1 What are Convivial Tools?

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Convivial Tools according to Ivan Illich

The term "convivial tools" comes from Ivan Illich’s
book "Tools for Conviviality," published in 1973.

Illich presented a radical critique of the existing system of industrial tools, which is oriented towards mass production for consumer society. He observed that: "As the power of machines increases, the role of persons decreases to that of mere consumers."

Illich wanted to "invert the present deep structure of tools" and to "give people tools that guarantee their right to work with independent efficiency." He claimed that "people need new tools to work with rather than tools that work for them." Illich suggested that such tools would enhance a sort of "graceful playfulness" in personal relations, which he summed up by calling such tools "convivial."

Conviviality in and out of Fashion

Illich’s ideas about convivial tools influenced the generation of hardware hackers that first developed personal computers in the 1970s (see for example the article on Lee Felsenstein).

Illich also developed a series of parallel social critiques, all on the underlying theme of disempowerment of the masses by highly specialized elites. Thus along with the need for tools that could be controled by their users, Illich advocated the need for alternatives to institutionalized schooling, and the need for practices of self-healing as alternatives to the industrialization of medical practice. These themes have gone somewhat out of style since the nineteen-seventies - in part because the some of the solutions Illich called for have been realised through the development of the personal computer, open-source software, and the Internet.

However, the convivial critique of industrial technology seems to be coming back into fashion, as consumers begin to react against the glut of disposal equipment and the effects of planned obsolence. "Convivial tools" remains the term which best expresses the vision of new tools to enhance the "independent efficiency" of their users.

Introductory Articles

Visitors to this site might begin by looking at the following articles:

See also the Convivial Tools Database

The present website presents a collection of articles about convivial tools. It was created in early 2007, and evolved gradually towards an encyclopedic format, with an increasing concern for completeness and careful documentation. But this ambition proved difficult to realize, and many of the articles remain insufficiently supplied with footnotes and references.

Towards the end of 2007 a similar website was created, the Convivial Tools Database, with a more informal structure. Much of the information contained herein was moved over to that other website, which became the more actively developed site. However, current plans are to replace both of these "legacy" websites by a new site that would more effectively promote the development of Convivial Tools....