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Appropriate technology

  1. The application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, 
    esp. in industry: "computer technology"
  2. Machinery and equipment developed from such scientific knowledge

Based on the above technology seems rather a finite concept to pin down. Appropriate on the other hand is a rather abstract idea. So by association the phrase “appropriate technology” is a seemingly straight forward word complicated by an abstract operative. What was essentially all black and white gets painted in a whole gamut of shades of gray.

Making sense of appropriate technology is like dealing with a thicket of woods behind a dense layer of clouds.
One well understands “technology” alright, but what is “appropriate”? By definition, appropriate is loosely defined as being suitable. That however is a hard concept to hammer down. Appropriateness is influenced by a huge array of factors that are hard even to enlist.

Nonetheless, with the proliferation of technology, appropriate technology is an important idea  we are increasingly confronted with.  Do we get enamored by technology for the sake of technology, or do we reason it with a cold rationale of the need, what it achieves vis a vis what it is supposed to be for in the first place?

Nowhere is this conflict of ideas and values more difficult than visible than in present day medicine, that has come to be heavily reliant upon technology, interventions and a tacit understanding that the more and fancier the better; this is very relevant especially in the cusp of runaway health-care costs that threaten to sink the entire ship.

The idea that the more and fancier the better  however hardly pass the muster of a serious examination.

Take this recent example from the New England Journal of Medicine. Two methods exist for the treatment of narrowing of arteries in the brain. Now this is a serious condition that needs treatment for the prevention of future strokes. However up until recently opinion swayed that a seemingly sexy intervention that involved advanced and expensive equipment and the deployment of a stent in the arteries in the brain was the favoured method: until a landmark paper showed that the complicated procedure only a select few could do was deemed less effective than mangement with a few drugs that have been available routinely for a while now.

Stenting as such is  a fascinating  blend of skills, and ingenuity, but is it appropriate?

Or even before that, why is this question important after all? Why bother so much about appropriateness? There are two reasons the thing is important.

First the contention is, if something else is more appropriate- more suitable, more relevant, or simply put if it achieves better results, why bother with the elaborate procedure if it isn’t as good?Just because it requires a fascinating blend of skills, knowledge and ingenuity does not mean it should be the right thing to do.

Second has to do with resources: they are always finite, more so in trying times like these when we have to stretch every possible penny. And we don’t have any means to splurge on means and devices that we can’t afford, we have to closely examine what is the most relevant for the specific situation. or will not achieve as much as the next thing available. Appropriateness for technology thus has to be increasingly defined with in the boundaries set by economic prerogatives as well.

A cursory sketch of the whereabouts of appropriate would thus lead us to areas bordered by effectiveness and affordability.

Any  practically useful derivative of scientific knowledge within the perimeters of these defining precincts will likely find itself accepted for appropriate technology.

Now, if only those precincts were that easy to define!