NEW INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION [essay]
Apart of pure nature, life stories and a few authentic spaces, I have the impression that the world is filled with junk and junk spaces1, literally and metaphorically. Army of businessmen, investors, politicians, bankers, designers, architects and many other parts of the free-trade machinery, in an “honorable” quest of making the world a more comfortable place utterly ruined the world with their absolutely senseless and reckless belief that progress can only exist when there is a continuous growth in economic output, production, construction and consumption.
Doing so, an almost apocalyptic ecological threat looms over humanity. Instead of creating sustainable circular systems, as nature did over hundreds of millions of years, they have created cycles of “buy-throw away-buy new” that had as result horrendous mountains of junk that we might never be fully able to get rid of. The junk splitting into tiny particles, entering our bodies, our food, entire ecosystems. The junk piling up in our garages, often quickly obsolete. Would you believe that in the 60s and 70s they've even seriously considered programmed obsolescence is a valid tool to ensure the economic growth? How utterly dumb.
“If design is ecologically responsive, then it is also revolutionary. All systems - private capitalist, state socialist, and mixed economies - are built on the assumption that we must buy more, consumer more, waste more, throw away more and consequently destroy Life-raft Earth. If design is to be ecologically responsible, it must be independent of concern for the gross national product (not matter how gross that may be).”
Victor Papanek, Design for the real world
The worst thing is, this system, it is us. We all play our part in this consumerist tragedy. We all are responsible and yet innocent. It is like we are elements of this emergent phenomena, existing and being driven by some imprinted patterns unaware of the consequences of the ensemble.
The catastrophe doesn't limit itself to environmental destruction. In this holy pursuit of comfort and conformity, a big part of the population lost the know-how on how things work and how to make them. The mass production caused the loss of value of the products. Their genericity caused the loss of authenticity. We live in generic places, walk generic streets, eat generic foods. Koolhaas was right, we consume junk and inhabit junkspace.
Vandalism had become a mean to appropriate our environment and reclaim the streets. To cover the generic walls with street art, to exchange paid seats on terraces with a beer on the grass. The benches have become obsolete, since there's no profit in sitting on them. The streets have been reduced to a functional link between where people are supposed to make a profit and to spend it.
The connection between raw material and final product got lost. Egg is produced by chicken. Chicken inhabits factory. Egg is produced in factory. The plastic toy is made of polymers. The polymers are mainly created using oil, natural gas or coal. Extraction of those materials is creating unprecedented exploitation of the environment and harm to the planet, society and individuals.
SEARCH FOR AUTHENTICITY
Ever since the beginning of industrialization, various countercultures tried to re-establish an authenticity through the belief that doing things ourselves, bring us not only satisfaction and emancipation, but also results in a direct appropriation of knowledge. The religious community of shakers in the 18th century believed that making something of quality is an act of prayer. The Arts & Crafts movement on the edge of the 18th and 19th century considered generic objects unworthy of the attribute of beauty and they considered that working BY hand WITH a genuine touch and individual skills could be a tool of transformative social change.
“They didn't need to compromise their music to get published, and they didn't need to sell in big numbers or get radio play. They could find their own fans; indeed, the fans found them via word of mouth, and postcards poured into such micro labels to order music that couldn't be found in most stores. The relative obscurity conferred authenticity and contributed to the rise to the global underground that defines Web culture today.”
Chris Anderson, Makers: The new industrial revolution
The DIY movement that emerged in the second half of the 20th century continued in that logic, believing that re-appropriating the ways of making, adds value to the cause and liberates individuals from the oppression of the market and saves the world from soulless object. Making had become a political tool to get rid of a consumerist mindset. Punks, anarchists, squatters, musicians, travelers and many others were able to organize themselves and produce, using the most basic technological tools available – cassettes, copy machines.
The political DIY-magazines, or “zines” that sparked change in women, in antiracist in antifascist and other movements were assembled, copied and distributed without the need of big publishing and printing companies. The music was done in garages, recorded on widely available cassettes and distribution was done hand by hand. It was the era of anti. Anti-establishment, anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-fascist, anti-religion, anti-institutional, anti-authoritarian, anti-mainstream, anti-capitalist.
