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Is Digital Tech Resilient and Green?

Talk at WSIS conference, Geneva, 2023

From Village Songs, Mahamaya Experience.

"So the song, is sung from the perspective of a village leader asking her daughter what she learnt from her experiences in the city. While the daughter talks about tech, language processing, grammars, Chat GPT, driver less cars and drones, the village leader  questions mass automation and asks the daughter to appreciate  the abundance that the world  already has, and embrace traditional, sustainable village living and the practice of simplicity.


The result is a heartfelt and upbeat song…I hope youll like it…."


Is Digital Tech Really Green?
WSIS 2023


Ranjit Makkuni



I will show 3 perspectives …. to answer whether digital tech resilient and green? 


The first example is from the mid-eighties when I had designed one of the world’s first multimedia learning systems of any kind, The Electronic Thangka.


The tools invented aimed to capture and disseminate the craft of Tibetan Thangka painting, a form of iconic painting based on Buddhist deities. 

The project resulted into one of the world’s first digital museum exhibitions of any kind…

It also served as one of the world’s first digital museum exhibition and reference of any kind…


At that time too, in 1987, I was asked whether tech was sustainable and whether computers can actually preserve the art forms…

So today, 40 years later, if we have to answer that question again, we will find that the traditional Thangka art forms and traditional media outlast their digital tech counterparts. While Thangka painting’s techniques, colours, and forms have remained stable over time, the same is not true for tech, where the hardware, OS, applications never carry forward into the present, and are in a constant state of upgrade.

Therefore, tech comes at a green cost.

The cost to adapt, reinvent and adapt to new change (i.e., resilience) makes tech neither green nor resilient.


A second example of resilient green tech can be learned from our works on Gandhi.

Mahatma Gandhi used tech as a political, economical, and spiritual tool…where the performance of green skills was an essential pre-requisite for taking part in India’s freedom struggle.


In the Gandhian philosophy of Satyagraha, the term meaning of being firmly embedded in Truth, ‘being green’ was an essential prerequisite.

Being Green meant the practice of various commitments which include the commitments to equality for all, social justice among others, and one of these principles was the commitment to Ahimsa, non-violence, which is essentially means a commitment to being peaceful inside, and a commitment to being non-violent on the outside-- and this includes commitment to designing sustainable green sustainable initiatives. 


One of the expressions of non-violence in Gandhian technology was the spinning wheel…Gandhi taught his followers to be self-reliant and author the products of their consumption, i.e., in the case of the spinning wheel, to ‘author’ one’s clothing.

So…the spinning wheel was a means to generate hand spun cotton, which was not only functional, but also symbolic, i.e., as a form of protest against the coercive purchase of industrialised automation of clothes being imposed on by the British colonisers on poor Indians.


The acts of spinning not only generated the cotton, but unified India’s villages …


…and at the inner level the practice of spinning performed as a meditative, health enhancing technology.

Therefore, here's the second example, Gandhi's spinning wheel, a green technology showing interconnections with design, politics, environment and health, all based on being green in outlook.

So today against the backdrop of globalisation with the rising interdependence of commodities, markets and services, we will need to step back into traditional green thinking.

The promised flat land and green spaces of globalization haven’t quite delivered…

…While financial tech has lifted many out of poverty in S. Asia many of us practicing and living in S. Asia realise that rapid urbanisation and development comes at a huge cost to the environment.


We live in toxic cities,

swim in toxic rivers,

and travel through toxic high seas.

And of course, the questions on toxic glaciers are being ignored, as climate change decision makers procrastinate in deep slumber….


and … as many traditional cultures embrace the digital economy, we face rising pollution…

The resulting urban chaos and pollution shows us that tech needs redesign and renewed green commitments.

At the social conversational plane of IT, we are constantly surveyed and the media has become a medium promoting divisions…


so much so that,  at the inner level, i.e., the inner green level, Man is depleted from rising stress, rising impatience and rising polarisation.

Indeed, one definition of being green is for the self to become full of vigour and health, so that the individual can further contribute to community and to the environment.

In the last year’s forum, we argued that, while the benefits of tech initially rose and provided happiness, subsequently with tim, the happiness has plunged into disillusionment with respect to various vectors (security, privacy, mental health and others) and one by product of rapid IT and urbanisation is environmental degradation, and so, we need to pay attention to the environment, amongst other parameters...

Hence as designers we will need to look into doing a “Control Z”, and retrace our steps backwards to arrive back to a point in time where we lived in harmony with nature…

…And with the impending trajectory of total automation of humanity arriving on the horizon, the third example I present is my song, a song that speaks to how ecological awareness must power our tech dreams.

Here I am speaking to you wearing the hat of my Jazz rock band, Mahamaya experience.

The song raises awareness of the magical wonderment found in Nature, and the beauty found in village living…

Here the village is seen as a place to learn from Nature,

Village as a place of nature-based healing,

As a place to participate in localization,

As a place to learn about how village materials can provide inspiration to design non-toxic hardware and natural interfaces.


So, the song, is sung from the perspective of a village leader asking her daughter what she learnt from her experiences in the city.


While the daughter talks about tech, language processing, grammars, (Chat GPT now!) driver less cars and drones, the village leader questions mass automation and asks the daughter to re-learn to appreciate the abundance that already exists in the world… and to embrace traditional, sustainable village living …

The result is a heartfelt and upbeat song…I hope you will like it….

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(c) 2023, Ranjit Makkuni

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