Low technology

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Low tech)
Low-tech innovation
Infographic « Low-techs: Sustainably securing the essentials for all » gathering the criteria for any low-tech innovation approach

Low technology (low tech; adjective forms: low-technology, low-tech, lo-tech) is simple technology, as opposed to high technology.[1] In addition, low tech is related to the concept of mid-tech, that is a balance between low-tech and high-tech, which combines the efficiency and versatility of high tech with low tech's potential for autonomy and resilience.[2]


Historical origin[edit]

A controlled open fire using wood, invented 1.7-2 million years ago, being used for cooking in 2015

Primitive technologies such as bushcraft, tools that use wood, stone, wool, etc. can be seen as low-tech, as the pre-industrial revolution machines such as windmills or sailboats. [3]

In the 70s[edit]

The economic boom after the Vietnam war resulted in a doubt on progress, technology and growth at the beginning of the 70s, notably with through the report The Limits to Growth (1972). Many have sought to define what soft technologies are, leading to a "low-tech movement". Such technologies have been described as "intermediaries" (E.F. Schumacher),[4] "liberating" (M. Bookchin),[5] or even democratic. Thus, a philosophy of advocating a widespread use of soft technologies was developed in the United States, and many studies were carried out in those years, in particular by researchers like Langdon Winner.[6]

2000s and later[edit]

Low-tech Mobility
Skateboarding as a way of Low-tech mobility, in Mexico City

"Low-tech" has been more and more employed in the scientific writings, in particular in the analyzes of the work from some authors of the 1970s: see for example Hirsch ‐ Kreinsen,[7] the book "High tech, low tech, no tech" [3] or Gordon.[8]

More recently, the perspective of resource scarcity [9] - especially minerals - lead to an increasingly severe criticism on high-techs and technology.

Since 2007, the Belgian Kris de Decker has published (with his collaborators) some reflections on low-tech solutions, the problem of high-techs, and the updating of technologies supposedly "obsolete" via the "Low <-tech Magazine". The header is: "Doubts on progress and technology", and specifies that the lowtechs "refuse to assume that each problem has a high-tech solution",[10] with a progressive translation of the articles in other languages since recently.

In 2014, the french engineer Philippe Bihouix published "L'âge des low tech" (The age of low-techs) where he presents how a european nation like France, with little mineral and energy resources, could become a "low-tech" nation (instead of a "start-up" nation) to better correspond to the sustainable development goals of such nation.[11] He cites various examples of low-techs initiative and describe the low-tech philosophy and principles. In 2015, the Low-tech Lab project opened, consisting in a low-tech web platform for documentation and free sharing ('wiki' type) of inventions, and to put forward reflections on the low-tech philosophy.

Recently: retro-tech, wild tech, rebel-tech, small-tech, (s)low-tech, easy-tech, no-tech, lo-tek[edit]

Numerous new definitions have come to supplement or qualify the term "low-tech", intended to be more precise because they are restricted to a particular characteristic:

  • retro-tech: more oriented toward old but smart inventions (not necessarily useful, durable and accessible), parallels can nevertheless be found with low-tech, because these innovations often are decentralized and simpler technologies (because manufactured by individuals) ".[12]
  • Wild-tech: beyond the high-tech / low-tech opposition, it intends to give "tools to better think these ways of manufacturing which escape any classification".[13] The unclassifiable techs. Can also be linked to "tech rebel", a movement whose goal is to hack and to re-appropriate any type of technology.
  • small-tech: opposed to "Big Tech", which includes the GAFAM. It thus referred to digital questions, "in the perspective of maintaining a high level of technological complexity but on the basis of the notions of commons, collaborative work and the principles of democracy and social justice"[14]
  • (s)lowtech, or slow-tech: uses the play-on-words (s)low / slow. Aims at: "exploring the drawbacks of technology and its effects on human health and development".[15] Also indicates a movement aimed at reducing addiction to technology, especially among the youngsters.[16] However, its highest similarity with the definition of low-techs is that it is restricted to technologies (of all kinds) that promote a slow lifestyle.[17]
  • easy-tech: technology easy to implement, to use, and accessible to all.[18] At the heart of the commonly accepted definition of low-tech.
  • no-tech: promotes a lifestyle avoiding the use of technology, when possible. It joins some technocritical writings on the negative and time-consuming aspect of most "modern" technologies. See for example no-tech magazine.[19]
  • Lo-Tek (or LoTek): name introduced by Julia Watson for her book "The Power of Lo — TEK - A global exploration of nature-based technology".[20] The author brings together multigenerational knowledge and practices to "counter the idea that aboriginal innovation is primitive and exists isolated from technology. " TEK is the acronym for "Traditional Ecological Knowledge".

