What matters with makerspaces are not the machines, but the new social relation to technology

Excerpted from Marc Chataigner:

“Technology is a specific set of know-how and habits that will shape the way you interact with the world surrounding you, thus shape the way you see the world.

You may think that, in order to free yourself from that specific way to see the world, you should free yourself from technology ; you’ll be partly right, only partly, because without any set of given technology, a human cannot perceive nor interact much with the world around him.

As Bernard Stiegler puts it, technology cannot be resumed to objects, tools, knowledges, laws, hard drives, books, etc. Technology is all of it. Like water for the fish, technology is the ‘milieu’ in which we evolve. Depending on where in the world you grow up, you will learn a different set of technology, therefore experiment a different kind of milieu and develop a different experience and understanding of the world around you. Technology is that interface layer, between you and the world.

* Technology as a way to enslave

When large internet companies explain us that their value is to reveal to us an up-to-now-unthinkabke world (and thus develop free tools for us to interact with that augmented world around us), technology definitely remains that interface between us and the world.

But while these technology companies target the in-between you and the world, they also seize part of your ability to perceive and interact with that world. Some name it the ‘attention economy’, when corporations are competing to grasp some of your free time. The power they build lays into this medium they own and partly rule, allowing you to perceive what is happening, or maybe one day, not allowing you anymore.

And even if one day we could put an open source file into a 3D printer like we put a pod into a Nespresso and get a ready-to-drink coffee, that effort wouldn’t make us ‘creators’ as we don’t feel ‘coffee creators’ when drinking our Nespresso.
Since the Arts & Crafts movement, and more recently within the free software movement, technology is questioned, mainly around its ability to either empower people, or enslave them. Following William Morris, the question is whether the machines and technology, the knowledge and know-how, are neutral technologies, designed to be shared and made accessible to everyone, or whether the machines and technology remain within the hands of a few, thus become instruments of their power. That question is to be an ever-going negotiation process.

* The Revolution Will Be Not 3D Printed.

FabLabs are born embedded among this internet culture of the freeware and all kinds of freedoms. The Makers movement gathers more types of people than only the FabLabs high tech peeps ; among them are also craftsmen, carpenters, smiths, ceramics, cooks, mechanics, etc. For them, beyond the 3D printer hype, a tool or a knowledge is a way to empower the community, at least at the beginning, when contributing to the commons still returns more that it takes.

Fablabs and makerspaces are known for the machines they shelter, 3D printers and other CNC machines. Some will mill, cut, extrude matter, all will have in common to be plugged to a computer, its CAD software and Internet database. The magic of these machine lays in the fact that they are automaton that can be piloted by any unskilled person.

Indeed, the time required for the craftsmen, the smith, the carpenter, the cook, the ceramist, the mechanic to master the hand gestures in no longer mandatory. Machines can perform these tasks of molding, cutting, baking, mixing, etc. The freedom such machines provide seems to lay in?—?as Lassi Patokorpi puts it?—?‘digital craftsmanship’, when people only need their fingers to launch a factory with the clic of a mouse. Look mom, no hands.

* And the Machines will be freed

These CNC machines nevertheless cannot?—?yet?—?perform all the required tasks to create an object, and the digital craftsmen still need to know about some designing skills, some drying processes, some material characteristics, some assemblage technics, etc.

And even if one day we could put an open source file into a 3D printer like we put a pod into a Nespresso to get a ready-to-drink coffee, that effort wouldn’t make us ‘craftsmen’ as we don’t feel ‘coffee creators’ when drinking our Nespresso. Just consumers.

But in the Makers’ world, we do love these automatic machines. In such a way that I believe the ‘commodity fetichism’ Marx was envisioning is turning into a ‘fetichism for automaton’.

* The commodity fetichism is turning into an automaton fetichism.

According to me, the characteristic that turns these machines into an extraordinary piece of technology is the fact that, in fablabs or makerspaces, they are now reachable. They have been ‘freed’ from the assembly line and the factory, freed from a proprietary stand and from performing the same task for million of pieces. Now they can be programmed by anyone, to perform a single task each time.

Moreover, the ‘makers’ are distinct form ‘workers’ by the fact that they don’t have to come to the machine and be at its service, machine-operators, but they now come to a machine that is at their service, creators.

Once out of the assembly line, these machines, like all other sorts of technology, in the hands of creators may become more than they ever were discovered for. They get dismantled, hacked, hardware and software, they produce little plastic craps or an affordable chair made out of recycled plastic bottles. And as it goes, new machines get freed and hacked every single day : knitting, cooking, making chairs, …

* Democratization is about interfacing

When I use the term ‘machine’, I’m speaking about ‘automaton’, i.e. not only efficient and powerful tools, but ‘software embedded machinery’, as much as a computer or a serveur actually is. For instance, Google search engine is a fabulous machine. Has it be freed or does it still stands on the assembly line? This remains an open question.

Nevertheless, its interface helped billions of people to find their way within the Internet maze. They also produced data set to help monitor the flue epidemic, or SDK to fork they softwares. Those are interfaces, ways to deal with the matter, may it be data, line of codes, knowledge, car, ceramic, you name it. Interface shall be seen as ‘tekhnê’, a way to grasp the world, in all its different meanings.

If we acknowledge that technology is our interface to the world, the more reachable and hackable this interface will be, the more of the world we will collectively be able to understand and experience. If we believe in this idea that the more people get their hands on the world around them, the better our collective world may be, then our main focus should be all types of interfaces rather that machines themselves.”

1 Comment What matters with makerspaces are not the machines, but the new social relation to technology

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.