when low-tech innovation is far from coming back to the candle

Published July 15, 2022

Low tech is presented as an ideal of sobriety: less technology, less resources, less waste… This movement, popularized by enthusiasts in search of autonomy, today fills with reflections on innovation and technology. Low-tech pioneers are retraining us to target what we really need by adapting to the resources our environment has to offer. During the week, Novethic explores new ways to approach sobriety in the Living Without series.

Low tech is now taken seriously. Far from going back to candles, these technologies should be durable, useful, and accessible to everyone. Vivatech, France and Europe’s premier meeting place for innovation, even awarded the Health Innovation Prize for the 2022 edition of What a Bird, a small canned water filter that ticks many low-tech boxes. values. Widely used by humanitarian NGOs, its maintenance is achieved by simple cleaning without the need to change the filter. “The view on low-tech is changing: we are coming out of beautiful homemade products made by a few enthusiasts,” confirms Philippe Biui, an engineer specializing in mineral depletion who popularized the term “low tech” in his book “L’Âge des low-tech”, published in 2014.

At the origins of the low-tech trend are enthusiasts who together rediscover the techniques of everyday life. Some of them met this summer in Brittany. From June 25th to July 3rd, the Concarneau Village Low Tech Celebration Event celebrated the discovery of the Nomade des Mers, a sailboat that has traveled the oceans for six years to learn new low-tech technologies. A desert refrigerator, a homemade windmill… Precious techniques are described on the Low Tech Lab website.

Adopting more sound practices

But the low-tech approach is now permeating even the most high-tech circles, prompting engineers to adopt more sound methods. “For me, low-tech is more of an approach than a definition. Take a bicycle: it’s hard to make without a certain amount of high-tech. , easy to repair, says engineer Philip Biui. According to him, low technology brings philosophical virtue “techno-distinction”that is about “Use technology and its precious resources only where they are needed”.

So the low-tech ideal goes beyond ecodesign.” warns Tatiana Reyes, lecturer-researcher at the Technological University of Troyes. She recently created a course on low tech, a subject more relevant than eco-design, in her opinion, to meet current environmental demands. What he wants to give engineers is a field reflex to understand needs that vary greatly by location and social context.

Browse all designs for everyday items

The whole design of the symbolic objects of our daily life is being transformed in accordance with low-tech values. For example, the Gazelle, a car designed to be the lightest and least energy-intensive car on the market, could be built in local mini-factories by assembling simplified parts. It wasn’t easy to imagine. The Gazelle-tech company has already been in operation for eight years, and it will take two more years for the car to enter the market if its certification is confirmed in 2022. The very high starting price, estimated at €20,000, reflects the complexity of the project. creation of low-tech engineering.

The same goes for digital, intrinsically technological, which will never be low-tech, according to the BAM collective, a group of designers who advocate for user autonomy and “do it yourself.” However, designers are inspired by the low-tech approach to creating “realistic digital”, “which is within real planetary boundaries, and not in the unrestricted, unrealistic, fictional digital Silicon Valley.” The solutions mentioned are intended to ensure durability and reuse, for example, of open source tools, that is, tools that can be modified independently of the developers and that run on older machines.

Aside from design practices, the low-tech trend is also causing us to question our way of life. “Most of our needs are socially constructed, we want what others want. Some non-existent services become necessary after a few years, the concept of comfort is also changing quite quickly.” remembers Philip Biui.

Fanny Bruneval