Many definitions[edit]

Binary definition[edit]

According to the Cambridge International Dictionary of English, the concept of low-tech is simply defined as a technique that is not recent, or using old materials.[21] Companies that are considered low-tech have a simple operation. The less sophisticated an object, the more low-tech. This definition does not take into account the ecological or social aspect, as it is only based on a simplistic definition of low-tech philosophy. The low-techs would then be seen as a "step backwards", and not as possible innovation.

Also, with this definition, the "high-tech" (ex: the telegraph) of a certain era becomes the "low-tech" of the one after (ex: compared to the telephone).


Low-tech is sometimes described as an "anti high-tech" movement, as a deliberate renunciation of a complicated and expensive technology. This kind of protest movement criticizes any disproportionate technology: a comparison with the neo-luddic or technocritical movements, which appeared since the Industrial Revolution, is then possible. This critical part of the low-tech movement can be called "no-tech", see for instance "No-tech magazine".

Recently: a wider and more balanced approach[edit]

A second, more nuanced definition of low-tech may appear. This definition takes into account the philosophical, environmental and social aspects. Low-tech are no longer restricted to old techniques, but also extended to new, future-oriented techniques, more ecological and intended to recreate social bounds. A low-tech innovation is then possible.[11]

Contrary to the first definition, this one is much more optimistic and has a positive connotation. It would then oppose the planned obsolescence of objects (often “high-tech”) and question the consumer society, as well as the materialist principles underneath. With this definition, the concept of low-tech thus implies that anyone could make objects using their intelligence, and share their know-how to popularize their creations. A low-tech must therefore be accessible to all, and could therefore help in reduction of inequalities.[11]

Furthermore, some reduce the definition of low-tech to meet basic needs (eating, drinking, housing, heating ...), which disqualifies many technologies from the definition of low-techs, but this definition does not is not always accepted.[13] Finally, considering that the definition of low-tech is relative, some prefer to use lower tech,[11] to emphasize a higher sobriety compared to high-tech, without claiming to be perfectly "low".


Traditional ploughing: a farmer works the land with horses and plough.

From traditional practices (primary and secondary sectors)[edit]

Note: almost all of the entries in this section should be prefixed by the word traditional.

Low-tech transportation
Cargo bike as a way of low-tech transportation

(Wright is the agent form of the word wrought, which itself is the original past passive participle of the word work, now superseded by the weak verb forms worker and worked respectively.)

Note: home canning is a counter example of a low technology since some of the supplies needed to pursue this skill rely on a global trade network and an existing manufacturing infrastructure.[citation needed]

Domestic or consumer[edit]

Candlelight used in electricity rationing in Oslo in 1948
Low-tech living
Zero waste as a way of low-tech living

(Non exhaustive) list of low-tech in a westerner's everyday life:

Rotary clothesline
Handmade broom


Among the thinkers opposed to modern technologies, Jacques Ellul (The Technological Society, 1954; The technological bluff, 1988), Lewis Mumford and E. F. Schumacher. In the second volume of his book The Myth of the Machine (1970), Lewis Mumford develops the notion of "biotechnology", to designate "bioviable" techniques that would be considered as ecologically responsible, i.e. which establish a homeostatic relationship between resources and needs. In his famous Small is beautiful (1973), Schumacher uses the concept of "intermediate technology",[4] which corresponds fairly precisely to what "low tech" means. He has also created the "Intermediate Technology Development Group”.

