Aral Balkan: The antidote to Big Tech is Small Tech

I posted earlier about and this fits in the same category. Aral Balkan (of IndieWeb and Ethical Design Manifesto) just posted:

From the article:

We need an antidote to surveillance capitalism that is so anathema to the interests of Big Tech that it cannot possibly be co-opted by them. It must have clear and simple characteristics and goals that are impossible to misinterpret. And it must provide a viable, practical alternative to Silicon Valley’s strangehold on mainstream technology and society.

That antidote is Small Tech.

Then it lists a number of bullet points of what constitutes Small Tech. Each of these can be further elaborated to create a full-blown handbook with interesting pointers for anyone who wants start Small Tech ventures.

This can be part of a future community project where we’ll evaluate alternative business models that are more fitting to Humane Technology.


Right now there is already more than plenty of small tech. All the millions of niches of the internet which are not profitable for companies are currently held by small tech. And almost all are non-profit, not by choice but because they make little to no money. In fact most can’t even pay themselves a small salary.

Small tech is everywhere, but nobody sees them. There are millions of apps in the Apple crApp Store. Each of those millions of apps does something, but really they do nothing important, or if they do nobody noticed. And each of those millions of apps was created by small tech. We can call these losers, not to insult them but just to say the truth.

Because that is the truth, the way tech works it is big rich funded tech companies with no morals will win and take all. Some other companies too will make a lot of money, and be able to also pay their employees and make a profit.

But small tech? That is not a novel idea because it has already been the fashion for a long time to create useless tech and then make little to no money from it. But money isn’t the goal you say, but I would say no there should be money because the creators of humane tech need to get paid. Nobody deserves to work for free, because people have kids and husbands to support, not to mention shouldn’t be sleeping on the floor.

Instead of small tech which is many individuals making millions of almost useless and unwanted pieces of tech, we need humane tech united. Because people only use a few tech products total in their lives. We just need some practical level of technology that is useful, devices, systems and a few applications. For that yes humane tech would need to be united, not small but at least medium-sized. And for that yes there would need to be money and salaries for workers. And yes putting it all together we would have enough humane tech to run our lives without Big Bad Tech for almost all the things we need to do on a daily basis as individuals or as organisations.


While I agree in part on what you are saying and think I understand your take on the other parts, I disagree on the way your are describing it. Where I do not agree with you in general is the way you describe ‘success-related’ business practices, like references to “losers”.

There are a number of things you leave out of the picture when taking this approach to inform and you try to convince others. First the ‘definition of success’ is entirely subjective and personal and in the way you formulate it, imho you align it too much with how it is defined by (capitalist? western?) society.

Second there is the ‘concept of freedom’ which should allow any individual to be ‘unsuccessful’ in the eyes of others, i.e. not strive for common definitions of success, but instead pursue personal goals. If that warrants the label of ‘loser’ by anyone else, then this may indicate a shortcoming or lack of understanding in the other (unless of course your goals are unethical or even immoral, in which case judgment is warranted).

Finally there is the ‘concept of value’ and ‘learning how to create value’ in order to achieve personal success. And strongly related to that is the ‘concept of failure’. All are in the eye of the beholder, entirely subjective as well. What one perceives as worthless gives another great joy. The persons “making millions of almost useless and unwanted pieces of tech” as you describe it, are mostly stemming from the worthwhile efforts by millions of people that learn how to create value, and hence give meaning to their life.

And yes, many of these are failures, while many others are not. Failures, but just in the eyes of others, or maybe failures by your own perception. Failures can be devastating, or they can just constitute valuable lessons-learned. In other words failures can be (and often are) of great value. Personally I think we need to fail first to truly successful. And we need to continue to experience ‘failures’ both big and small on our path to success. “Fail fast, and fail often” is a credo in IT and startup culture, and it has merit.

After all, if we look at all those tech billionaires on their rise and rise of (materialistic and shallow definitions of) success, they get into places where good human beings should not want to be: having their moral and ethical values entirely wrong or warped and lacking in empathy for people in general and care for the world at large. They become vain, selfish individuals. Maybe they can live with that - there are studies that indicate many of them are sociopaths or even psychopaths - but maybe they also have those restless nights where they are thinking over their lives with thoughts of “What is my true impact on the world?”, “Am I truly successful? Am I worth the respect of others?”, etc.

So now back to Small Tech. Is it a novel idea? No, not by any means. But it is an underused and undervalued business approach. And related to a neglected and underappreciated philosophy of life: the philosophy where true human values prevail, like modesty and empathy and pursuing happiness instead of wealth. And if we do not act, then our ‘modern-capitalism-driven’ trends will continue to diminish the value of this philosophy.

