I've been biking through Vietnam for about a week now, winding through backroads and the deep countryside. Being in a place that's more raw, where technology doesn't have such a grip on nature, I can see the sheen that our technological-social systems really are.
We stopped off at a bamboo chopstick “factory” a few days back. They take raw bamboo and chop it into equal lengths, split it down the middle and rip cut it into round strips. They strips are packed up and sent off to be shaped, steamed cleaned and packaged.
Everyone in Asia uses chopsticks every day. The usage of disposable chopsticks is staggering to imagine. Lucky that bamboo grows so fast! I'm quite sure that when chopsticks were “invented” no one imagined that these sorts of factories would spring up to meet demand for more and more disposable implements. The system that exists now grew organically. How would we design it now if we were given the chance? And how would we get people to change?
Today on one of our long bus rides connecting long bike rides, I was reading this article in the New York Times about technology diffusion.
It's really worth a read. So many unconscious choices have been made in the past about the way to do business, about how to make and distribute products, about what is acceptable and unacceptable. In the early 20th century, a majority of cars were electric and leased for short periods of use. Basically electric zip cars. A bad bit of financial dealings soured the leading company, leaving gas vehicles to leap forward. It may take ZipCar a generation to change expectations about what car ownership can mean.
Here in the developing world there is so much opportunity to make things anew, instead of aping systems of manufacturing and distribution that have had zero intentionality.
If you haven't seen the behavior grid from BJ Fogg, take a look below…I think path behaviors, and wholesale changes of those paths, are the hardest. But it seems worthwhile to create opportunities for change. If all the motorbikes in Hanoi were electric, the city would be transformed!