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The Open Source Everything Project would be one of the key mechanisms by which Foundation initially promotes the precepts of a Post-Industrial culture. It would also be an eminently practical resource for its business and community development.
The basic objective of the project is to establish a web site and associated media to host a vast and perpetually evolving archive of Open Source plans and instructions for the fabrication of the full compliment of artifacts on which a contemporary western standard of living is based. Media, including web sites, focusing on the subject of DIY fabrication are, of course, nothing new. However, there has generally been an avoidance in this field of project designs for practical useful artifacts that might compete directly in performance and economy with the products of commercial industry. Traditionally, DIY has been about the revival of antiquated labor-intensive craft techniques which, although culturally valuable, do not allow for the production of economically competitive artifacts and thus have little progressive social impact. Currently, a new DIY movement with a distinct culture derived from that of the personal computer hobbyist culture has emerged. This new movement is embodied by web sites such as the famous MAKE blog where readers are encouraged to contribute their own project instructions and photos for the fabrication of novel artifacts. MAKErs are pioneering a progressive new attitude toward technology and the products of industry, but while much of the language used and ideals embodied by this new community express a Post-Industrial sensibility, very few of the artifacts that MAKErs contribute to their community have any practical purpose. They are predominately hacks of existing commercial products intended mostly for short-lived amusement or to exploit features the manufacturers had overlooked or tried to lock-out in some way. Nowhere on the MAKE blog will you find plans for an actual functional and economical refrigerator made from scratch.
Why is that important? Because one of the critical roadblocks to the development of a Post-Industrial culture is the commercial hegemony on the design of common artifacts. You could have a NanoFoundry in your own home right now, but if it had no software for making anything and you had no knowledge of how to design and make the things you want, what then? This incredibly powerful technology would just collect dust in a closet. This is a serious threat to emerging Post-Industrial technology. How far would the personal computer have gotten if one’s options for its use were limited to only those devised by its few manufacturers? We’d still be doing little more than word processing on green-screen monitors…
The design of the artifacts upon which the contemporary western standard of living is based have –for over a century – been refined through proprietary design and engineering to suit the paradigms, production techniques, and economics of Industrial Age centralized mass production. Attempting to duplicate production of these designs with different tools – even if they are more sophisticated tools– is doomed to mixed results and incurs the hazard of legal harassment by corporations who consider their designs proprietary. Why can’t John Q. Public effectively make his own car from scratch? Try to duplicate a welded steel unibody chassis with hand tools and you’ll know why. But that’s not a problem specific to the technology of the car itself. Rather, it’s specific to the technology of its production. If the car were designed around the tools and techniques at-hand to the individual then John Q. Public might effectively build his own car with ease and economy. John just needs a new design.
In order to effectively compete in performance and function with consumer products, Post-Industrial artifacts must be specifically designed to suit the Post-Industrial fabrication techniques they will be made with. When you change the nature of your tools, and especially the scale of production, you are dealing with a new set of rules, a new mode of production, a new industrial paradigm. You must design to suit because now you can’t make things in the same way and must arrive at the same practical results –the same performance– by a different engineering path. The Post-Industrial car will not look or be put together anything like the Industrial Age car. But it CAN function at least as effectively and be made at least as cheaply and it CAN still look nice and feel comfortable. It’s just different and, in the context of the emerging situation of the contemporary world, potentially much more practical.
The basic designs for things that provide us with our standard of living should be public property, at least in a generic form. Can you be a free person if your standard of living is at someone else’s discretion? Overspecialization of skill and knowledge in the Industrial Age culture has produced a society largely ignorant of what goes into the production of the goods on which their standard of living depends. This ignorance insures dependence upon consumer products, a cash economy, and a general inability to perceive the true value of goods and the global ramifications of their production. Even if all the tools for total industrial independence were at hand, virtually no one would know what to do with them because so few have the slightest idea of where anything comes from or how it’s made. Overcoming this means more than just inventing the best fabber. It means getting people to realize they have an option to use that fabber to save themselves a trip to the mall –and by extension saving themselves hours working at a job they don’t like, saving untold frustration in dealing with cheap and flimsy products, saving pounds of carbon dumped into the atmosphere, saving resources whose squandering promotes social strife and environmental degradation, and on, and on. Overcoming the industrial hegemony requires that for every product one can buy at a store there be a functionally equivalent Open Source product design one can choose to make for oneself. Obviously, at the current level of technology not everything can be effectively, quickly, and easily made at home on demand. But most of the products on which our standard of living depends –at least in some version– no longer strictly require more than a workshop the size of a two-car garage to produce. They may not be doable in-home but they’re increasingly doable near home, on-demand, and with more options to adapt them to personal tastes, local cultural themes, and local practicalities. We’re not yet at the point where we can put a Santa Claus Machine in everyone’s home, but we’re getting there and it’s still very early in the game.
