Can’t Live Without You
“Technologies can be soft or hard and everything in between. Soft technologies are those enacted by people, e.g. knitting needles are a soft technology – they need people to be of any use. Hard technologies are the ‘physical stuff’. A fridge is a hard technology – it can function without being enacted on by people.
We use hard technologies to make things easier and faster, by reducing the number of choices for users. Hard technologies are brittle and stifle creativity. They prevent us from doing things and that is why we use them. They are complete. Hard technologies act as filters – they structure our spaces and limit what we can do.” Jenny Mackness
Soft and Pliable Technologies
Soft technologies are flexible and empower creativity. The user has to plan and orchestrate processes, which is more difficult. Soft technologies may seem simple to produce (in retrospect) but require time, skills and observation to be used.
Mixed technologies can be an intelligent conversion or enhancement of technologies. A bicycle is the perfect mixed technology. It is the most efficient form of transport known to man. It requires human energy, skill and observation to operate it. And so we Segway to the Motor car. The common car is a mixed technology. The self-powered, self-driving car will be a hardened technology.
A Chicken-Worm-Tower is a mix of simple animal housing technology with good flow-management strategies (the waste from the upper level becomes food for the lower levels). A simple pit Toilet (the old hole in the ground) is a hard technology whereas a good composting toilet is an evolved mixed technology.
Modifying Hard Technologies
A building is traditionally a hard technology but with observation and adaptations it can become a mixed technology, we can learn adapt and drive the structure by opening windows to allow breezes through, installing heavy curtains prevent air circulation and heat loss, reduce heat through window panes by applying reflective foil, or plugging drafts.
Does a Technology have to cost the Earth?
Choosing a technology requires a little bit of cost analysis beyond the financial cost.
- What is the embedded energy in the product,
- how long will it last,
- is it able to adapt with my needs?
- Can it be repaired?
- How much waste will be generated when it breaks?
- Can it be dis-assembled for recycling?
A young Permaculture site is a soft technology, it requires vision, care, skill and training. The user needs to be flexible and creative. But when the mature Permaculture is designed well it becomes a harder technology. There is less work to do. Once the water management and forests are established, it is harder to manipulate or damage the environmental system and when we learn to work this technology it rewards us with food and improved habitat. Within this world we can still be creative and we have more resources to play with.