant indicator of measurement of growth and development.
Against this dominant development paradigm, Dr. Schumacher wrote his book "Small is beautiful" arguing in favor of small in the areas touching the technology, economic operation, environmentally sustainable development and so on. Following the thinking and belief arising out of emergent values created by the book, a British group called ITDG (Intermediate Technology Development Group) started supporting as well as implementing projects and programs in some countries including India and Bangladesh. It was the time when environmental sustainability became a serious concern of the thinkers and policy makers in the West. One book "Limits To Growth" and its sequel "Beyond Limits" commissioned by Club of Rome acted as a whistle blower against the dire consequences of growth-centrism.
Technology for large scale operation pursuant to profit maximization and related other things turned into a menace against human survival on the planet earth. Since long, large-scale operation and resultant pollution have gone to exceed the capacities of sinks. From oceans, soil, air to ozone layer, the sinks everywhere have gradually been in the process of overflowing and getting polluted to make the planet uninhabitable for humans including all other living species. Growth vision, bigger scale of operations, environmental degradation and so on are all becoming so dangerous to cross the carrying capacity of the planet. So, it has become urgent to acknowledge and treat sustainability at the center of all human activities in the light of technology, economics, ecology, environment, politics, society and so on.
Social sustainability vis-à-vis technology is another critical factor to be taken into account for understanding the impact of small as well as appropriate technology on society. Like the ecology and environment, the society is also very important area where technology has a crucial role to play. Technology for more productivity and higher volume of production in the hands of profit-seekers has the potential tendency to make the rich richer making wider gap between the rich and the poor unless some economic adjustments are made aiming to ameliorate their deprivation. The sense of exploitation and deprivation creates tension among the poor causing imbalance and instability in the society.
Sustainability twins-environmental and social- empowered by the appropriate technology perceived to be small, intermediate and smart as the propeller for moving the space-ship earth and its inhabitants would either be able to avoid the future doomsday or reach a future destination where the inhabitants will collectively thrive. Given the crucial role of technology and necessity for a sustainable future of humanity to thrive collectively, it is necessary to rethink about the technology, its characteristics and the efficacy to attain sustainability, both environmental and social.
It is heartening to note that since middle period of last millennium, the thinking around spaceship economics began to creep in the socio-political sphere. The issues like human rights, liberty and social justice and equity, etc. were talked long before everywhere in the planet, but loudly in the peripheral states across the continents. Since then, due to gradual but critical perception on sustainability, it has been talked to "get most out of less". Getting the most out of less has a new dimension related to technology for the sustainability twins. The technological invention and frugal innovation aimed at creating more values out of less have now gone sometimes to cause disruptions. There is now technological best fits, often smart and relatively small, with the demands of all segments and economic classes across the society.
Behind the emergence of this phenomenon, there have been ceaseless efforts of the scientists, economists, business strategists and other relevant stakeholders. In order to survive in the competitive markets in the globalized world and to take advantage out of these, the principle of "getting the most out of less" serves as constant reminder. So, when it is said about efficiency, it refers to efficient use of materials which is viewed as material efficiency for lessening adverse impact on ecology and environment. In economics, it is about the cost of making the commodities and services to be affordable by the intended customers and frugality. Another point is about aesthetics related to expression. The saying that ugliness cannot be sold is an old adage. Perpetual truth is that it is only beauty and beauty.
Humans everywhere from the West to the East are now witness to this fact as the Chinese products, assumed to be in the light of principle "getting the most out of less" are for all in the markets and societies. Less implies relatively small in size, volume and cost. Hopefully, the aesthetically beautiful products come in the markets from small and intermediate technologies. It can also be inferred that there are material efficiency, cost-making targeting all segments and economic classes in the societies and aesthetic beauty since ugliness cannot be sold. Small is not really small, rather smart, powerful and beautiful.
The author is a columnist and vice-chairman of CDIP.
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