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Monday
Dec162013

New technologies or values?

Which is more important for achieving sustainability: new technologies, or values?

September 2013 -- In many ways, it was a question that had rested at the heart of our discussions over the course of the week. There were certainly no easy answers, and opinions amongst the group were divided, as each had an intuitive yet differing sense of what was most important.

Drawing on ideas of relative leverage, many felt that values must come first, directing both the innovation and use patterns of technologies long into the future. In support of this sentiment, Ani Sulistyowati described a number of examples from Indonesia in which efforts to promote sustainable agriculture and energy production had brought about unforeseen and unsustainable consequences. This, she felt, was the result of an unsupportive overarching value system, made visible through the prevailing politics, economics and social norms of the population.

Yet others, while acknowledging the crucial importance of values, contended that without the continued innovation and implementation of new technologies, few changes could materialise. They proposed that values were better seen as an instrument for choosing between technologies, and that the question at hand was about which is most likely to deliver sustainability at large.

As we continued to tease apart our various perspectives, the deep interconnection between technology (in its broadest sense) and values became evermore apparent.

Dennis Meadows had emphasized earlier in the week:

“It is not the ‘hardware’ itself that makes a technology sustainable or not; it is our relationship to it — the ‘software’ — and this is directly related to the goals of our society.”

And indeed, a consensus to this effect did begin to emerge as our discussion drew to a close. This was eloquently summarized by Junko Edahiro as follows:

"Values without technology are powerless, yet new technologies without values are dangerous."

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