7 Overrated Technologies and Their Underrated Low-Tech Alternatives


Photo via Christiano Betta

Technology rocks, and improving upon what we have is a boon for fighting climate change in a lot of ways. But sometimes green gadgets get more attention than the totally effective non-tech solutions to problems in our lives, because, well, non-tech solutions are boring. The latest and greatest is always fun to talk about.

So we wanted to think about some of the cool technology we like discussing, that also have non-tech solutions that do just as much good. Thinking about all the ways in which we can do without tech helps us re-center, and remember the world does not revolve around power outlets.
Photo of Kindle via Robertnelson, and library via Helga's Lobster Stew

Headlined: E-Books


E-books and e-readers have been getting quite a bit of attention on TreeHugger as of late, what will cool advances in e-paper technology and the death spiral of printed newspapers. E-books are very cool and will likely hold a significant place in our culture soon, helping us to cut down on the carbon footprint of the printed word while still maintaining broad home libraries, carrying books while traveling, even college students can put all their textbooks on a lightweight e-reader. And yet, there's another very green resource that doesn't get nearly the press it deserves...

Sidelined: The Library

According to our survey, only about 12% of you still use the library. And yet, along with a plethora of various resources, libraries offer the solution to pretty much any book craving we may ever get. Even if your library doesn't have the title you're seeking, they are likely hooked up to a network so that a nearby library can send the title right over to you. It may not be a perfect version of the instant gratification our generation craves, but it gets pretty darn close. And it's all perfectly free.


Photo of monitor via Tristanf and plug via Vinay Deep

Headlined: Home Energy Monitors


There is no doubt that energy monitors are an excellent way to help us cut down on our energy use. They spark that competitive spirit within ourselves to do better, and help us to recognize when we're overindulging. They're easy to use and gads of them have been hitting the market. And with the smart grid coming, we've been all abuzz with the latest gear that helps us cut down on our energy consumption. But there's something even cheaper and easier to use than a power monitor

Sidelined: Unplugging Stuff

If this doesn't underscore why green technology is more exciting to talk about than un-techy alternatives, then I don't know what will. Yep, unplugging stuff is a surefire way to consume less energy. There's two reasons for this. First, it heads off vampire power. But secondly, rather than appealing to our competitive spirit, it appeals to our lazy side. It's annoying to plug stuff in every time you want to use it, so you avoid using an appliance in order to avoid the hassle of plugging and unplugging. Utterly boring, I know. But an energy-saving solution nonetheless.


Photo of car via Joel C Garcia and bike via xddorox

Headlined: Hybrid Cars


Oh the hybrid car — nothing draws website traffic quite like it. The personal motorized vehicle isn't going anywhere any time soon so we might as well do everything we can to improve it, and that means switching it to run on renewable energy. We love talking about cars here on TreeHugger, and we know folks love reading about them — hybrid gas/electric, all electric, hydrogen fuel cell, solar powered we love transportation technology. But there's a low-tech transportation staple that doesn't seem to get quite the attention it ought to see

Sidelined: Bikes

The humble (and sometimes extraordinarily humble) bicycle deserves some love. More and more people are realizing that this low-tech device can happily get them around town, and provides all kinds of great side effects like improved health and invigoration, with minor side effects like helmet hair. With our economic woes, however, the bike is getting increased attention both on TreeHugger as well as across the nation as citizens get reacquainted with its awesomeness.


Photo of compost machine via NatureMill and compost pile via cogdogblog

Headlined: Composting Machines


Composters come in a variety of designs and sizes from giant tubs you can spin to indoor machines that do the work for you. The newest technology we’ve covered is electronic machines. Plug-in composters offer a way for apartment dwellers who often lack yards to compost indoors. The interesting thing about this device is it shows what very little space is needed to compost, and underscores that correct composting means no smell. All of which leads us back to the roots of composting…

Sidelined: A Pile in the Corner of the Yard

While it’s true that some people have no yard to speak of – not even a community garden to take kitchen scraps to – for those of us lucky enough to have even a small wedge of dirt in our yard, a composting machine isn’t needed at all. A well-maintained pile of biodegradables will manage to compost itself quite well without the need for gears or wiring. Sadly, unless you’re a hardcore gardener, compost piles doesn’t make for very interesting conversation, nor Diggable headlines.


