Low-tech Magazine questions the belief in technological progress, and highlights the potential of past knowledge and technologies for designing a sustainable society. Because a web redesign was long overdue—and because we try to practice what we preach—we decided to build a low-tech website that meets our needs and abides by our principles.
To reduce energy use, we opted for a back-to-basics web design, using a static site instead of a database driven content management system. We further apply default typefaces, dithered images, off-line reading options, and other tricks to lower energy use far below that of the average website. In addition, the low resource requirements and open design help to keep the blog accessible for visitors with older computers and/or less reliable Internet connections.
Because it uses so little energy, the website can be run on a mini-computer which needs only 1-2 watts of power, which is supplied by a small solar installation on the balcony of the author’s home in Barcelona. Typical for off-the-grid renewable power systems, energy storage is limited. This means that the website will go off-line during longer periods of cloudy weather. To help visitors “plan” their visits to the solar powered website, we provide them with several clues, such as a battery meter, current sky conditions, and weather forecast.
We were told that the Internet would dematerialize society and decrease energy use. Contrary to these projections, it has become a large and rapidly growing consumer of energy itself. The solar powered website addresses the two main causes of the growing energy use of the Internet: ever-increasing page sizes on the one hand, and the evolution towards 24/7 access on the other hand.
The Internet is not an autonomous being. Its growing energy use is the consequence of actual decisions made by software developers, web designers, publishers, and internet users. The solar-powered website shows that other decisions can be made.
Kris De Decker (BE) is the creator and author of Low-tech Magazine, an online publication that highlights the potential of past knowledge and technologies for designing a sustainable society.Marie Otsuka (JP)
Marie Otsuka (JP) is a designer, developer, and educator exploring systems of use. Her research focuses on tools and methods for making work. She is currently drawing typefaces and programming scripts at Occupant Fonts.Roel Roscam Abbing (NL)
Roel Roscam Abbing (NL) is an artist and researcher whose work engages with the issues and cultures surrounding networked computation. Currently he also works as a teacher in Digital Media at the department of Graphic Design in Artez, Arnhem.Lauren Traugott-Campbell (US)
Lauren Traugott-Campbell (US) is a graphic designer and artist working in exhibition and print design at MGMT Design in New York City. Her work investigates the materiality of digital systems and the labor involved in making them run.