What this boils down to is a need for a repository of Open Source industrial design suited to the new tools that are emerging. A place where new designs for common artifacts and the knowledge of how to produce them can be catalogued, cultivated, and refined by a global community with the freedom to use them however they wish. This has additional benefits aside from promoting a new turn of culture. It’s a breeding ground for entrepreneurship. As proponents of the Open Source operating system Linux well understand, there is greater market potential in a free technology than a proprietary one. No one makes money from Linux, but a lot of people make good money WITH it. That’s more than enough incentive for participation in its development, even if ultimately no one ‘owns’ it or exclusively controls the innovations contributed to it. Linux will never produce a Microsoft because of the inability of any one Linux-related company to monopolize the market for a technology that they don’t own. But if Linux were to ultimately supersede MS Windows as the dominant operating system –long-term, a likely prospect– the market it would host would ultimately be vastly greater in scale and product diversity. This logic can also apply to any artifact with an Open Source design. The service of its fabrication and services associated with its use replace the ‘product’ as the basis of revenue. Since the product is no longer untouchable, service providers are more free to explore new business practices such as personal customization and to innovate with much less constraint than if they simply churned out identical widgets. To put it simply: revenues from one proprietary design will support one single company to do only as much variation and innovation as their imagination and resources will allow. One Open Source design will support innumerable variations supporting innumerable companies and a pace of innovation that no one company could hope to match.
Another benefit of this project would be the encouragement of new local industry in disadvantaged communities around the world. For people in the west, Post-Industrial technology offers a potential alternative to consumer products. But what about countries where the ‘market’ isn’t considered big/valuable enough for existing corporations to bother selling anything in the first place? Much of the world has been left out of the Industrial Age’s standard of living gains because their local economic situations could not accommodate the paradigms of western style industrialization and its systems of centralized mass production. Attempts to bring the Third World up to western standards through externally supported industrialization, imposed cash economies, and reliance on global resource exports –a practice now dubbed neo-liberalism– have historically been tragically ineffective, usually resulting in massive environmental degradation, cultural disruption, and the systematic exploitation of whole societies by western corporate interests, generating a steady build-up of resentment toward the western civilization and its nations. Every part of the world has its own unique resource and economics ‘ecology’ and so western industrialization evolved ‘bottom-up’ in a very special situation –a specific environmental and historic context– which simply cannot be duplicated at whim and ‘top-down’ everywhere else. Just because a society has nothing like a western system of economics doesn’t mean that it has no functional economics. If people feed, cloth, and house themselves with some efficiency and in significant groups, they’ve got a working economics system.
A given standard of living is contingent on access to a spectrum of technological artifacts providing a certain level of personal capabilities and conveniences at a cost which affords their ubiquity. It’s not the cell phones that define a standard of living, but the capabilities those cell phones provide the individual, that contribute to standard of living. These capabilities need not be realized exclusively in the form of a cell phone. That was just the form that happened to have evolved within the context of the western culture. In a different context, a different technology might have been more appropriate. Just as the design of an artifact is based on its production techniques, so too is the spectrum of production techniques based on the resources and industrial ecology of a specific region. Given a different set of resources, one may still realize the same desired function, but by a completely different path. What this means is that, potentially, every nation in the world might enjoy the benefits of a western standard of living but they won’t necessarily arrive there by using the same technology, designs, tools, and industrial production paradigms. This is potentially great news on the global scale because so much of our collective civilization’s infrastructure is in the precarious situation of overspecialization to regional situations. As any zoologist knows, overspecialization is a recipe for evolutionary extinction.
In this time of Global Warming, our civilization faces a situation of punctuated equilibrium in its evolution. Resource/economic ecologies are in flux and many communities are going to have to learn radically new ways to maintain their standards of living.
A great virtue of Post-Industrial technology is its ability to freely adapt to most any local situation. When a diversity of production capabilities at small scales is coupled to an easily adapted artifact design, there is a great boon to industrially disadvantaged societies. The combination allows them to realize industrial paradigms that are appropriate and practical in their local context. What something like the Open Source Everything project archive can offer toward this is a way to freely, conveniently, and globally disseminate the essential knowledge and technology of independent production techniques, the artifacts they produce, and their potential personal and societal benefits. A key requirement is to provide the freedom to adapt designs as needed to make them work in differing resource/economic situations –indeed, if this freedom is present, a willing community of designer/engineers/hobbyists will spontaneously form to help do just that. This system affords a means of rapid bottom-up evolution of locally appropriate industrial capability, and a means to enable entrepreneurship within the local economy.
- Utilimobile Project
- Utilihab Project
- Open Energy Project
- Open Computer Project
- Open Space Project
- Open Fabber Project
- FIY - Fab-It-Yourself Series
- Enclosure Profiles
- SKDB - societal engineering knowledge database
- OSCOMAK - Open Source Community on Open Source Manufacturing Knowledge