In the current phase of capitalism the idea of enough no longer plays a significant public role. Growth has become an all-encompassing aim. We have learned to accept that whatever we like would prove even better if only we could have more of it, even though research suggests otherwise. We no longer feel this envy solely about material goods. We have learned to feel it about those intangible goods such as status and ranking, which our digital tools have begun to measure and make explicit to us.

The prevailing economic system demands constant growth because capitalism long ago developed the capacity to satisfy our basic needs, and moved on to manufacturing new, less tangible, needs for which we can learn to demand satisfaction. The various ecological, economic, political and social crises in the last fifty years have demonstrated, however, that we do not have infinite resources available to us, and have laid bare the idea of infinite growth as a fantasy. The desire for infinite growth now appears inhuman in theory as well as in practice. It represents an inversion of the idea that we create tools to extend our capacities. Infinite growth makes us slaves to our tools, and leaves us waiting breathlessly for “innovative” goods to consume and “disruptive” trends to follow.

Recognising that the world has finite resources and that people live as social beings, that we become persons only through socialisation, we need to find ways to reconnect our selves with the world we have inherited. To do this we need to have a clear idea of the qualities of that world. We need to know what we will gain by doing this and we need to know this in human rather than statistical terms.

We need to reinsert the idea of sufficiency into public debate and we need to create work that does just that. We suggest that, as Ivan Illich suggested in 1971, we can do this

only if we learn to invert the present deep structure of tools; if we give people tools that guarantee their right to work with high, independent efficiency, thus simultaneously eliminating the need for either slaves or masters and enhancing each person’s range of freedom. People need new tools to work with rather than tools that “work” for them. They need technology to make the most of the energy and imagination each has, rather than more well-programmed energy slaves.

This project aims to explore our current digital tools in order to see if, and how, we can rethink them as tools to help people “make the most of the energy and imagination each has”. To do this we will need to draw together ideas and practices from different fields, and to create practical demonstrations of convivial tools in action.

To begin this we have reached back in time to reclaim a specific and powerful idea of sufficiency, first proposed by Ivan Illich, and in order to do this we borrowed his term conviviality.

Owen Kelly
October 2016