Minimal toys, bikes, and appropriate technologies


Children at play are fascinating to observe. It’s not only that “their games should be deemed as their most serious actions”, as Montaigne famously wrote, but they are the finest examples of serendipity at work. All of a sudden, sticky tape rolls can be turned into racing car wheels and a broken bow may well be given a second life as a makeshift sailing boat.

Saling boat

The creative rearrangement of objects and uses has no limits. When it comes to bikes, recycled cardboard can come to the rescue, as Izhar Gafni explains in this video. And in the city of Reykjavik, they may enjoy a second green life as anti-car barriers, in a perfect fusion of the medium and the message.

Car barrier, by Lloyd Alter

Disruptive innovations and the use of appropriate technologies—in Schumacher’s sense—are also a growing trend in medicine. In 2009, researchers at the University of California turned the camera of a standard cell phone into a microscope that captures and transmits clinical samples for analysis and disease diagnosis, the CellScope. Currently in private beta, CellScope Inc. develops optical attachments to turn smartphones into a diagnostic-quality imaging systems for telemedicine, consumer skincare, and education.

Cellscope (Breslauer et al.)

Another interesting example is the Cryopop, the low-cost device by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University who have recently been awarded the first place in the 2012  BMEidea competition. Cryopop uses dry ice for the treatment of cervical pre-cancerous lesions in low-resource settings. As the researchers put it “CryoPop relies only on carbon dioxide tanks already available in developing countries (as a result of the presence of soda companies) and is ten times cheaper, thirty times more efficient, and more effective and reliable than the currently utilized technology”.


In emergency management, where the combined use of SMS texts, social media sources, and digital maps is transforming the way we deal with disasters, the use of appropriate technologies becomes all the more necessary. FrontlineSMS, Ushahidi or Sahana are well known examples of what Robert Kirkpatrick, UN Global Pulse Director, nicely summarized as being appropriate:  “the best technology in a crisis is the one you are already using”.

Marta Poblet

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