Han har ingen smartphone, föredrar skrivmaskin framför dator och driver sin webbplats med solenergi. Möt Kris De Decker, journalisten och grundaren av Low-tech Magazine, som är en av talarna under Biblioteksdagarna i Göteborg.

Your magazine, Low-tech Magazine, ”refuses to take for granted that every problem has a high-tech solution”. Many people today would refuse to accept that there is not. When did you start refusing high-tech?
– Before I started Low-tech Magazine, I was working as a freelance science and tech journalist for more than 10 years. As is common in science and tech journalism, my focus was entirely on new scientific discoveries and technological innovations. Having interviewed hundreds of scientists and engineers, it made me increasingly critical of the common view of technological progress. For one thing, it seems that the solution is always ”just around the corner” but never seems to arrive. For example, when I asked critical questions to a scientist who was researching the first generation of biofuels, he agreed to my criticism but said that the second generation of biofuels would solve these problems. Years later, I had an almost identical discussion with a scientist researching the second generation of biofuels, and who was pointing to the third generation as the final solution. But today, nobody talks about biofuels anymore and all hope is now on electric cars and hydrogen.

Why has the sustainability issues of digitalisation not been addressed properly until recently?
– We have been told for many years that digital technology and the internet are sustainable alternatives to physical things and activities like travelling or shopping, because it is ”immaterial”. But of course digital technology is just as physical as any other technology. There is an enormous infrastructure behind the internet. The production of computer chips requires complex factories and lots of energy and other resources. This reality is only slowly getting through and of course by now there are large commercial interests and society is very dependent on digital and networked technology for many daily chores. It’s hard to turn back this evolution, even though it would mean going back in time only 10 years or so.

What are your hopes for the future?
– Part of the solution is to make digital technology less wasteful. Visiting the average website is now the equivalent of driving a military tank on the road. There is a lot to win here, as our solar powered website shows. But I think we also should reconsider the thinking that everything should become digital.

Visiting the average website is now the equivalent of driving a military tank on the road.

We also lose a lot of skills. As someone who doesn’t have a smartphone, I have noticed that I have become one of the few people who still knows how to navigate a city without staring at a screen. This makes us also very vulnerable. If our complex infrastructures falter, we are helpless. Just think about the infrastructure we need to do digital payments. Cash, on the other hand, is very resilient.

I heard you use a typewriter to take notes during meetings. How do other meeting participants react to that? Typewriters tend to be a bit noisy…
– I have never used a typewriter during meetings, for the reason that you mention… But I like to use it to write the first versions of an article. The great advantage of a typewriter is that it allows you to focus on only one activity: writing. There are no news updates, messages or other distractions of the internet. It’s just me and the text. When it’s time to edit the text, I switch to the computer. Also, with a typewriter one can write anywhere, even in full sun and far away from a power supply. I would love to take my typewriter to a bar or on the train and write in public. But I would become the center of attention while I prefer to be the observer.

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Foto: Adriana Parra