What's the best umbrella term for tech that aims at a lower environmental impact (hardware, software and network traffic) and respects privacy?

@calcifer posted about this in December, resulting in an interesting thread. Now I'm writing about it and could use some help deciding on a single term :)

These 4 were my favorites, but the thread listed many more: heirloom computing, retrocomputing, respectful computing, minimal computing, as little tech as possible, solar punk, permatech. All great! What do?

@l03s There's also a relatively long-standing conference called "computing within limits" (see

@jboy that's true! I never considered "computing within limits' as a term though, somehow umbrella terms feel like they need to be shorter or acronyms, but I'm not sure why. Thank you for bringing this one in!

@l03s It's kind of interesting to think about whether solarpunk etc. are a generational shift away from the old LIMITS framing...

@jboy Do you mean the imaginary that is attached to them? From limits with a negative framing to a positive one (scarcity versus abundance)?

@l03s @jboy there is also 'resource constrained computing' as a field

@rra @l03s probably been eclipsed by IoT though, right?

@jboy @l03s I guess IoT covers it, but there are also many IoT applications which are not resource constrained at all. Then again what is considered 'resource constrained' is also a shifting goal post.

@l03s That's... a really smart way of putting it!

@l03s From your four I like small tech. Low Tech is good in that low tech magazine exists. I think permatech is my favorite in your expanded list.

@l03s maybe in some way ‘sustainable’ can cover ‘respects privacy’ too? After all, companies disrespecting privacy is not really sustainable in the long run.

@gidi that's very true. What is both great and difficult about the term sustainable is that it can indeed refer to many things. It has been coopted so often that I'm hesitant to use it, but it is one of the few terms that could potentially refer to respect for privacy and planet alike. Food for thought.

@l03s @gidi

Was going to mention "sustainable". I think "small tech", "retrocomputing" and such are cool but they seem to show that the goal is minimisation of resources. I would argue that the actual, true goal is to have something that can sustain indefinitely, hence sustainable. Above mentions would be ways of achieving this.

@l03s My understanding of retrocomputing is that it's a bit more restrictive than what you're referring to in that it's specifically about older hardware or facsimiles of it, with specific limitations (e.g. 8- or 16-bit words) that might not apply to a more general exploration of minimal computing.

@l03s Generally I like 'permatech' (by analogy with permaculture) and 'small tech' , but 'technological minimalism' also seems to capture something. Bit of a mouthful though!

@l03s Also starting to wonder whether 'inclusive tech' has something to it.

@l03s Like particularly because a few vocal proponents of small tech can be very gatekeep-y ("if you can't program your Casio F-91W with a magnetized needle and a steady hand, go back to your Windoze malware-fest") while others will treat accessibility as unnecessary bloat serving only to ruin the aesthetics of their perfect haiku-formed gopher client.

/rant (sorry, I've been mulling these things over in my head quite a bit recently...)

@petrichor haha good rant, I agree accessibility is crucial if these goals are to have any chance at all. Skill sharing is a much more useful tactic than bloat-shaming or being territorial.

This thread illustrates nicely the diverse views and approaches existing. They do not have to be universalised into one term or way of doing. Thanks for raising this issue Jez!

@l03s "heirloom" and "retro" computing necessarily are making comments about the age of the technology and not the impact, and unless you count "it has no Internet access" as "privacy respecting", retrocomputing doesn't respect privacy. Additionally, small/little/low/minimal doesn't imply respect for privacy. Solarpunk is an aesthetic far beyond tech. I guess "appropriate" and "respectful" are okay. I don't see why "sustainable" isn't on the list, though.

@roadriverrail sustainable has been appropriated and used in so many different contexts it has lost a lot of edge, but at the same time it does bring in the long term thinking needed for respectful treatment of people and planet. It pooped up in the thread earlier.

Small, Tiny & low tech projects often combine these two as well, even though the words don't imply it directly. A lot of bloat comes from surveillance, advertising, SaaS and datamining.

