To our detriment, technological development always seems to be our default answer to any large-scale problem mankind collectively has. That’s why regarding the current global issues in equity, sustainability and economy, savvy scholars and activists are not too keen on the idea of using technology as the solution. Too often, the advancement of technology is fueled by the passion of consumerism. New technology i seen to succeed in application when it helps people to afford more stuff with cheaper prices.
But is there technology that might contribute to the sustainability of our future? Would some technology be the likely first step for a transition to new economy? We don’t know, but there are a few possible candidates worthy of discussion and that provide food for thought.
3D printing technology has been in the spotlight for a very long time. While almost everyone is at least intrigued by 3D printing capability in the mechanical engineering sense, many might have not yet thought of what social change it can bring to us if 3D printers are available for normal families. Nevertheless, just like how many people never realized how much the invention of sewing machine helped gender equality by freeing up so much time for women in households, the social impact of technology is a tad more complex than what’s on the surface.
Here is the key thing about 3D printer that makes it in nature so different from traditional production: the cost of each unit doesn’t go down the more of something one produces. Last year I wrote an article theorizing what a world with many households owning 3D printers would look like. I believed that cheap and exploitive labor will be reduced, waste will be less common, and consumption will be more responsible and sustainable. This assumes that the most efficient use of household 3D printers will be for products that rely on globalization and cheap labor the most like daily needs. Furthermore, it could also contribute to the maker culture, internalize negative externalities of production and encourage a more self-sufficient economy. The future where majority of the population can get their hands on 3D printers is still quite far away, but many believe that huge economic impact is inevitable.
To a lot of people, urban agriculture, or urban farming, is just a simple idea of how to efficiently produce more food in precious space. The many benefits of urban farming are frequently talked about, but urban farming is rarely regarded as a part of a new economy model or an exciting field of technological development. However, it’s cutting edge science and technology that grant the true potential of modern urban farming. Modern urban agriculture would not be possible without intricate designs of urban greenhouse, biotech products that benefit the plants, experimental eco-friendly fertilizer and many others.
Nowadays, new ideas of urban farming are flourishing, ranging from container farms, vertical farms and other simple ideas that use urban space more efficiently, to high-tech open-source internet-assisted robotic control systems.
Urban farming will be beneficial to the new economy for many of the same reasons why 3D printers will. They both in a way localize spending and make production and consumption happen in a geographic vicinity. Furthermore, they both provide challenges to the idea of economy of scale, something that is now inseparable to traditional capitalist economics. Large-scale adoption of urban agriculture, therefore, could easily be a lead-in to new economy.
Most of the time, conversations on solar power focus on how eco-friendly and sustainable it is. However, many ignored what kind of cultural or social impact solar energy can have, because of how it is in some ways so fundamentally different from the operation of traditional energy industry. Unlike traditional energy production, solar energy a lot of the times is produced at or near where the energy is used. The most common rooftop photovoltaic power stations each produce power for only a few households or a small local community. This kind of energy production is much closer to the model of energy production that co-operative new economy envisions. Many now believe that solar power is the first step that will lead us to a new energy economy, because it gives the ownership of the energy to the people.
There are a lot of reasons to fear technology. Some of us are worried that relying too much on technology was what brought us in the first place. Some of us think the patenting and the trademarking that comes with new intellectual property will only worsen problems in equity and equality. Some of us fear that developing technological solutions is an anecdotal false hope when it is simply not doing enough. However, optimism in technology still remains as we see what is on the horizon. Social and cultural solutions will take a long time. To start those off, technological solutions might just be the onset we need.