Photo of recycling bin via Dano and bulk food via karpacious

Headlined: Recycling


Recycling is an absolute must. New technologies to help us better recycle the mess of consumer goods we create are vital. We love talking about the new ways to turn junk into fuel, or make something useless into something cool again. It is exciting to see not only the technologies involved in the actual recycling, but also what products now use recycleable materials and recycleable packaging. But what doesn’t get as many nods are products and ideas for how to go without the stuff that needs recycling.

Sidelined: Precycling

Precycling is a simple concept: do things that avoid waste. I'm not sure why we don't talk more about it, but I suppose because it is all about what not to do. However, precycling is awesome and deserves some web space. It includes actions like bringing your own storage containers to bulk food stores, skipping the overly packaged foods and goods, designing products that use the least amount of wasted material as possible, using lunchboxes, and passing on print jobs. Precycling revolves around the "Reduce" and "Reuse" corners of the green triangle. And actually, this is a pretty interesting topic!


Photo of computer monitors via TotalAldo

Headliner: PC Power-Saving Software and Equipment


We know PCs tend to be big power suckers, and we're always on the prowl for new technology that helps them run efficiently. From new computers that sip energy, to software downloads that keep a tight shut-down schedule, to silly EcoButtons, anything and everything can be helpful. However, something that doesn't get much attention is the fact that your PC already has power-saving capabilities built in to it that allow it to save energy right this second, at no extra charge.

Sideliners: A PC's Existing Power Preferences

Adjusting your PC power settings is a soft of non-techy alternative to techy power-saving programs. All you have to do is go into the power options on your computer to get started. For instance, on a laptop, you can go into the power options and program it to lower screen brightness, shorten the time for when it goes to sleep during inactivity, or shorten the time for when to turn off the display. These are just a small handful of the ways computers already have energy-saving capabilities that get overlooked when a cool new techy program walks into the room.


Photo of CFLs via Paul Keller and light switch via Greg Reser

Headliner: LEDs and CFLs


LED lights and CFL bulbs get a lot of attention around these parts because the technology offers serious improvements over our current lighting and display issues. We don't want to go without lighting when it is dark. That's clear as day. And one of the key ingredients to switching to LEDs or CFLs is the energy savings “ they use a lot less energy and what they do use is more efficiently turned in to lighting as opposed to waste heat. Yet, energy savings can come in more forms than a twisty bulb in a box!

Sideliner: Using lights sparingly

Equally as efficient at saving energy is the decidedly non-tech alternative to CFLs and LEDs “ turning off the lights. Using lights only when you need them, and only to the degree to which you need lighting is a big energy saver. Sure, there are even techy gadgets that help you turn the lights off. But really, all we have to do is flip the switch on only when we need it, and flip it off when we're done with it. Businesses that use extensive lighting can learn from this too; for example, does the light of a bathroom restaurant really need to be on when no one is in there? But, we don't talk about this because, well, you already know it.

There are a lot of simple non-tech solutions to our environmental woes that just don't seem to get the press time because they aren't the world's first, or groundbreaking discovery, or just interesting to debate. They are, however, equally as important as new advances. Hopefully, we will remember them even as we ooh and aah over cool new innovations.

More on Getting in Touch with Our Non-Techy Sides:
5 Ways to Ditch Extra Gadgets, Simplify Life and Save Money
How Do You Go Green? Share Your Video Tips with TreeHugger!

Tags: Appropriate Technology | Human-Powered | Living With Less

WHAT'S HOT ON FACEBOOK