Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius—and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.
- Fritz Schumacher, 1973
Software, paired with the idea of the universal Turing machine, is an extraordinarily powerful tool. We can create almost anything we can imagine, and run it at a worldwide scale.
Large companies do this all the time, of course–that is how they make money, or at the very least, attract enough users to make money on advertising or data sharing. Even in those cases, though, it has significant drawbacks and unintended consequences. Complex systems are notoriously hard to build, and even harder to understand and predict.
(A questionable election result here, a massive data breach there, and pretty soon you're talking about real impact.)
But software doesn't belong exclusively to corporations, and the success–or at least prevalence–of the free software movement means that we have ample building blocks to use for our own ends. We aren't starting from scratch, and we can choose to build, and use, tools that support our needs and our values.
We can't magically will about the resources of a multi-billion dollar company, but we can make different decisions and choose different trade-offs.
What if we built things that were smaller and simpler, that were easier to understand and maintain?
What if solving a problem for one person were enough, without requiring a business plan or a revenue model??
What if we built tools that were independent of complex commercial infrastructure?
What if we valued simplicity over scalability, and that simplicity meant we could make these tools available for free?
What if we built tools that weren't mysterious and unpredictable, but contained, and straightforward?
What if we built tools that could be improved by others to fit their needs?
Not everything can be small scale technology, but if it can, it probably should be.
– Jesse Kriss, October 2017
Examples of small scale tech