Retro computing indeed is way too restrictive to be an umbrella term. It probably came up in earlier discussions since memory, cpu cycles and networking were limited in the past, overall power consumption + network infrastructure were weighing less heavily on the planet. Privacy has nothing to do with this, agreed :)

@l03s Personally, I'm just too old and tired to care about what has an edge any more. I just want things to work. But, to each their own there. But with small/tiny/low, I am on a hard disagree that it implies privacy. For example, I work with technology that's fundamentally incapable of encrypted communication at a reasonable speed; privacy is a feature and it takes cycles to implement.

@roadriverrail hard agree on privacy taking cycles to implement! Did not mean small, tiny etc imply privacy, just noticed projects associated with these terms strip a lot of bloat from content served over networks, also often advertisements and tracking, which are consumers of energy aiming at stimulating consumption, but indeed, they are not cpu cycles. Thank you for your thoughtful input :)

@l03s Oh, yeah, I definitely agree with you that when you're trying to streamline software, those sort of capitalism-enabling features go. I think a lot of this is front-of-mind for me because I am literally currently on an "everyday retrocomputing" project right now, and I'm discovering that things like secure network sessions are precious and also prohibitively expensive for old CPUs. :D

When you say "prohibitively expensive for old CPUs" can you unpack a little bit? And what kind of old CPUs are thinking of? I'm asking because I'm super interested in this topic :) Also, it came up in a recent informal discussion I had with someone as whether or not gemini, regardless of its minimalism, would be useful/useless in the context of reappropriating old hardware, specifically because of TLS.

@320x200 @l03s I'll go out on a limb and say that you could probably scrape something together on something 32 bit, 50hz or so, and 8MB RAM. But classic retrocomputers are right out. The only one that I know to have an SSL library is the Amiga, and it is described as barely able to decide modern ciphers. Certainly nothing 6502 based, not without a hardware card that did the crypto ops itself. Gemini explicitly stated they cut off retrocomputers as a design choice.

@l03s @calcifer I usually call it Little Tech, but I guess Small Tech sounds smarter?

@l03s @calcifer we really like both permacomputing and small tech, but we worry that the latter is flexible enough that it could be too easily coopted or commodified — permacomputing has an explicitly anticapitalist feel to it that we resonate with, and that we hope would make it more resistant to corporate appropriation

@l03s @calcifer There's nothing low tech about microchips.

The other three are all good candidates though.

@l03s @urusan low tech is a tricky term because it stands in opposition to high-tech, but in a relative sense. Computing can be done in low-tech ways (less resource use, less complicated/problematic dependency and resource chains, simplicity in structure and operation, legibility of the process and consequences of use).

Low-tech doesn't refer to a specific technology in time but to a set of uses and practices. Thats how microchips can in fact be part of a low-tech approach.

@rra @l03s Well, my thought on the matter is that while you can use them in a lower tech way, modern microchips are not something you could fabricate without a complex supply chain, making them inherently high tech.

Consider that the EU does not currently have its own sovereign-controlled foundry for sub-10nm chips. If one of the world's most powerful entities has to rely on TSMC for its chips, then what hope does an individual or community have?

@rra @l03s This is also something that low tech magazine talks about quite a bit, through their discussion of the high embodied energy of microchips.

They aren't low tech artifacts, and so while they are useful in a lot of ways to low tech living, their inherently high tech nature makes them troublesome to fit into the philosophy.

That said, it may be possible to have low tech microchips by using a less complex process, likely resulting in less impressive computers.

@rra @l03s It might also be possible that future technology changes the game.

We don't knock farmers for using the advanced biotechnology that is (heirloom) crop plants, which took enormous stretches of time for our ancestors to develop.

If microchips could be fabricated from a relatively simple starter, which can be maintained and replicated over time, likely either nanotechnology or biotechnology based, then it too could be low tech.

@rra @l03s
Of course, from a pure energy perspective, you can just "use every part of the computer" to get around the high embodied energy. There's a lot of computing power available, so just use it all.

Ideally, we would have chips and practices that support this.

