Published in Chain Reaction, No. 27, Autumn 1982, pp. 38-39
Do you believe that every saying of E F Schumacher is a pearl of wisdom, that intermediate scale technologies always perform efficiently and economically, and that the introduction of 'appropriate technology' is the best way to promote social reform in the Third World? If so, then Paper Heroes will give you cause for reconsideration. Rybczynski critically analyses the concepts, applications, performance and ideology of 'appropriate technology', deflating quite a few pretensions along the way. His strictures are a useful warning to those who occasionally or routinely fall prey to the mystical view of technology as either good or bad solely because of its scale or labour-intensiveness.
But for those who understand that technology is shaped by political and economic imperatives and that technological change is only one part of wider social struggles, Paper Heroes is largely a waste of time. Worse than that, Rybczynski subscribes to a one-directional view of 'modernisation', which he sees as an inevitable and progressive process toward modern industrial-style economies, which is being opposed by those who promote a romantic view of simple, labour-intensive technology.
There is little or no mention of nuclear power, automobilisation, planned obsolescence, workers' control, militarisation, or the systematic exploitation and distortion of Third World peoples through neocolonialism. A critique of 'appropriate technology' would be most valuable, but something much deeper than Paper Heroes is required.