BTW Note my careful choice of words in saying ‘modern capitalism’. I don’t want to be dragged into populistic discussion by people saying I am a ‘communist’ by my criticising capitalism (or even to be called a ‘socialist’ in the Orwellian meaning of the word that populistic propaganda tries to bestow on this term). There are many flavours of capitalism. Some may even work in the long run. Forbes recently defined our current form as ‘fake capitalism’:

So what Aral Balkan is trying to do in his bullet point list of what constitutes Small Tech, is to define one approach to a new perspective on doing business in tech. He is suggesting making choices that can be considered best-practices and that - when followed en masse - lead to a better world. He offers handholds. But such a small article can of course only touch the tip of the iceberg, and not all of his bullet point suggestions need to be necessarily adopted. There are many flavours here as well. For example, the approach taken by of ‘becoming a Zebra, not a Unicorn’ is another one. And they can be combined at will. You are free to pick and choose what works best for you.

And this is where Humane Technology comes into the picture and our Humane Tech Community initiative kicks off. We should see Humane Tech as a new area of expertise, a complete subject area that is a field of study in its own right. As I see it, in the future, you should be able to go to university to do a CS/BS combinational study of ‘Humane Technology’ and get your PhD in that. Eventually there will be many Humane Technology experts, consultants, professors and other authorities in the field.

The role of the Humane Tech Community and the Center for Humane Technology in this, is to lay the foundational framework for this new knowledge area. We do this by collecting all the existing solutions, insights, experiences, philosophies and lessons-learned that already exist, and create a pervasive network of like-minded initiatives and partners to continuously improve this foundation, adding new solutions and making the whole ever more comprehensive, applicable and there actionable. It is very much a holistic approach, requiring inputs from all walks of life and knowledge.

We all know that there are many highly valuable unique selling points (USP’s) to be had when walking the humane technology path. This means that as we go along on our quest, we will increasingly show the attractiveness of adopting new practices to the wider world. And our community growth will come natural, as people get really excited when they see the possiblities. Our community principle of participation being ‘fun and rewarding’ will certainly help in that as well.

Having all the frameworks and methodologies in places in a similar vein to what Aral Balkan and many others are promoting means that as the adoption of Humane Technology increases - and business models change as a result of that - we will also evolve towards different, vastly improved and sustainable economic models that are applied to our broader society.

I realise this is all very high level still, and many of the concepts we talk about are really abstract and enormously complex, but this is actually a point where humanity can truly thrive. After all, the multitudes of mankind can achieve unbelievable things if we all set our minds and efforts to a common cause, as history has proven. We did go to the moon, and are now aspiring to go to Mars very soon (which imho is setting the wrong priorities, but that is a whole different story altogether).

Given our Mission and Vision and the storytelling we adopted at our community it all boils down to this:

We are building grand pyramids again, and we are building them now, in the present: We are building The Pyramids of Humane Technology and I am very, very proud :heart: of anyone of you great Humane Technology Activists who joined the cause, and who have decided to become a modest and honest Pyramid Builder, no matter how small or large your contributions are!

Let’s roll up our sleeves and start hewing those stones, people!

Onwards to Human Flourishing :sunflower:


Nothing else to add here. This is a great discussion. Thank you guys.


Thanks, the goal is to stimulate discussion.

I made the reference to “losers” to get people’s emotions working. There is such a resistance to this word “loser”. Of course “success” is usually seen as having something be put to use, even if it does not bring money. For some success is purely educational, to gain experience by making something intentionally otherwise useless, as long as that is all they are seeking.

I made the point that developers deserve to get paid well. Who can argue with that, it is almost a human right to be paid for work. What better way is there except fear and truth to show people that they should not have to be financially poor? Being financially poor is awful and inhumane. Why is the phrase “getting paid” itself perhaps seen so negatively? “Getting paid” is a humane goal, because a second-rate existence is inhumane. When I said people shouldn’t be sleeping on the floor, it is from real experience. For those lucky enough to be born in privileged places, social housing and benefits are meant for people who are in trouble or otherwise have no way to provide for themselves, not for educated and healthy people who have no definite goal of soon being well paid.

There is so much pain in people’s lives, so much time lost on these kinds of misguided individual tech projects, so many failures to enter normal adulthood and become self-sufficient. Time is the most precious resource we have.

Actually no I am not defining success as some capitalist thing. In building humane tech success would be people using it instead of Big Bad Tech.

Western society is not a thing, not a mindset that is necessarily so different from all humanity. Too many people believe the misguided idea that Western society is perhaps bad for some reason. I have been to too many places on Earth and people are the same, it’s just circumstantial. Western society simply represents some people who in recent history became organised, democratic, educated and powerful, due to being clustered in some location on Earth where there were resources. All the good and bad things we associate with the West also exist in other societies. Too many Westerners view the West as bad, and then that capitalism too is bad as if they are somehow the same thing. But then some other people who are not from the West and if their country happens to have problems or not be democratic often say look that system of being organised, democratic, educated and powerful works well and I wish we had that too for ourselves. Of course there are flaws with the West (Western food is bland and unhealthy for example) but as you might guess every country has its flaws so it’s no different anywhere else.