Hackers share their roots with the DIY movement and followed the same way of anti-establishment, anti-capitalist, anti-consumerist thinking (and anti-racist and other antis). Their way of making was coding. What was new, was the aspect of the joy of understanding, exploring and inventing. In popular culture hackers are often only seen as criminals who enter illegally systems with the objective of doing harm. I am not going to argue that black hats hackers, who entered system illegally to do harm, didn't exist, but they are not representative sample of the culture.
There are two aspects of hacker's ethics: “Above all else, do no harm” and “Information wants to be free”. The objective of entering the system is not to do harmful activity, its goal is to do a discovery, accompanied by a belief that all knowledge shall be free. Another important aspect is the whole existence of the concept of hack.
HACK: 1) something done without constructive end; 2) a project under taken on bad self-advice; 3) an entropy booster; 4) to produce.
Dennis, J., & Samson, P. (1959, June). Dictionary of the TMRC Language
Hack had become a tool of innovation. To code a hack meant to create a tool, process, program, etc to repair or to improve something. Soon this mindset had grown into people, who out of joy and out of conviction began to create whole systems (as an alternative to commercial, closed ones) that were entirely open and available for everyone to download, use, modify and share.
Earlier the invention of cassettes and copy-machines allowed the wide-spreading of the movement, and the same was true for the invention of the World Wide Web in the 90s. The rising availability of personal computers and widened access to the network stimulated the hacker culture. Another consequence, for society in general, was the creation of a completely new territory that in the decades that came, enabled entrepreneurial activities on scales never seen before. The lightness of code* and accessibility of the network and knowledge didn't necessarily require huge investments. In my opinion, this was the moment the DIY mindset truly entered the mainstream.
* - Code does not “weight”. You don't need heavy expensive tools. Everyone with an access to a computer can do it.
The hackers were merely trying to free the knowledge and inventions that had been locked into patents, keeping economic evolution commercial and dependent on large investments. As Marx correctly observed, power belongs to those who control the means of production. The DIY movement in all his instances, particularly in hackers' culture was a fight to re-appropriate the means of production as a way of re-distributing power to the people.
Around that time, hackers across the globe started to create physical communities that would meet up in places called hackerspaces and hacklabs. These spaces were set up to create a place for discussion around technology and politics and to “making” – programming, building, tinkering. Soon the hackerspaces had spread out all over the world, currently, there are more than 2300 hackerspaces worldwide.
Open source hardware created by a number of tinkerers, hackers and makers made it possible to create relatively low-cost digital fabrication machines such as 3D printers, vinyl cutters, CNC routing machines, and even laser cutters and to implement these devices, either DIY or bought ones, into these spaces.
In 1998, Neil Gershenfeld, professor at the MIT Centre of Bits and Atoms, discovered the immense multidisciplinary success of his newly created class “How to make (almost) everything” where students were supposed to learn operating machines by making various, not necessarily research or professional, DIY projects. A few years later, he developed an outreach community project Fab Lab that consisted of a set of digital fabrication machines that could cover the technical, design and functional aspects of producing. These include the open source Arduino hardware, controlled by C-language, 3D printers and laser cutters to fabricate physical parts, a vinyl cutter for decorative elements and of course, a workshop and electricity corner for bricolage and tinkering.
“In keeping with the fab lab project's goal of discovering which tools and processes would be most useful in the field, we started setting up these labs long before we knew how best to do it. The response in the field was as immediate as it had been at MIT. We ended up working in so many far-flung locations because we found a demand for these capabilities around the world that was every bit as strong as that around campus. In the village of Pabal in western India, there was interest in using the lab to develop measurement devices for applications ranging from milk safety to agricultural engine efficiency. In Bithoor, on the bank of the Ganges, local women wanted to do three-dimensional scanning and printing of the carved wooden blocks used for chikan, a local kind of embroidery. Sami herders in the Lyngen Alps of northern Norway wanted wireless networks and animal tags so that their dara could be as nomadic as their animals. People in Ghana wanted to create machines directly powered from their abundance sunlight instead of scarce electricity. Children in inner-city Boston used their fab lab to turn scrap material into sellable jewelry.”
