UPDATE: In an earlier post to this thread, we described how recycling laptop computers in Small Is Good World is not about the computers, it is about the people who use the computers. The computer exchange is not just a one-off event but rather the start of a persistent social and economic relationship. In the first Sohodojo Life in Africa Laptop Exchange, Christina Kirabo Jordan (Life in Africa) connects Sohodojo Jim and Timlynn with her invaluable assistant, Monica Nankoma. In the process, a laptop makes its way from Fairfield, Iowa to Kampala, Uganda via historic Oxford, England. Part One showcases the idea behind the program, and Part Two documents the first exchange during the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship.
–Sohodojo Jim and Timlynn–
April 9th, 2005
Mbaki and Gerry,
Thank you both for reading and considering our post above about the Big Is Good World, Small Is Good World, and Recycling Computers.
There is an organization-centric assumption underlying each of your counterpoints to our comments. In both cases, you are thinking that the goal/focus of the recycling computers ‘problem’ is the computer. As such, you are both correct in suggesting that an efficient, coordinated (Big Is Good World) solution service is better (in the sense of efficiency, manageability, and accountability) than a myriad of individual, uncoordinated computer recycling services. And to this point we would agree, regardless of whether this solution design is realized as a large conventional organization or a large coordinated, decentralized network.
The organization-centric assumption creeps into your counterpoint comments when you suggest that the myriad of individual, inefficient, uncoordinated computer recycling services is a Small Is Good World solution design. You are thinking too literally — comparing apples to apples, in other words — in your assessment of the relative advantage of size in the ‘game’ of recycling computers. This organization-centric perspective assumes that the Big Is Good World vs. Small Is Good World Game is being played on the same field, by the same rules.
But if you revisit our comments above, you will see that we are talking about two different games, played by two different sets of rules. Both games may involve the movement of surplus computers around the metaphorical playing field, but this is where the comparison ends. Both of your Big Is Good World versus Small Is Good World counterpoint comments reflect an ‘apples to oranges’ comparison.
The objective of the Small Is Good World game is to create persistent, rewarding social-economic relationships between individuals. Organizations in the Small Is Good World are pools of resources, brand-identifiers, and context-setters. Useful, yes, but fundamentally non-essential to the central theme/goal of the game which is all about creating person-to-person networks.
To use our Sohodojo/Life-in-Africa example, we now know by way of correspondence with Christina Kirabo Jordan, that the laptop we (Sohodojo Jim and Timlynn) are donating to the LiA Webbed Empowerment Center is going to Monica Nankoma. The laptop will physically stay in the WE Center because there aren’t enough to go around yet, but Monica is designated as this laptop’s ‘care-taker’.
With the exchange of this laptop — we’re bringing it to the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship later this month to give to Christina who will take it back to Uganda — Jim and Timlynn are committing to develop an on-going, mutually-rewarding, and mutually-supportive relationship with Monica. As we get to know and care about each other, we will work with Monica to draw our relationship beyond the social and into the economic.
The Small Is Good World is a network of intimate, person-to-person relationships. The organizations Sohodojo and Life in Africa Foundation may facilitate linkages within this world, but they are not the essential elements of it. Now, multiple the tiny network of Timlynn, Jim, and Monica but many orders of magnitude. The Small Is Good World can eventually be a global network that transcends national boundaries and the influence of global corporations and their markets.
So, Gerry, when you say we need to get “Small in a Big Way”, we absolutely agree. And Mbaki, when you say that the Small Is Good approach to international aid and development tried in Africa to date hasn’t worked, we agree.
Think of global capitalism as a two-cylinder engine. For the last 100-150 years — essentially what we might characterize as the Industrial Age — this engine has been running on the Big Is Good World cylinder. The engine runs rough and dirty. If we put a spark plug back into the Small Is Good World cylinder and give the engine a tune-up, this engine can run cleaner and more efficiently. (Of course we still have to steer wisely to lengthen the flight of Spaceship Earth… but that is another discussion.)
As we said in our initial comment above, our Small Is Good World approach to recycling unwanted computers won’t solve the whole surplus computer problem, but it does attend to the opportunity to reinvigorate and extend the Small Is Good World… and that is a Great Game to be playing.
–Sohodojo Jim and Timlynn–
March 17th, 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–
March 14th, 2005
We spent some time in an off-the-grid Permaculture eco-village in western North Carolina a few years back. One thing we became painfully aware of quickly was what a power hog your typical desktop PC is, especially if it has a CRT monitor.
The best solution for low impact computing where watts/amps are scarce and unreliable, the eco-villagers soom realized, are modest laptop computers. Rather than dump aged power hogs on our friends in developing countries, we should be concentrating on unwanted laptops. They are easier to ship globally, generally self-contained, storable in ICT centers where security might be an overnight issue, moveable/sharable, etc… and very light on electrical requirements, not to mention having their own built-in uninterruptible power supplies.
Laptops have been around long enough now and have gone through such price decreases that there are lots of still functional but unused ones around. As the applied R&D lab collaborating with Christina Jordan on her Life in Africa Network, this is what Sohodojo is doing. We’re putting the word out to round up unwanted laptops from our local community so we can send them to Christina for her newly opened and expanding LiA Webbed Empowerment Center in Uganda.
We know this isn’t a mega-scaled solution to the Big Picture problem that CompuMentor/TechSoup and Jim Lynch are working on, but it is an example of interpersonal networking and solutions in the Small Is Good World. If only we could connect hundreds or thousands of communities one-to-one with each other such that we could hand off rather than hand out.
–Sohodojo Timlynn and Jim–
March 8th, 2005