Introduction to low tech

Low techs are every objects relying on mechanical proprieties rather than fuel, data and internet to reach a goal. They’re by essence environmental friendly :

  • Reparable: if a part breaks down it can be easily changed without the need of a professional.
  • Accessible to everyone: lot of them can be made at home with few materials and tools.
  • Useful: low-techs must answer a real need and bring a change to impact society positively. This aspect is the one I care the most, today too many companies are making useless stuff, “it’s useless, hence essential to have”. A pet rock effect having horrible consequences on plastic pollution and data consumption, ironic because pet rocks were minimalist.

When I started to read about low-techs, I was blown by the cleverness behind each invention. Those technologies use mechanics, chemical and physical properties to reach a goal, like keeping things cool like in a fridge or baking something using the sun. Low techs are basically every tools you could use during a zombie apocalypse. I suggest that you to visit the low-tech lab’s site to discover small things you could make yourself and if you’re not fan of DIY, just appreciate those items, why they’re made this way and how do they work.

Low techs are basically every tools you could use during a zombie apocalypse.

Low techs were also for me an entrance door to other fields related to technologies: the history of technology and what I like to call “techno-Darwinism” or how do a society adopt or reject a technology.

The history of technology is vast. Most of people only know about the disruptive inventions such as trains, cars, internet, etc. Dig up a little bit more to discover forgotten inventions that were or weren’t suited to their era.
The museum of failure is awesome to understand that, as it displays a collection of failed inventions made by well-known companies.
You will also learn by studying history, used to be technologies that were almost forgotten. Different societies, with different rules in different times could have similar problems to ours today, but without current technology they had to find other ways to answers those problems.

Let’s take architecture for example, through the world, a similar problem always existed : how to be warm at home. Today we got computer calculating the temperature and opening or closing radiators to reach a predefined temperature. We also use isolation to prevent cold and heat to get into the house. Well, through history, different way to answer this problem can be found: some used to made tiny houses with only a living room and a bedroom with a central oven. By reducing the size of the house a little oven was enough to warm the whole house. Other people decided to go troglodyte, digging their house into the mountain. With this solution it’s like you are living in a mine, whatever the weather outside, your house will always be naturally more or less 17°C, the major issues here being humidity and natural light.

Ancien troglodyte houses
Ancient troglodyte houses

Why is it important to look through history ? Well because those solutions, with modern technologies can bring better answer than our current way to do things. Tiny houses are now a thing, and living in a buried house (like the hobbits) isn’t impossible.
By bringing old solutions back to life, we can find simple and very efficient way to do things in a low tech spirit.

A modern troglodyte house

The other fields that low-techs are opening to is how society select a solution. A similar item can have multiple forms, like an axe can have one sharp side to cut wood or two sharp sides to go to the war Sometime, another form of something exist, more efficient, more economic, more ecologic but for a reason or another it isn’t selected. Some example: a French inventor created an alternative to train, nothing to fancy it’s basically a monorail but the train itself blow an air pillow, reducing friction. Yes, it’s basically how the Hyperloop in suppose to work, 40 years early.
This aérotrain could reach 420Km/h in 1969, in comparison, today’s high speed train in France can go at a mean speed of 320km/h.
If it wasn’t for lobbying by the French national railway society (SNCF) and a mysterious fire in the aérotrain’s factory, we might have disrupt railway. The concept was abandoned and almost forgotten (some societies want to bring the project back to life).
A better form of train existed and yet, bad luck made us forgot, and because nobody can really complain about today’s train’s efficacy, nobody try to come up with alternative solution.

The aérotrain, 1969

Often it’s because we are satisfied enough with an object that we fall into laziness and stop trying to improve.

I wish that we one day we live in a society like it was depicted in the 60': robots doing chores, flying cars and teleportation, but before we reach this point, why not improve the easy way, with low techs and old techs?

A lot can be done if we slow down digital transformation where it isn’t needed and concentrate our efforts where is really bring positive changes.

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Reda Attarça

Reda Attarça

French air breather and technology enthusiast