Where each city will have it’s fab-labs to build open source everything for its people

April 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

https://i2.wp.com/www.stephanengl.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Switzerland-Lucerne-FabLab-1.jpg

Image source: stephanengl.com

Call me a romantic but I am trying to stray away from corporate world domination rat race and envision a life where communities will take their freedom back by democratizing most, if not all, of their needs and open source is a big part of that world. Fortunately its happening all over the globe, with innovative startups showing that it can be done.

Although we can’t escape the money incentive economic system yet, having to pay for a benign item is better than stuffing your hard earned money into corporations that will take it and enslave vulnerable populations for even higher margins so they can be competitive with other such entities that objectify their clients as consumers, conveniently forgetting that they are humans too, and need to be treated humanely.

So what would be a solution to bring back the power to the people? I envision self sustainable communities that can secure most of their needs locally, freeing themselves from the current scarcity-based economic system that is used to control the masses and to induce the delusion that competitiveness is the right way to evolve as a species, as if besting our fellow humans in power and possessions would be the only way  one would have the incentive to innovate.

The low-tech space has countless “open-source”-like knowledge base of DIY projects, which, if used on a larger than the individual scale, would secure the need for habitation, food, sanitation, etc. One might argue that this has always been the case with subsistence-based communities of countrymen our grandparents used to live in. But the access to information and the willingness of the people to share for free their solutions and collaborate in the virtual world has lifted that standard of life to a completely different level, better suited for the age we live in.

A good chunk of this low-tech good life is only possible via the high tech research and technologies though, from computer software that calculates the resistance breaking point of a construction to sensors that help us monitor the environment so we can make it safe living in to collaboration via electronic signals to almost all aspects of every branch of human activities. And these had a high cost associated with them, mostly because the capitalist economy choose to empower individuals as well as individual economic entities to have patents granted for their little piece of a giant puzzle and have nobody else be able to use it. It wouldn’t be fair, I get that, but it wouldn’t be fair in a world where people compete with each other over resources and power rather than collaborating as a species to evolve in a fraction of the time, competing with their better selves. And please, don’t fall for the innovation crap you’re being sold. Companies that have patents granted and, thus, have a great advantage in time and technology over their competition, which has to find other ways to catch up, usually get comfy in their monopolistic positions and will ultimately fail. Take Kodak example. No further explanations needed, do the research for yourself or watch some documentaries, there’s a lot of good ones that point you to the right direction.

Open-Source Hardware is about to change all that, taking back the innovation to the collaborative-minded people, who share and improve at an ever faster rate than any individual person or entity could do on its own. And yes, we’re relying on knowledge and technologies developed in the closed-source world over the past 200 or more years, but that’s called evolution, avoiding re-inventing the wheel just for the sake of protecting the guy who wasted enough time staring at logs rolling down the hill to get the spark of imagining a slice of that log as a wheel. Most innovations in this world were accidental and we’re so egotistic to actually convince ourselves that we were some kind of geniuses and the world owes us big time for that eureka moment. In reality, there are so many factors involved in any eureka moment that the individual genius of making sense of them is most likely a game of chances. Yet we are placing these innovators on high pedestals and the whole environment of matching puzzle pieces that have helped building the big picture, from the people that mined the metals used in electronics, to the animals we’re using as test subjects, to the software programmers that built the software that researchers use, to anything you could imagine that has played a part in that innovator’s eureka moment, even a jazz tune that helped him relax and ponder, doesn’t get any royalties, no benefits, no appreciation.

We are living in a world where the technology has gone so far ahead of what people need to secure their decent and fulfilling lives that it’s not anymore about building a brighter future. We’ve forgotten about people. We’re competing now in a whole different league, just for the sake of technological evolution. As if becoming so high-tech that we’re more like robots will do us any good when, after we’ve built those robots, we’ll have to compete with them. If we’d stop for only a few moments and realize we’re not seeing the forest for the trees, we would have that eureka moment that we can actually provide a most decent life for anybody on this planet with the technologies we already have, and I am not even talking about the patented ones.

But we can’t avoid technological development, nor is it desirable. We only need to democratize the open source hardware innovation as well as continue the open-source software movement. Having a “fab-lab” in every city district would spur innovation and help communities be more inclined to critical thinking and less prone to the corporate brainwashing that is dumbing down our population to reduce them to obedient, docile consumers that are so comfortable in their warm programmed lives that they stop thinking at all. As high tech electronics like chips and micro-controllers and sensors can’t be easily produced on a low-scale, they will continue to be mass-produced in countries that have invested a lot in building the infrastructure and, unfortunately, have accepted a great harm to their environment in the process. That is until we get 3D-printers that will be able to use a number of materials at a high enough resolution to be able to produce open-source designed chips and electronics. But until then, these electronics can be ordered in high numbers and have the local fab-lab build the end-product, offering the chance of innovation in the process. What sense does it make to order a whole product when most of it can be locally produced? Yes it might be cheaper to mass-produce the whole thing but you are not factoring in all the aspects from transportation pollution to having people not able to screw a light bulb in its socket, thus creating the perfect victims in scarcity times.

How can an open-source-based  fab-lab function? It’s quite simple: order the parts that you can’t produce and build the rest of the product, like casing, connectors, cables, buttons, etc. Basically the low-tech part of a product. And then, with time, add more and more capabilities as the technology improves. I’ve been reading today about the open source laptop and I had my own eureka moment of why can’t the open source product also be about efficiency. Have the hard-to-locally-manufacture parts shipped with CAD documentation for everything that can be locally built. If you offer the possibility to order the whole product in a society that is already indoctrinated to mass-consume without thinking much you will get nobody to step in and re-gain some of that lost desire to participate, improve and create. As an environmentally-minded creator or company, refusing to damage the environment by shipping parts that can be locally produced is a far more helpful way to educate people and make a statement than trying to offer open-source hardware the way the closed-sourced world does.

Have some guts to be different if you feel it’s the better way and go all-in, half measures won’t cut it. As long as it is not illegal and could create more problems than solutions that is. You are not convinced half measures won’t cut it? Remember Alexander Haig’s famous quote: “Let them march all they want, as long as they continue to pay their taxes.”

For a nice fab-lab introduction, the following youtube video is a good example :

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