Fab Labs, Hackerspaces, Libraries
by Meg Backus
MIT Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA)–>Fablabs & How to Make (almost) Anything.
FAB=Fabrication. Fablabs are sets of machines that anticipate Personal Fabricators (PFs). Personal fabrication puts the control of the creation of technology back into the hands of its users.
you can’t use it to produce consumer goods cheaper than what we have today”
nope, but you can’t get personalized custom fit anything from mass production. You can’t get solutions to exclusively local problems. You can’t get parts that are no longer mass produced.”
In the Renaissance, literacy meant mastery of the available means of expression.
Who gets to have an idea–or rather, who gets to share an idea? We don’t have to be people who can secure book contracts in order to share our ideas anymore. I can blog it, and I can point my twitter followers to my blog so they might read it, and they can comment pointing me to others who have similar or relevant ideas, and I can comment there and have a conversation with that author and his or her followers, so now we all get to be involved or engaged in a way that is productive and meaningful if we want to.
But here’s the point: that’s the system in place for ideas that can be expressed by being written down.
One thing you can do with an idea is write it down. But what about ideas that are best instantiated in other media? Do they not count? Of course they do! We need ways to share those ideas too. 3d printing is exciting because that same democratization of information afforded by the internet is brought to bear in manufacturing: if I have an idea for a faucet handle that’s easier on my grandmother’s arthritic hands, I don’t need to wish I worked at American Standard so I could make it. I can model it on my computer, I can improve my grandma’s life, physically customize and improve her environment. And she can too, actually. She doesn’t need to have the reflexes or maneuverability to handle power tools safely. She can invent and print what she needs to create workarounds with difficult tasks. Since necessity is the mother of invention, the elderly actually do a lot of inventing to carry out daily tasks or chores that become increasingly challenging with age.
Hacker, really? Like Cyberterrorist?
No. Hacking is heroic.
A hacker is a person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and stretching their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary.
It’s about the desire to transcend the contrived, commercially constructed facade to reach a rawer, more authentic understanding. And it’s about creating a community of fellow adventurers who share in discovering and investigating the same secrets or spaces.
This is not a political agenda per se (although it may have political implications) so much as it is a simple expression of individual human curiosity, original discovery and social connection in a culture that does not provide many options or spaces for such basic human needs.
True citizens are not the audience of their government, not its consumers, they are its makers. Same goes for culture: Culture is always rising, and those who participate in its ongoing creation will rightly want to question any cultural expression that comes to them wrapped in a right to exclude.
–Lewis Hyde, Common as Air
Program or Be Programmed:
in the emerging highly programmed world if you are not creating software, you are the software. If you’re on facebook you think you’re using Facebook but you are being used by Facebook: you are part of the program that has been written to generate massive amounts of data on consumers.
“…remember when we used to go to the store?”
In a democracy it’s important for individuals to experience their own human agency; making things is a great way to encounter your own agency. You work through decisions that are completely different from consumer choice. Free choices rather than forced choices are the difference between adventure and Choose-Your-Own-Adventure.
Libraries exist in support of a society where people think for themselves, make decisions outside the realm of consumer choice, experience themselves as capable of free acts. Hackerspaces are places for choosing none of the above.
- The freedom to access the network without tariff. Tariff here means price above cost.
- The freedom to transmit bits from peer to peer without the prospect of interference, interception or censorship.
- The freedom to determine where one’s bits are stored.
Meg’s Final Rant
We are inundated with images, ads, products, slogans, songs, and nobody asks us if we want these messages in our world, but it’s our world, advertising is what we do. But our only legal response to this environment, our culture, is to purchase it. Even when we buy something, if we touch it in any unauthorized way we violate licenses and void warranties. We don’t own our culture, even when we use our money to try to buy it (back), we still don’t own it. We and the culture we are creating are controlled by patent law, copyright, trademarks, and terms of agreement that are not being built in the publics’ interest. Where are our cultural institutions? In my mind, preservation is not just about keeping objects in the right light and temperature and humidity conditions for the physical structures to remain intact–the stuff is only part of what needs to be preserved for posterity–librarians can learn how to beat back or undermine the physical laws of the universe which conspire to render cultural objects unusable, but those laws are only PART of the threat to our cultural heritage and development. The conditions in the present, the codes governing their use, our freedom to access, innovate, remix, build upon creative works also threaten meaningful access. Are we doing our part? Obviously lawyers have a role there. Should we be leaving it to them completely? Don’t librarians have some role in how content is shared? How involved are we in the process, in helping to shape how content in shared? Should we really be waiting around until the lawyers and corporations figure it out for us and then we obey, we fit our institutions into the structures they’ve created for us, we innovate our services within the narrow margin given to us, where innovation looks like ebooks with wait lists 2 years long? I say we start hacking: we get under the hood, we push buttons, we challenge boundaries, we hack not just objects but ownership.