All semester we have attempted to design tools that satisfy the perceived criteria for “alternative” technology. However, we have never failed to mention that reform does not lie in tools alone.
For example, if one wanted to design a community-driven transportation service to replace cars/taxis, one would have to consider social incentives and legislation to put in place for having neighbors have an equal time-share of having to drive their neighbors around regardless of class and wealth.
In Morozov’s article, we hear about how Lee Felsenstein, influenced by Illich’s Tools of Conviviality, tries to create a device that is easy to learn, understand, and repair making experts unnecessary and decentralizing power. He installs a handful of terminals in public spaces across the Bay allowing local residents to communicate anonymously — a truly “social media.”
If we look at the purpose of the newspaper and the role it played in decentralizing power during the American Revolution, it is one similar to that of Felsenstein’s “free speech terminals.” However, with time, political and economical systems redirected the power over the newspapers allowing people with more money and social influence to buy ink on a page.
Instead of building tools to deinstitutionalize society, Morozov believes we should try pushing reform to “secure the transparency and decentralization of power” we associates with our favorite technology.
Does this mean maker culture belongs in politics? Must every tool we design to power the people come with accompanying legislation?
As a computer science student who has been somewhat dubious of the ‘Maker’ movement for reasons I have found difficult to place, Morozov’s criticism of the Maker movement and its ‘hacker’ predecessor struck a chord with me. The collusion of the department of defense and a variety of corporate interests in the fostering of makerspaces, along with the very consumerist catalogs of tools which are inevitably a necessity for becoming a ‘free-spirited’ maker have always stuck slightly in my craw, and they do seem to paint a rather cynical picture of the underlying motivations for the movement. Morozov makes a salient point about the consumers of the hacker era being convinced that by adopting certain tools they were being more revolutionary than the protestors out risking life and limb for their cause, and the same holds true today, plus or minus a couple of labels.
Yet while I am dubious of the ability of the maker movement to effect any sort of real revolutionary change in society, I also doubt that there is anything specific to the use of technology that makes it particularly prone to capitalist subversion. Is there anything particular to the application of technology toward revolutionary ends that ends with the sort of consumerist rebranding of once-sincere movements? Or is the monetization of the hacker and maker movements simply another repetition of the same pattern that has turned a huge variety of counter-culture movements (try searching amazon for ‘occupy wall street,’ or, god forbid, ‘che guevera t-shirts’ if you need an example) into yet another stepping stone for dewy-eyed capitalists hoping to make it into the 1%?