Limits to Technology: Explore the Ecological Boundaries of the Information Age!

Paul Mobbs mobbsey at
Wed Dec 1 09:08:59 GMT 2010

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New Free Range Network workshop -- now on-line!

Limits to Technology:
Explore the Ecological Boundaries of the Information Age!

Workshop index --
information about the new workshop and its related resources

Workshop virtual presentation --
the on-line version of the presentation, allowing you to navigate through the 
slides, read a summary of what each slide is about, and access the original 
source material and related information on the topics covered;

Annotated slide pack --
a PDF of the slides, with the text of the virtual presentation, and clickable 
links to all the resources accessible from the virtual presentation.

Limits to Technology examines the role of resource depletion and the 
ecological limits to human society's future use of "technological systems" -- 
a broad term covering not only our use of computers and mobile technologies, 
but also the electronics, metals and chemical components of everyday goods and 
products, and the latest "green technologies". Like the human system in 
general, our use of technology is subject to certain resource specific limits; 
by understanding these limits, and how they affect us all, we can address our 
minds to devising new ways to live our lives in an inevitably more resource-
constrained future.

Much of the debate about environmental capacity relates to issues such as 
climate change, or peak oil. In reality the whole issue of human ecology, or 
the related study of economic anthropology, throws up many more issues related 
to the capcity of the Earth to support the continued demands of the human 
species. Most importantly, the issue of complexity.

Each increase in technological sophistication in turn generates the emergence 
of new and increasingly complex patterns of activity in society. The difficulty 
is that each increase in complexity also brings with it the potential for 
increasing instability due to the over-dependence upon disparate resources, 
and the need to co-ordinate the production and transport of these resources 
over longer distances. Therefore, whilst society might worry about the "big" 
problems such as fuel prices or climate change, what may ultimately create the 
greatest insecurity within our technologyically developed exitence is the 
availability and supply of seemingly innocuous commodities, such as certain 
rare metals which infuse much of the gadgetry around us.

Ultimately, the aim of the workshop is to allow people to stand back and look 
at society not as a collection of 'objects', but as a network of related 
systems -- and how the resource dimension affects those systems. it doesn't 
matter whether it's a stone hand axe or a mobile phone, human society exists 
in a particular form due to the tools we manufacture to make our lives easier. 
However, as those tools have become ore complex, so the systems that support 
them have increased in complexity too. Undertanding these relationships, and 
planning to adopt alternative options to support ourselves if those systems 
become problematic to sustain, is our best way of creating a more resilient 
and sustainable pattern within the operation of modern society.

Modern technology is just "there" -- whether you use it or choose not to, and 
irrespective of whether you object to it or not; in affluent societies 
technological systems surrounds us and guide our lives. For this reason they 
are seldom questioned. Given the concepts of economic growth and technological 
progress that dominate the media and political agenda, we don't have time to 
reflect on what the future of technology may be -- often because many people 
have so many difficulties handling the implications of the technologies that 
they must master today.

In practical terms technological systems are dependent upon the electricity 
grid (much of it stops working in a power cut!) and on the system of retailers 
and service operatives who maintain it. We seldom consider the ecological 
limits of technology; the dependence of human technologies upon the systems, 
and upon the natural resources, that enable it to function. Even with the 
recent concern about carbon emissions, whilst we might focus on the amount of 
electricity all our gadgets use we seldom give a thought to the impacts of 
creating all these systems, and how changing trends in energy and resource 
production might adversely affect our continued "enjoyment" of modern 

"Limits to Technology" has been developed by Paul Mobbs and the Free Range 
Network's 'Salvage Server' Project in order to highlight, and to allow a 
discussion to take place on, the "ecological boundaries" of modern technology.

Technology is just a tool -- on its own it is neither good not bad. Whether 
technological systems create a future for the better, or the worse, depends 
upon our ability to make them sustainable in the longer-term. Otherwise our 
unseen dependency on these systems has the potential to create a human crisis 
in the future if we cannot sustain their operation. This, given the available 
information on the ecological dependencies of technology, is the question that 
we should all be posing to those who guide our Technological Society today.

- - -- 

"We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government,
nor are we for this party nor against the other but we are
for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom,
that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness,
righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with
God, and with one another, that these things may abound."
(Edward Burrough, 1659 - from 'Quaker Faith and Practice')

Paul's book, "Energy Beyond Oil", is out now!
For details see

Read my message board, "Ecolonomics", at:

Paul Mobbs, Mobbs' Environmental Investigations
3 Grosvenor Road, Banbury OX16 5HN, England
tel./fax (+44/0)1295 261864
email - mobbsey at
website -
public key -

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