However, the deeper problem is that you would need to maintain at least one high tech enclave to produce the microchips. This leads to a lot of problems, ranging from political to economic.

@rra @l03s That said, I'm not criticizing the pragmatic approach. It's better to be more efficient than we are today, rather than holding up some impossible ideal and being disappointed when it isn't realized.

The high tech world isn't going away, so making use of its fruits is pragmatic.

I'm just pointing out:
1. It's currently an inherently high tech technology
2. Those advocating for the low tech approach should have a backup plan, in case they become unavailable

@l03s @calcifer "Small tech" makes me think of arduino. "low tech" makes me think of a mechanical typewriter. "appropriate" is as misleading as "ethical". "minimal impact computing" MIC. Talking of which: #time_to_rewrite_in_rust

@l03s @calcifer Small/low tech are the opposites of big/high tech, which aren't really what your post describes imo. "Appropriate technology" sounds too vague. Permacomputing though not only sounds cool, but fits the description better, I think. :cirno_shrug:

@l03s @calcifer Some years ago I tried to make a not-so-serious case for "rustic computing" but I think permacomputing is nice since it's fairly specific and gently assertive instead of defined in negativity/opposition.

@320x200 @l03s I was imagining sheep but yeah that's about right.

(I actually had a Gateway laptop in the 00s)

I will see if I can find the silly poster I made for this concept.

@320x200 @l03s I found the text for the Rustic Computing concept:
"Rustic Computing is computing for pleasure. Its practitioners build their machines using the materials at hand for bucolic tabulation. A true rustic computer is constructed from natural components, using traditional means. Their programs gently manipulate abstract symbols to yield artisanal results. Each logic gate is unique and charming like a sheep with its wool. The programmer, like a shepherd, guides his flock through pastoral fields of calculation. A rustic computer reflects the character of its maker; often improvised, sometimes whimsical and always epicurean. Every machine invents the world anew with its singular mode of encapsulation while abiding a heritage of centuries. As with any fine craft, it takes time."

@praxeology @calcifer rustic computing is beautiful :) It conjures up a very different world. It's the first time a computing term makes me think of logs of wood and farm animals :drake_like:

@l03s @calcifer I also like the term “slow tech”, like in “slow food”. To me it conveys the idea of “take the time to consider and discuss the potential nefarious impacts of a technology before creating it or using it”, and also doing with what hardware and software we already have, completely in the opposite direction of the current technological race and startup philosophy.

@stragu yes! Very nice :) it is very close to @calcifer respectful tech, love the thoughtfulness it conveys!

@stragu @l03s I like that idea very much. But for me the issue with "slow tech" is that one of the significant advantages to a technological system that's sustainable, respectful, and thoughtful is that such systems tend to have much better performance

I know "slow tech" as a term isn't intended to mean "slow function"; but I worry that will be the perception

@calcifer @stragu that is a good point, the word slow has negative connotations, and that is almost at the heart of the problem isn't it? That any lack of efficiency and speed has become unacceptable, technology must perform flawlessly and at hyperspeed or else... I do love that slow tech would challenge those assumptions but agree with you that this is not how it will be perceived by most.

@l03s environment and privacy and ... tech for future?

@l03s after thinking about that thread, I kind of settled on "respectful tech", as for me the core is respecting the user's control and respecting the impact tech choices have on everything from power consumption to e-waste generation to user wellbeing

@calcifer thanks for sharing that, and for the initial thread! Respectful tech resonates with slow tech for me, chosing a thoughtful approach. It also combines the ecological with privacy beautifully :)

@l03s @calcifer How about "User Centric Computing" (ore variants "Usage Centric", "User-value")? While ostensibly more focused on the privacy part, deficits in longevity and resource usage typically arise from other stakeholders than the users.

@chrysn @l03s unfortunately, most of the problematic approaches to tech already believe themselves to be user-centric, so while that's an accurate term for the sort of thing we're talking about, I think it would be hard to use it to drive change or get attention of those not already convinced

Even Facebook's hell of a user experience on every metric we ought to care about is believed by those who make it to be centered on what users want…

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