Use convivial tools

In Free, fair and alive, Bollier & Helfrich wrote:

The term “convivial tools” was introduced by the social critic and philosopher Ivan Illich in his 1973 book Tools for Conviviality, which described a vision of a world in which a community of users develop and maintain their own tools. Using convivial tools - a term that we extend to technologies, infrastructures, and processes for provisioning - is about enhancing our individual freedom while enriching our relationships and interdependence - the essence of a commons.

Many contemporary tools and technologies are closed systems that lock us into their particular way of performing a task. Think of a factory assembly line, genetically modified crops, or an encrypted DVD. Such systems structure how we are allowed to work and relate to others, while making us dependent on control-minded corporations or state bureaucracies. By contrast, convivial tools are open-ended systems that anyone can use and adapt for their own purposes, in their own ways. As Illich explains:

Tools foster conviviality to the extent that they can be easily used, by anybody, as often or as seldom as desired, for the accomplishment of a purpose chosen by the user. The use of such tools by one person does not restrain another from using them equally. They do not require previous certification of the user. Their existence does not impose any obligation to use them. They allow the user to express his meaning in action.

Techniques for stable, eco-responsible agriculture such as permaculture and agroecology are convivial tools because anyone can use and share them, and contribute to their improvement. GMO seeds that have been genetically engineered and patented, by contrast, can only be used as mandated by the corporate owner. A free or open source computer operating system such as GNU/Linux can be used, shared, and modified however a person wishes, whereas Microsoft Windows and Apple’s iOS prohibit users from even looking at the source code of the program without permission. Convivial tools invite creative adaptations in a myriad of contexts. They deepen connections among people and with the Earth. They help bring about small, incremental, and socially appropriate solutions to problems. People can use them to escape institutional systems that inhibit our humanity and create dependencies.

The social character of our tools and technologies matter because, as Illich wrote:

Any individual relates himself in action to his society through the use of tools that he actively masters or by which he is passively acted upon. To the degree that he masters his tools, he can invest the world with his meaning; to the degree that he is mastered by his tools, the shape of the tool determines his own self-image.

Ultimately, the tools we use shape the kind of society that is possible. “The result of much economic development,” writes Illich, “is very often not human flourishing but ‘modernized poverty,’ dependency, and an out- of-control system in which the humans become worn-out mechanical parts.” This dynamic is reaching alarming new extremes as a new surge of artificial intelligence technologies reach into our family life, households, personal health, and consciousness.

In our times, open source tools and technologies are convivial tools with great potential for Provisioning through Commons because users can determine how they will be used. They are open, accessible, modifiable, and shareable based on user wants and needs. Convivial tools allow for many applications, some very different from the originally intended use.

David Bollier & Silke Helfrich (2019), Free, Fair and Alive - The resurgent power of the commons, Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers, 189-191.

See also: Formación - Tools for conviviality