5.32: Appropriate Technology may be High Technology

Those who question the value of high technology for the developing countries tend to couch their arguments in terms of appropriate technology. Who would dare argue against appropriate technology? However, high technology, in some cases, may be appropriate technology. This is such a case. As electronic memory gets smaller and smaller and smarter and smarter and cheaper and cheaper (to buy and to run), it gets appropriater and appropriater.

The "appropriate technology" argument tends to parallel the "hierarchy of needs" argument, based on the work of Abraham Maslow.19 The former argues that one must first get low technology, then medium technology, and finally high technology; the latter argues that one must first satisfy biological needs, then sociological needs, and finally psychological needs. Both serve as a rationalization for keeping developing countries poor. Both are delaying tactics. Focus on the satisfaction of basic needs before continuing to the satisfaction of luxury needs (like human dignity and freedom, knowledge and understanding). Basic needs are, of course, never totally satisfied.

Just as the satisfaction of biological, sociological, and psychological needs has to be sought simultaneously, so low, medium, and high technologies have to be introduced simultaneously. There is an "appropriate" mix of the various technologies in each situation. The high technologies of the information society help satisfy the need to know and understand which are organically built into the human genes.20

Another argument is that, whereas the electronic devices are getting cheaper, they require a very expensive infrastructure to support them. Satellite technology, however, promises to reduce the need for an elaborate infrastructure.21 The Columbia spaceship, with the aid of Canadarm, is sowing satellites in the sky from which information can be picked up with inexpensive dish attenae.

19   Abraham H. Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being (Second Edition), Princeton, New Jersey: Van Nostrand, 1968.

20   W. Lambert Gardiner, On turning development inside-out or, better, on not turning development outside-in in the first place. Carlos A Mallmann & Oscar Nudler (Editors). Human development in its social context: A collective Exploration, London: Hooder & Stoughton, 1986, Pages 63-90.

21   The author and some colleagues visited Arthur C. Clarke in Sri Lanka. Clarke pointed out that a local lad had built a disk, pointed it toward a satellite (orbiting in Clarke's geostationary orbit) and all of Sri Lanka saw the Moscow Olympics.