High Technology is Down in the Dirt

by Joe Brewer: environmental writer, cognitive scientist, co-founder of hivethrive blog, and agent for progressive social change

Think of something high tech. Let me guess, a gadget came to mind. Perhaps it was the latest portable communications device. Or it might have been something for your computer.

A little known fact about how our brains work is that the categories we reason with are shaped by prototypes or “best examples.” So if I ask you to think of a bird, you are more likely to envision something sparrow-like and not an ostrich or penguin. The same is true about the mental category for technology.

Why should you care? Because the thinking outside the box is nothing more than breaking away from thinking with prototypes.

So what is high technology? Keeping in mind that technology is simply the application of knowledge to serve some practical end, we can see that it is knowledge-made-whole in some form. Add the descriptor “high” and you get an impression of the cutting edge, the highest and most sophisticated knowledge to date.

It is a lot more than cool gadgets.

I loved reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan about how we need to think outside the box (or inside the box if its got local veggies in it!) when it comes to food. I especially liked his description of Joel Salatin’s grass farm, Polyface Farms, in rural Virginia -- an exemplar of high technology.

Many of the cutting edge discoveries in recent years have been in fields most of us haven’t heard about - mycology (the study of mushrooms), entomology (insects), and opisthopora (earthworms). Grass farming involves the application of these high technologies to organic farming practices. Combine it with the latest and greatest of small business models (another technology) and you get the foundation for a new local food economy.

What are the guiding principles of Salatin’s business? Here are two of them:

Principle #1: High Technology

NATURE’S TEMPLATE: Mimicking natural patterns on a commercial domestic scale insures moral and ethical boundaries to human cleverness. Cows are herbivores, not omnivores; that is why we’ve never fed them dead cows like the United States Department of Agriculture encouraged (the alleged cause of mad cows).
Principle #2: Local Community
COMMUNITY: We do not ship food. We should all seek food closer to home, in our foodshed, our own bioregion. This means enjoying seasonality and reacquainting ourselves with our home kitchens.
I’d like to see more investments in this kind of technology.

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  • Posted on May 30, 2008. Listed in:

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