Monday, 13 August 2012

Technology as community

As a highly developed tool-using animal, almost all aspects of our lives id linked to technology. Unfortunately, most of our current tech base is linked to fossil fuel usage, fossil fuels that are running finite, necessitating a massive change, which will require an understanding of what our tech base actually looks like and how it functions. To illustrate I’ll use some basic ecology concepts, with technology being the community (living component of an ecosystem) alongside the human population that makes it function.

Just for clarity, Technology is defined here as both the physical artefacts and behaviours necessary to both create and use the artefacts. E.g., a shovel is an artefact a labourer uses it and a blacksmith forging it are all forms of technology.  

Food chains: The most basic ecological relationship is that of predator and prey, it works in a community as the flow of energy + matter from one organism to another. 

Food webs: A step up from food chains. Food webs are created by linking food chains together and allow far more relationships to be seen. While detritivores and decomposers can be shown in food chains, in food webs their influence can be seen fully. Since technology is more circular in nature, (e.g. a farmer needs tools from a blacksmith who needs food from the farmer, this forms a short loop) this should probably be the starting point. 

Humans; a parallel community: However, technology is a human adaptation and cannot be independent from humanity. Therefore, how do we place humans in this conceptual model? Simple, we have humans as a parallel community that functions both alongside and with the technology community. As the major tool-wielding animal these two communities require each other to survive, almost everything we do requires tools, artefacts and/or machines.

Trophic levels: a pyramid structure, trophic levels show the amount of energy/matter in each level. Each trophic level feeds upon the ones below and only gains a portion (typically 10%) of the energy of the level below it. for technology we can simplify each level into its basic self sufficient levels e.g. the bottom levels contain the basic extractive techs (logging, agriculture, mining) and the manufacturing techs to make the tools/machines necessary for the extraction and manufacturing techs, the second level has the next layer of manufacturing plus basic culture techs (paper or papyrus, ink, paint etc).   

Purpose, a difference: there is one major difference between a naturally occurring community and the artificial one of technology. Individual technologies have a purpose behind them, designed by a sapient mind with a specific goal in mind. Nature on the other hand has no purpose behind it and is shaped by the emergence of patterns or structures dictated by the fundamental rules of the universe. This gives technology several different characteristics, far more looping with a circular nature at the bottom (as opposed to a circle overall and linear at the bottom) and a prevalence of amplifiers that are higher in the trophic level but enhance the lower levels (typically high level manufacturing, sensor or control tech.)

The Emergence of technology: The modern technology base didn’t emerge fully formed but, like an ecosystem, was built up over time. To give an example of one way this happens (there are multiple ways); the total war team (creators of the total war games) follow a revolution then evolution cycle. They ‘revolutionise’ (create something new e.g. sea battles) then they evolve the concept. Why have I used this example? Because the changes overshoot brings will likely follow this progression, (John Michael Greer’s not mine)

·        Abundance Industrialism: The current state of Australia, runs entirely on non –renewables and is the current stock that future technology will be derived from. Counts as our baseline

·        Scarcity Industrialism: When the downsides of overshoot happen this will be the state Australia finds itself in. It is the mirror of abundance industrialism and will be powered by the remaining fossil fuels and renewables. Tech here be a direct offspring of abundance industrialism.

·        Salvage Society: No/extremely limited use of non-renewables and most materials will be salvaged instead of freshly harvested, providing the only direct link to abundance industrialism. Tech will be either legacy or what scarcity industrial society can put together.

·        Ecotechnic: here eco means only renewables are used and technic refers to the fact that the majority of energy use s non-food. This stage will have no direct link to either industrialism and represents the first stable stage. All technology can be created by other ecotechs indefinitely.

Each stage will cause its own demise by exhausting the resources necessary for its own survival until the ecotechnic stage is reached. Nevertheless, the previous stages tech base will also build the next stages tech base forming a continuity between the Beginning of Abundance industrialism to the end of the Ecotechnic stage.    

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