I support small enterprises, I run one myself so that is why I say how hard it is. When I tell other people not to go in to something, it’s because I think they will fail. The credo is “fail fast” as you say, I am trying to help people to fail faster by not even getting started. Then they can concentrate of things that would succeed for them.

We are talking about creating humane tech here! The goal is humane tech and empathy in itself, which includes workers getting paid well.

You’re so right that capitalist zillionaire tech “elite” are jerks. I know some of them personally, I do not like them, they are like from another planet, do drugs and selfish things all the time. They could care less about humanity, either as a group or as individuals they associate with. But the trouble is that people look up to them, because they either don’t know that they are jerks, or forget easily. It’s like, why do women date jerks? The trouble is that actually people are looking up to the assholes, and are jealous of them, and these assholes don’t change they just keep being selfish jerks who think of themselves and showing off. Perhaps their lives are shallow, but with all the material comforts they have people do look up to that and forget that they are inhuman.

This is the very hard choice I’ve taken for my life personally, human values, modesty and empathy, as someone who runs a small business. But happiness and wealth are linked, happiness goes up as wealth goes up, up to about $50-$100,000 US dollars per person per year and then it levels off. Poor people are usually miserable, especially if they literally have almost nothing when they are not lucky enough to be born in one of the countries which provides for its poor.

Isn’t small tech actually heavily used already? Millions of people have tried it. Governments all over supported this. Everyone jumped on board to some hyper capitalist hell, only to find that all the wealth and useful products are concentrated in a few Big Bad Tech companies. It’s not that people didn’t try small tech. They tried it and what came out were giant tech monopolies getting ever more powerful.

Sign me up to be an academic or expert in this field.

Wonderful way to put it indeed.

Given this discussion, I think the solution to Big Bad Tech is going to be a nonprofit which funds the creation of a humane tech ecosystem. Currently nonprofits get donations to do things like educate children and cure people of diseases. I see no reason why a nonprofit shouldn’t be making humane tech software to replace all that we have now, from the operating system to the major applications.


Thank you @Free. As usual a lot of great feedback from you to consider. You know that I am not critizing you in any way, and greatly value your sharp posts and the many interesting discussions we’ve had. I know exactly how you meant the words such as “loser”, but in my response I was generalizing how this perception of losing and success is generally applied in our modern society.

Just like ‘disruption’ there is negative connotation, and others new to this forum not knowing you might perceive the language as overly cynical. We all win and lose at times, so we should accept that sometimes we are the loser, and that is good. But not everyone is thinking like you and me about that.

I’ll come back later and read your last post more carefully, but I was just now busy with turning my prior post into an article in the broader context and audience I intended it for, and in no way to you personal :wink:


Hey I didn’t take anything personally, it was my goal to stimulate discussion and questioning.

I hope you didn’t take my first post personally. There is really nothing there offensive if read literally. Your and Aral’s original posts have great value. I never said we shouldn’t do more to support small tech and small companies. Because we should support them more.

Did you know that the number of companies in the USA is almost half of what it was a generation ago? Corporation was never meant to be a bad thing. One problem these days is that there are actually fewer companies, more consolidation of power.

However if I went down that line of thought, the that would destroy my main point that these small tech ventures too often fail and too often make useless things, because they don’t understand simple economics and demand. And that leads them into inhumane misery.

Demand should dictate the majority of what is built in a humane tech ecosystem. Not a demand to make money in this case, but a demand to be used and to be humane. Fortunately, there are relatively few core products that need to be built in a humane tech ecosystem.

Mozilla made the mistake in the past when it made its loser Firefox OS in that it did not look at demand. The decided to compete on price since consumers didn’t care about open source. Mozilla did not differentiate their OS enough, like Firefox browser prior to 2018 it was more like an open source versions of Big Bad Tech. In short Firefox OS failed because it did not create true humane tech, did not differentiate from Apple and Google in consumers’ minds. Not their fault, but they didn’t even know what humane tech was at the time, nor did seemingly anybody else. A second reason they failed was they made their OS too complex, trying to copy all the features of Big Bad Tech. This is where the magic of humane tech comes in, because true humane tech gives:

  1. Differentiation: The software is just so different as it has different goals from the start. Goals to respect privacy, keep things simple and get people living their lives instead of living on the device.
  2. Demand: Consumers and organisations would choose humane tech over inhumane tech if they had the option, as it works for them instead of against them.
  3. Simplification: A simpler set of features, less complex. No need for all the high tech shiny candy, just the main features of mobile computing.
  4. Security: All much much safer and secure since it’s all out in the open, all simpler and things like ads, tracking, and non-open-source software are completely forbidden.

So given these principles, if Mozilla tried to instead create a humane OS, they would be much more likely to succeed.

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No, for sure I did not :smile:
One makes all these assurances because texting is such a poor medium to express emotions of the words (unless we write in careful prose). We should do a video call soon these days. Btw, I just posted my article as well.

A recent lecture of Aral Balkan on Small Technology: