The Yin-Yang of Computer Recycling

March 14th, 2005

This discussion thread is a perfect context in which to make some general comments about fundamental differences in program design in the Small Is Good World and program design in the Big Is Good World. In doing so, we will publicly respond to Christina Jordan about how Sohodojo proposes to work with Life in Africa to recycle computers.

‘Small Is Good’ in the Small Is Good World is a reference to a collection of organizing principles and design goals that shape our view of and participation in the world. Small in the Small Is Good World is not about size. The Small Is Good World empowers individuals to be less dependent on conventional organizations and to thrive in a self-support community of kindred spirits.

Recycling Computers in the Big Is Good World

In the Big Is Good World, old unwanted computers are a problem to be solved with a scalable service. This problem definition leads to a certain kind of solution design. That solution, with any number of variations, will end up looking something like this: A Person with an old Computer interfaces with a Computer Recycling Service that processes and distributes the recycled computers to Organizations and Persons needing a computer (providing the recipient meets some eligibility requirement). Even if the recycling service includes an ‘accountability/traceability’ feature built into its service, the focus is still on the computers and not on the people who supply and use the computers.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this approach to the problem of surplus computers, nor with the Big Is Good World. The problem comes when this is the only way that we approach social innovation design.

As has already been discussed in this thread, Big Is Good World problem solutions have side effects. These side effects primarily result from the scale and speed of execution once a Big Is Good World solution is set in motion. In the case of recycling computers, we might be solving the developed world’s landfill problem by shifting the same problem to the developing world.

Recycling Computers in the Small Is Good World

Things are much different in the parallel universe of the Small Is Good World. The mountain of surplus computers in the developed world is not a problem to be solved directly. Rather this surplus is an opportunity to advance our primary design goal which is to connect people-to-people in persistent socio-economic networks. In the Small Is Good World, a surplus computer serves as an exchange token in an evolving network relationship.

For example, a laptop supplied through Sohodojo could establish a link between an artist/entrepreneur in our home town of Fairfield Iowa and an artist in Christina’s Art4Life artist co-op in Uganda. This relationship could evolve into an on-going set of exchanges. Enough economic value could flow through this relationship so that the next computer the Art4Life artist gets might be one bought personally rather than given. Or maybe the artist’s child gets to go to college, or his or her family builds or upgrades their house. Maybe a family member gets medical attention that would not be affordable otherwise.

These kinds of results can be helped more by an on-going interpersonal exchange relationship than by a one-shot provision of a surplus computer.

What Measure of Success?

In the Small Is Good World, our performance targets will be to recycle hundreds rather than tens of thousands of surplus computers. Establishing and maintaining hundreds of person-to-person persistent network relationships are our most important program design goals. This is not the same as simply moving computers around without any commitment to building an interpersonal relationship.

Granted, Small Is Good World exchange networks are not going to completely solve the unwanted surplus computer problem. But this is just one example of how we can apply program design methods that challenge our concepts of the “One Right Way” to see and solve social problems.

Fortunately, there will always be creative folks — like those contributing to this discussion — working to develop Big Is Good World solutions to the recycled computer problem. But while these good folks continue their best efforts, we need to also seek new creative ways to solve problems through programs that connect people-to-people.

Small Is Good World Design may Solve Some Big Is Good World Problems

Big Is Good World solution designs are optimized for scaling. Small Is Good World solution designs attend to replication and transformation. Both solutions have growth potential. It is just a matter of the type of growth we want to encourage.

Imagine what might happen if a viral network effect kicked in and we were to have the Sohodojo/LiA computer exchange replicated throughout thousands of communities around the world. The result would be a myriad of individuals networking with each other through a growing web of Small Is Good World interpersonal relationships. If enough of us live and work in the Small Is Good World, maybe one day we won’t need a Big Is Good World solution for recycling computers.