Gershenfeld Neil - Fab: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop
- from Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication
Soon they discovered the emancipatory and innovational effect the access to these tools provided to people, regardless of their education, status, gender or age. Since that time, the Fab Lab concept has spread around the world like a wildfire, dominating cooperative and 3rd spaces, schools, libraries and private organisms. Currently there are 1631 Fab Labs in the world with one being opened somewhere every day. The ultimate goal, according to Gershenfeld, is to create machines that can make machines. That way, the making could free itself from a dependence on the market and could occupy any space, in any country or society, regardless their situation.
Of course, the hackerspaces and fab labs are only part of the maker movement. They fall under the umbrella of makerspaces. A makerspace is not defined by space or tools, but it is defined by what it enables: Making. The core idea of a makerspace is learning and education. Instead of just “consuming” knowledge, a makerspace enables collaboration, creation and sharing of knowledge. It provides a space and means for experimentation, invention and discovery. Not only in a traditionally technical direction, but in complex approach to STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art Mathematics) - the development of technical artistic and humanist sciences through means of digital fabrication technologies.
They can be focused on different areas of making such as woodworking, electronics, sewing, robotics, programming and many others. At the core lie the principles of Do-It-Yourself as well as Do-It-With-Others. They can take many forms, physically and ideologically. They can be created in fixed designated spaces or take a mobile form. They can be in rented spaces, in garages, squats, schools, universities, libraries, private companies or research spaces. They can have shared governance. They can function under the responsibility of a state or educational institution or as a part of a commercial enterprise, or they can take the form, or be a part of, an association or NGO.
It is difficult to determine the exact number of them but given the fact that many schools and libraries are opening them in ascending rate, and they are also often installed within numerous types of third spaces, it is entirely possible that their number is higher than hackerspaces and fab labs combined.
This trend is witness to the idea that something deep within society is changing. A maker mindset and identity are introducing themselves into our ways of thinking. With the rising consciousness about how our current economic and production model is causing environmental problems and political destabilization around the world, it seems like it's the re-appropriation of means of production and searching for alternatives to the classical model of working and educating is at the center of it. The societal change doesn't stop at the methods of making objects, it's also about new ways of creating communities, networks, new forms of living and governing.
I am convinced that gradually, our cities, public institutions, societies and forms of government are changing. That with the automatization and artificial intelligence we might get rid of the idea of working “for someone” and can maybe start working “for everyone” or finally “working together”.
“While technology has been the spark of the Maker Movement, it has also become a social movement that includes all kinds of making and all kinds of makers, connecting to the past as well as changing how we look at the future. Indeed, the Maker Movement seems to be a renewal of some deeply held cultural values, a recognition rooted in our history and culture that making comes to define us. As Frank Bidart has written in his poem “Advice to the Players”: “We are creatures who need to make.”
Altogether, makers are seeking an alternative to being regarded as consumers, rejecting the idea that you are defined by what you buy. Instead, makers have a sense of what they can do and what they can learn to do. Like artists, they are motivated by internal goals, not extrinsic rewards. They are inspired by the work of others. Most importantly, they do not wait until the future to create and make. They feel an urgency to do something now— or lose the opportunity to do it at all. -outsiders, like some artists and writers, who do not follow the traditional paths”
Dale Dougherty - The Maker Mindset
At the core of every societal change, if it wants to be sustainable, is education. Makerspaces' primary focus is exactly on that. There are various educational approaches with a goal of forming a maker mindset being developed and implemented worldwide, not only for students, but also for the general population, in libraries and in individual makerspaces.
I also believe, that architects and designers have an obligation to use their “powers” to make the world better. Not only through their design skills, but through the multidisciplinary nature of architecture. They should let go of their “creators” ego, however painful that is and share their pen with others. They should listen, learn and teach (and make and build). They should use their knowledge to guide, but they should also gain knowledge from others and be guided by them. I believe this is the way to assure true value and quality. And that is exactly, what I would like to put at the center of my project.
So not only to Do-It-Yourself but to Do-It-With-Others.