Sobriety: manifesto for a – Green IT

One of my favorite missions within the Green IT collective and the Resilio startup is to prepare for the future. This takes place within R&D cells in which we develop the approaches that you will apply tomorrow. This is how we gave birth to and developed digital sobriety, then responsible digital, and digital service eco-design approaches.

For 10 years, I have been working on an approach to extend digital sobriety to technology in general and to take eco-design a step further. This is how was born. is a necessity is a necessity. For the environment, for human health and for society.

The Promethean future that we are promised will not exist: for lack of resources we will be unable to materialize it. Indeed, at the rate at which we are currently consuming abiotic resources to manufacture high technology (high tech), we only have a few decades of horizon left. The high technology that surrounds us already consumes several times the sustainable annual budget of a European. Digital alone already accounts for 40% of this budget. To be sustainable, it should be 10 times less.

From the point of view of ethics and human health, to continue with the digital example, addiction to screens – which is deliberately reinforced by digital players by manipulating the reward circuit in our brains – is mad indecency. And that’s not to mention the abuses concerning the collection and use of our personal data.

Finally, from a societal point of view, the dependence of human society on high technology is such that a break in the availability of this high technology, if only for a few years, would have considerable repercussions. The resilience of our civilization inevitably passes through greater independence from the high tech.

It is therefore urgent to propose an alternative to a 100% high-tech vision of the future, which cannot happen. And to create a technology that is useful and respectful of human beings, even desirable, rather than a technology that manipulates, exploits and enslaves.

Definition of

Like digital sobriety, is multifaceted. That is both :

  • A posture to think about our relationship to technology and;
  • An operational approach to technical design.

The continues four main objectives :

  1. Reduce the contribution of high tech to major crises (global warming, biodiversity, etc.) as quickly as possible;
  2. Save this critical resource for humanity (at least in the short term);
  3. Preparing humanity for a civilization that will inevitably be less high tech within a few decades;
  4. Find a calm, serene and healthy relationship with technology.

In the rest of the article, it is therefore necessary to interpret the notion of low “as a less approach” high tech », but also less aggressive, more serene and more respectful of human nature. in one equation

If we had to summarize this vast concept and this methodology in an equation, it would take this form: = (low + high ) . technology

Today, this equation is balanced like this in Western countries: 10% low + 90% high.

The challenge is therefore to succeed in gradually replacing, as soon as possible, high tech with low tech. We will thus be able to gradually slide towards a world that will be tomorrow, whether we like it or not, more low than high.

An approach that is neither technophobic nor technophile

This “middle way” is not technophobic, quite the contrary. It is an approach that aims to save as much as possible, as quickly as possible, high technology. Because the value of high technology is inestimable for humanity. But stocks being limited, the more the years will pass and the less it will be available and the more its value will increase.

With the gradual scarcity of resources, scanning or modeling the climate will become increasingly expensive, both from an environmental and economic point of view. is therefore a tool at the service of humanity. asks the questions of how and why. How to make the most ingenious use of all the technologies (low and high) within our reach. And why do ? Artificial intelligence is a good example: it makes it possible to detect certain cancers, but also to boost sales of disposable products.

A structured solution to implement sobriety

From an operational point of view, is a structured and validated methodology to respond to “the end of abundance”.

So that humanity can have as long as possible high technologies to meet its critical needs – to treat itself, to model the climate, etc. – there are not 36 solutions, it is necessary to save the stocks of materials from which we manufacture high technology. This is why, when designing a solution with the methodology, we systematically seek, and as soon as possible, to replace high technology with low technology.

For example, in the digital domain, a 5G mobile rain forecast application will be replaced by a simple SMS. Admittedly, the supercomputer essential for predicting rain will be kept, but the 5G application, which does not add anything, can be replaced by an SMS.

In the end, is therefore a question of balance between the problem to be solved and the means implemented.

Define scales between low and high tech

As this real example (rainfall) shows, when you design a new hybrid system in, there are often several graduations between low and high tech. This scale depends on where you stand: a French executive living in Paris will not describe the same scale between high and low as a Bangladeshi farmer living in a remote rural area. is therefore also a question of perspective: not everyone starts the process with a balanced equation in the same way. In the West, we will rather be at 10% low + 90% high, whereas in Bangladesh the orders of magnitude will be reversed. In other words, in the field of, the West is very late compared to “emerging” countries.

A stake for the future, much more important than the metaverse

In the end, the challenge is to adopt a calmer and more detached relationship with technology on a daily basis and to draw a path that will lead us smoothly towards a world where low tech will probably be the rule and where the little that remains of high technology should ideally be considered a common good.

Between space tourism and the metaverse, it is not certain that humanity has decided to follow this path.

PS: the term slow tech has already been used for a few years without a consensus emerging on its meaning and origin. We are not trying here to pre-empt this term, but only to name a posture vis-à-vis technology and a method that we have been implementing for ten years.


Frederic Bordage

Expert in green IT, digital sobriety, responsible digital, eco-design and, I created the Green IT collective in 2004. I advise private and public organizations, and lead, the Responsible Digital Design Collective (@CNumR) and the Club Green IT.

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Sobriety: manifesto for a – Green IT

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