Community Technology | Book Review


Karl Hess’s Community Technology

“Today’s great opportunity is that any community – Any community – can, with access to knowledge, develop a technology perfectly appropriate to its needs and, moreover, perfectly appropriate to its resources” – Karl Hess

Karl Hess, author of “Community Technology”, had a practical head on his shoulders – A doer, not a dont’er, to quote Ken Jeong’s character in the movie Pain & Gain – and this book chronicles a piece of that side of Mr. Hess. Moreover, the book offers a philosophical approach to this action-taking. A blend works extremely well. It’s not a manual or a blueprint, its more an inspirational push. A push that provokes you to do something, big or small, and to think about things in a different way. Challenging the norm and proving it works.

Community technology is one of those books I’ve been wanting to read forever, coming highly recommended from both Per Bylund and Sal the Agorist. When I finally arranged for a copy to drop into the mail box, open up the book and smell the old paper and flip through the pages. A beat-up, ex-library version that’s been through a lot, with the feel that only those types of books have. A little rough around the edges in the form of appearance, but full of wisdom to explore.

The source of the books overarching theme is Karl Hess’s five year-long project in a neighborhood in Washington D.C where he was trying to turn things around, make it flourish and self-sustaining. Working with several hundreds of people in a loosely connected network with weekly meetings and ditching all conventional methods to reach the goal of liberty and some form of independence from the state control system. Going against the, as Karl himself calls it, ‘habitual dependence’ that governments creates.

“Government programs aim at getting money for poor people. Our hope was that knowledge would in the long run be more useful, provide more money and strike at the system-causes of poverty” – Karl Hess

Mr. Hess gives us a peak behind the scenes on the positive changes and the small-scale industry that gets built up around his initiatives and thirst for something different. Crazy ideas like growing fish in basements in recycled barrels and rooftop gardens filled the need for food, and local solar collectors and homegrown (literally) methane-production taking care of energy needs. I can only guess how radical these things was in an urban environment back in the 1970’s, most of the stuff Karl Hess and his merry gang built up would be seen as strange even today, in 2019.

I’m not going to spoil anything about the outcome of the experiments or the project itself here. I’ll leave that part out for anyone interested in reading the story for themselves.

Despite its relatively small page-count, clocking in at 107 pages, there is a lot of stuff to unpack and digest. Karl Hess, as I got to know him through reading his other works, knows how to send a message clearly without having to resort to more words than necessary. This kind of writing-style is very action packed and makes it a fun read along the way.

“There are no legal, moral, or technical reason why a town or a neighborhood should not add technological awareness, research, and innovation to its public spaces and discussion.” – Karl Hess

“Community technology” is a book heavily soaked in politics, but leaves the bonds of the left-right paradigm behind – Opting instead to critiquing the american two-party politics in a straight forward way and questioning if the government actually have any reasonable authority over ‘his’ part of the world, that little piece of Washington D.C where he live and work.

Even with this much politics involved, there is very little need for any background knowledge, the book and the ideas within stand on their own and is easily followed by just reading. If you are unfamiliar with the line of thought Karl Hess presents it could potentially be a bit too much to get used to at once.

I recommend this book to anyone that gets excited about the thought of a community working together to build a better place, where cooperation and the simple act of sharing tools and skills is used to further the cause.


Interested in getting a copy of the book and supporting Utopium.blog at the same time? Please consider buying “Community Technology” through Amazon.

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