Differences between green-tech and low-tech[edit]

Debate on the 'real' low-techs, and difference(s) with high tech[edit]

Legal status of low-technology[edit]

By federal law in the United States, only those articles produced with little or no use of machinery or tools with complex mechanisms may be stamped with the designation "hand-wrought" or "hand-made". Lengthy court-battles are currently underway over the precise definition of the terms "organic" and "natural" as applied to foodstuffs.[citation needed]

Groups associated with low-technology[edit]

Horse and cart in 2004

See also[edit]


  • Falk, William W.; Lyson, Thomas A. (1988). High tech, low tech, no tech: recent industrial and occupational change in the South. SUNY Press. ISBN 9780887067297.


  1. ^ Alexis Bernigaud. "Low-Tech is the new High-Tech". climateforesight.eu. Retrieved 2020-04-16.
  2. ^ Kostakis, Vasilis; Pazaitis, Alex; Liarokapis, Minas (2023-06-20). "Beyond high-tech versus low-tech: A tentative framework for sustainable urban data governance". BigData&Society. 10. doi:10.1177/20539517231180583. ISSN 2053-9517.
  3. ^ a b Falk, William W.; Lyson, Thomas A. (1988). High tech, low tech, no tech: recent industrial and occupational change in the South. SUNY Press. ISBN 9780887067297.
  4. ^ a b Ernst Friedrich Schumacher (2010). Small is beautiful : economics as if people mattered. HarperPerennia. p. 324. ISBN 978-0-06-199776-1..
  5. ^ Murray Bookchin (1971). Post-Scarcity Anarchism (PDF). Ramparts Press. p. 288.
  6. ^ Winner, Langdon (2016). "Mythinformation in the high-tech era". Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society. 4 (6): 582–596. doi:10.1177/027046768400400609. ISSN 0270-4676. S2CID 151175845.
  7. ^ Hirsch-Kreinsen, Hartmut (2008). ""Low-Tech" Innovations". Industry and Innovation. 15 (1): 19–43. doi:10.1080/13662710701850691. ISSN 1366-2716. S2CID 154429255.
  8. ^ Gordon, Uri (2009). "Anarchism and the Politics of Technology". WorkingUSA. 12 (3): 489–503. doi:10.1111/j.1743-4580.2009.00250.x. ISSN 1089-7011. S2CID 145449806.
  9. ^ Richard Heinberg (2007). Peak Everything - Waking Up in the Century of Decline. Ramparts Press. ISBN 978-0-86571-598-1.
  10. ^ Kris de Decker. "Low-Tech Magazine". lowtechmagazine.com. Retrieved 2020-04-06.
  11. ^ a b c d Philippe Bihouix (2014). L'âge des low tech (in French). Editions du Seuil. p. 330. ISBN 978-2-02-116072-7.
  12. ^ "Retrotech and Lowtech - How forgotten patents can shake the future". paleo-energetique.org. Retrieved 2020-11-16.
  13. ^ a b Grimaud, Emmanuel; Tastevin, Yann Philippe; Vidal, Denis (2017). "Low-tech ? Wild-Tech !". Techniques & Culture (in French) (67). doi:10.4000/tc.8260. ISSN 0248-6016.
  14. ^ "Passerelle #21 - Low tech : face au tout-numérique, se réapproprier les technologies" (PDF) (in French). 2020. Retrieved 2020-04-06.
  15. ^ "SlowTech - It is about finding the OFF switch". Retrieved 2020-04-06.
  16. ^ "The Slow Tech Movement". 6 May 2014. Retrieved 2020-04-06.
  17. ^ Peter Ginn (2019). Slow Tech: The Perfect Antidote to Today's Digital World. Haynes UK. ISBN 9781785216169.
  18. ^ Corentin de Chatelperron (2018). Nomade des mers : le tour du monde des innovations (in French). E/P/A. p. 240. ISBN 978-2-37671-022-6.
  19. ^ "No tech reader #7". Retrieved 2020-04-06.
  20. ^ Watson, Julia (2020). Lo—TEK. Design by Radical Indigenism. Taschen. ISBN 978-3836578189.
  21. ^ "Low tech definition". Cambridge International Dictionnary. Retrieved 2018-04-01.

External links[edit]