Technology as “tequio”

This post is a short summary of Yasnaya Elena Aguilar Gil’s essay “Una propuesta modesta para salvar al mundo,” translated into English as “A modest proposal to save the world.” (The original version is in Spanish.)

Adapting technology to suit a new context is not a new practice. However, adapting tech to support collective, rather than capitalist outcomes, may be able to help us move out of some of the pervasive problems inherent in development paradigms.

“Tequio has also become a strategy for meeting everyday needs. Just as the modern-day technology of free, open-source code has enabled collective progress in the digital sphere, the communal labor of tequio raises the possibility of resistance in Abya Yala — and survival of the world at large.”

Technologies have been adapted in Abya Yala, an indigenous name for what’s now called “Latin America,” to serve diverse needs like language preservation and distributed ownership of cellular phone/internet networks.

These needs are a response to colonization and capitalism. Many rural and/or indigenous populations have never been given access to these increasingly necessary forms of communication, so now they are reclaiming and grounding this tech in the own communities. More neutrally called “digital divides,” this unpoliticized and academic understanding points to inequitable gaps in access to and use of online spaces and tools. Aguilar Gil’s essay suggests that these gaps can be bridged by going back to roots of collective and cooperative practices embedded in many indigenous communities:

There is a serendipitous affinity between the logic of collective effort and free cooperation that defines open-source software like Linux and the philosophy of many indigenous communities who built structures to survive the harshness of colonial rule. Both rely on mutual support and small-scale, community-level labor linked into a circuit of larger tasks. Such tequio is an essential “social technology” common across Abya Yala.

This is a continuation of what we might call “self-organizing” – appropriating capitalist/colonial tools to suit decolonizing contexts. Although not necessarily designed as such, tech tools can be used to create spaces for collaboration, cooperation, and community. This happens through a reclaiming – a reclaiming of the intentions and goals from a capitalist, profit-centered model to one that benefits communities.