–Sohodojo Jim and Timlynn–

Entry Filed under: Globalization 3.0 and the Small Is Good World, Recycled Computer Initiative

The Yin-Yang of Computer Recycling

March 14th, 2005

This discussion thread is a perfect context in which to make some general comments about fundamental differences in program design in the Small Is Good World and program design in the Big Is Good World. In doing so, we will publicly respond to Christina Jordan about how Sohodojo proposes to work with Life in Africa to recycle computers.

‘Small Is Good’ in the Small Is Good World is a reference to a collection of organizing principles and design goals that shape our view of and participation in the world. Small in the Small Is Good World is not about size. The Small Is Good World empowers individuals to be less dependent on conventional organizations and to thrive in a self-support community of kindred spirits.

Recycling Computers in the Big Is Good World

In the Big Is Good World, old unwanted computers are a problem to be solved with a scalable service. This problem definition leads to a certain kind of solution design. That solution, with any number of variations, will end up looking something like this: A Person with an old Computer interfaces with a Computer Recycling Service that processes and distributes the recycled computers to Organizations and Persons needing a computer (providing the recipient meets some eligibility requirement). Even if the recycling service includes an ‘accountability/traceability’ feature built into its service, the focus is still on the computers and not on the people who supply and use the computers.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this approach to the problem of surplus computers, nor with the Big Is Good World. The problem comes when this is the only way that we approach social innovation design.

As has already been discussed in this thread, Big Is Good World problem solutions have side effects. These side effects primarily result from the scale and speed of execution once a Big Is Good World solution is set in motion. In the case of recycling computers, we might be solving the developed world’s landfill problem by shifting the same problem to the developing world.

Recycling Computers in the Small Is Good World

Things are much different in the parallel universe of the Small Is Good World. The mountain of surplus computers in the developed world is not a problem to be solved directly. Rather this surplus is an opportunity to advance our primary design goal which is to connect people-to-people in persistent socio-economic networks. In the Small Is Good World, a surplus computer serves as an exchange token in an evolving network relationship.

For example, a laptop supplied through Sohodojo could establish a link between an artist/entrepreneur in our home town of Fairfield Iowa and an artist in Christina’s Art4Life artist co-op in Uganda. This relationship could evolve into an on-going set of exchanges. Enough economic value could flow through this relationship so that the next computer the Art4Life artist gets might be one bought personally rather than given. Or maybe the artist’s child gets to go to college, or his or her family builds or upgrades their house. Maybe a family member gets medical attention that would not be affordable otherwise.

These kinds of results can be helped more by an on-going interpersonal exchange relationship than by a one-shot provision of a surplus computer.

What Measure of Success?

In the Small Is Good World, our performance targets will be to recycle hundreds rather than tens of thousands of surplus computers. Establishing and maintaining hundreds of person-to-person persistent network relationships are our most important program design goals. This is not the same as simply moving computers around without any commitment to building an interpersonal relationship.

Granted, Small Is Good World exchange networks are not going to completely solve the unwanted surplus computer problem. But this is just one example of how we can apply program design methods that challenge our concepts of the “One Right Way” to see and solve social problems.

Fortunately, there will always be creative folks — like those contributing to this discussion — working to develop Big Is Good World solutions to the recycled computer problem. But while these good folks continue their best efforts, we need to also seek new creative ways to solve problems through programs that connect people-to-people.

Small Is Good World Design may Solve Some Big Is Good World Problems

Big Is Good World solution designs are optimized for scaling. Small Is Good World solution designs attend to replication and transformation. Both solutions have growth potential. It is just a matter of the type of growth we want to encourage.

Imagine what might happen if a viral network effect kicked in and we were to have the Sohodojo/LiA computer exchange replicated throughout thousands of communities around the world. The result would be a myriad of individuals networking with each other through a growing web of Small Is Good World interpersonal relationships. If enough of us live and work in the Small Is Good World, maybe one day we won’t need a Big Is Good World solution for recycling computers.

–Sohodojo Jim and Timlynn–

Entry Filed under: Globalization 3.0 and the Small Is Good World, Recycled Computer Initiative


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