Hard and Soft Technologies

 Can’t Live Without You – Dear Technology

help-meTechnologies can be classified as Soft or Hard. Most technologies sit within the range between these two extremes. Knowing the difference helps us choose a technology to do a task with the least environmental cost.

Basically, Soft technologies are those handled by people. Whereas, Hard technologies don’t need people to watch over them.

“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

Elaborating on technologies

A fire pit is a soft technology because requires a skilled operator to start it and keep it going.  However, a wood-fired oven is a slightly ‘harder’ technology because some of the physical effort is reduced by the addition of walls and a chimney.  Eventually, the electric heater was developed. It required less effort and provided speed. This is how the technology of heating became ‘Hardened’.

Very Hard technologies don’t need humans to keep them in operation. A solar passive house is the ultimate Hard technology – it functions without an operator.

Soft and Pliable Technologies

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Ferrocement – a creative soft technology

Soft technologies are flexible and empower creativity. The user has to plan and orchestrate processes. This requires skill and creativity. Soft technologies may appear to be simple but they require time, skills and observation to function.

Co-Evolution

bikeMixed technologies can be an intelligent conversion or enhancement of technologies. The bicycle is the perfect mixed technology. It is the most efficient form of transport known to man. A bicycle 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 hard type of technology.

Hard Technology Improves Peasantry lifestyle

An example of a soft technology is a house that constantly needs cleaning. Consequently, hard technology deals with inevitable issues such as waste management. One example is the The flush toilet. This is a hard technology, requiring little handling to do a vital job. A simple pit-style of toilet (the old hole in the ground) is a hard technology whereas a good composting toilet is an evolved mixed technology.

chicken-weeds-worms-towerIn a simple chicken house, the poop builds up. The chicken in the wild would not tolerate this, it would move house and allow nature to recycle the waste. The domesticated-chicken-owner is constantly cleaning up after them.

Imagine a chicken house design that is self-cleaning. The 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).

Softening Up The Hard Technologies

Traditionally, a building is a hard technology however, skills can be developed to soften any negative effects of a building.  With observation and adaptations the building becomes a mixed technology.  Adaptations develop and the user learns to drive the structure. These adaptations include simple tools like opening critical windows to allow breezes through. More adaptations include the use of heavy curtains to prevent air circulation and heat loss. In more extreme cases the user reduces heat-loss by applying insulating materials and plugging drafts.

Does a Technology have to cost the Earth?

Choosing a technology deserves a little bit of environmental analysis beyond the immediate financial cost.

  1. technology-save-us?What is the embedded energy in the product?
  2. How long will it last?
  3. is it able to adapt with my needs?
  4. How is it repaired?
  5. What waste is generated?
  6. Is it easy to dis-assemble and recycle?

Hard and Soft Technology of the Permaculture Site

A young Permaculture site is a soft technology. It requires vision, care, skill and training. The user needs to be flexible and creative. As the site matures we see the space become a Harder technology.  The mature forest is robust and requires less maintenance.

The hardened environmental system rewards us with food and improved habitat. Within the mature food-forest we will enjoy being creative and we have more resources to play with.

 

Learn more about Permaculture Design with Us

Participate in a hand’s-on workshop through our hybrid learning systemFront-Page-Gallery-9

Christmas Tree: ‘Alive and Kicking’

Bigger and better every year.

Our Christmas tree is now 10 years old and is slowly getting bigger! It is now over 2m tall.  When it outgrows the doorway it will be allowed to reside in the garden. It is an indigenous Araucaria evergreen called a Bunya Bunya.

Bring in the Christmas Tree
Bring in the Christmas Tree

Bunya Bunya’s have massive (35kg) cones of edible nuts. We must be careful never to stand under a Bunya when it is in fruit. Bunyas are an ancient species, surviving over hundreds of millions of years. But very few of these proud ancestors were stuck in a pot and harassed by summer ornaments. Our Christmas tree has character. The young leaves are bright green and there is a positive glow about the tree.  We must forgive this tree for having bent branches due to the annual decorations and an imperfect trunk due to constant traffic on the balcony where it usually resides in the ‘off-season’.

Before you rush out to buy one of these trees in time for Christmas just 8 years later, be warned! There is a reason that this tree species is an ancient survivor. Beneath the good looks is resilience (it is heavy and strong) and great self-defense strategies (it’s pretty anit-social).  Getting a Bunya Bunya to come indoors is a battle that needs armory and planning. Even after using thick clothes, eye protection and gloves, we bear the scars.  A Bunya Bunya gives nasty scratches to anything that goes near it including possums, deer, birds and festive revelers.  The plan is to bring the tree in when the days are dry. This makes it lighter to transport. We then let it have Christmas ‘drinks’ in moderation to avoid the risk of death by over-watering.

handmade-angel-for-christmas-tree‘Tis The Season Of
Consumer Power

There are workable alternatives to living in a sea of toxic plastic. This is the season of great consumer-power.  Lets enjoy supporting farmers, restorers, artists and craft-makers who make the effort to rid our world of non-recyclables and invest in ethical gifts.

Value Biological Resources

A fundamental principle of Permaculture design is to use biological resources. An investment in renewable resources such as a living tree requires only a little maintenance. Like a fine wine, it gets better as it ages. Traditionally, most people would cut or buy a cut tree (you can use a branch), bring it in and then find a use for it after Christmas. Most people have to compost there tree somewhere.

some ‘silly season’ recycled Christmas Tree ideas

Real Is Better

A real tree is a far better choice than a plastic tree. The plastic tree not only gets shabby with age, it is nearly impossible to recycle because it made of many different types of plastics and not made to be easily disassembled.

handmade-star-for-christmas-treeA simple native conifer or pine tree that is fragrant and not spiky would be an excellent investment.  If you have patience and skill, invest in a rare indigenous tree. This will give you pride and revolutionise the legendary tradition of having a real Christmas Tree.  If you want to a few sample, dig up a weedy pine sapling from beside the road. If you are feeling highly skilled and have no growing space, try a bonsai Christmas tree. Bonsai’s can live for hundreds of years.

Let’s start a fashion growing potted Christmas trees and if we succeed we can give the spares as a special future Christmas present.