When I heard the theme for the conference I immediately got excited and knew that I wanted to give a talk here at SHiFT about DIY. The theme immediately urged me to create a documentary on FabLab, a place where DIY becomes reality, and I got creative with Lego. Then I started to think about what I could say about DIY, and then things started to blur a bit. Because these words may sound like a coherent sentence, but once I zoomed in on the words, I immediately got confused.
DO: it&#x2019;s a call for action, not thinking. But how can we act without thinking? Or should we do first and then start thinking? That can have interesting implications for how we act towards others. Hit first, then think about your action.
IT: it&#x2019;s referring to something, but totally undefined what exactly. It can refer to a simple thing making tea, or to something with a devastating impact like pushing the button to drop a bomb.
YOURSELF: You. That seems to be clear defined, but in the context of this conference it refers to hundreds of Yourselves. So which individual should we pick?
Once put together, these three simple words create meaning beyond the individual value of each word, but at the same time leave more questions than answers. At the same time, these three words immediately impact me. This small sentence shouts at me: &#x201C;The power is yours.&#x201D; Hearing this sentence immediately urges me to act, right here, right now, and it sounds like something anyone should want. But I think it&#x2019;s good to step back for just a second and reflect on the meaning and implications of these three words. What I really want to know is What is good about doing it myself? There are a lot of questions in this question: - Is DIY indeed a good thing? - Is there any other way? - What exactly should I do myself? - Am I better than others that make me more qualified? - But if I beleive I should do it myself, then one should expect others think the same and do it themselves too. - I can&#x2019;t do everything myself. - Why should I do this myself and leave other things to others? - How can I choose? - How do I know what to do myself?
While I may question this, what is good about doing it myself, I realize that in several ways I&#x2019;m a DIY person. Let me tell you two stories I&#x2019;m educated as a communication philosopher. If you haven&#x2019;t heard of that combination, don&#x2019;t worry. It doesn&#x2019;t exist. Not in the classical sense anyway. There is no Master&#x2019;s program to become a communication philosopher. I created the program myself. At one point I was unsatisfied with all the marketing talk in classes and wanted to take a minor in philosophy. It was the starting point to skip most of the prescribed classes during my Master&#x2019;s, find a teacher to guide me and take on the challenge to look at weblogs from a communicative, philosophical view-point. I created my Master program myself. I&#x2019;m an independent worker. Some call it freelancing, others call it entrepreneur. I&#x2019;m working on the things that I think are important and I work for clients to whom I can contribute. Working independently is something that happened, I never thought it would happen when I went to school, or university. When I got my degree in 2004 there weren&#x2019;t that many jobs around. Imagine a 25 yr old looking for a position in communication explaining she is an a philosopher in weblogs in a world that didn&#x2019;t know about social media, yet. Considering the outlook for a strong-minded 25 year old, on a half-time job in marketing, perfectly suitable for the less aspiring working mom. So if I wanted to continue in the field of social media, there was only one option: Doing it myself. But doing it myself professionaly doesn&#x2019;t mean I do everything myself.
Imagine yourself in the hospital. You cut yourself and the cut is rather deep so you need stitches. Imagine then a nurse comes in, preps you for the stitches, lays down the needle and wire and walks away with the words &#x201C;There you go, you can do it yourself.&#x201D; You might be shocked. You might burst out laughing. You might check your calendar to see if it&#x2019;s April fools. Unless you&#x2019;re (being) trained in stitching in the human body, you would never consider to do it yourself. Imagine your on a wild adventurous trip. You&#x2019;re in the desert, or in the jungle, there is no communication possible and the nearest village is miles and miles away. You cut yourself and the cut is rather deep so you need stitches. You&#x2019;re on your own, but you came prepared. You carry a survival kit, especially for these kind of circumstances. You do not hesitate and get a needle, wire and desinfectant from your kit and start stitching your cut. Even though it hurts like hell, you go on, you need to survive. These two examples show that the context you&#x2019;re in, the circumstances, your knowledge, what you carry around, determines your action and your view upon the words DIY.
I could DIY my education because the university was migrating from the Dutch system to anglosaxon Bachelor/Master structure. A lot of students who had lost time along the way needed their own schedule. The people from Communication Studies were handling requests for individual programs on a weekly basis and that made to process of sending in my request for a literature study instead of taking classes a lot easier and quicker. The result is that I can now informally claim to have a degree in a field that doesn&#x2019;t really exist, but totally suits me as a person.
I then became an independent worker not entirely out of choice. I could have made concessions and find a job in marketing or something, and if I would have been on my own I would have needed to, but as it were, I had a partner making enough money already to cover both our basic needs. So I had space to grow my own business. On top of that he happens to be trained as a book keeper (years ago, in a different life), so he could help me with my books. An entrepreneur was born.
So several requirements were met for me to do what I&#x2019;m doing right now. Certain circumstances at university paved the way for my unique Master program, and I was lucky to be part a household where we&#x2019;re not dependent on my income. It provided me to create my own path as a professional in the field that I wanted to work in.
But being an independent professional doesn&#x2019;t mean I can stitch myself or should I ever be allowed to stitch other people&#x2019;s cuts (although in case of emergency&#x2026;who knows what could happen?) and in a totally different context I hardly consider to DIY.
For instance, my parents became adults in an era where DIY- stores became popular. Their whole generation started families with the notion that practical stuff around the home you would fix yourself. We, my husband and I, hate to do it ourselves. Whenever there is some chore around the house to be done, we wait until we have no choice but to do it.
We talked about a cat-flap in our home for three years and never came to the point to install it. Only when we had to and found the most geeky one with an RFID reader, we installed the cat flap. We&#x2019;d rather be able to hire someone to do things for us. Sadly we still haven&#x2019;t found someone in our town that we can trust and rely on in case of house-chores and therefore every now and then we are forced to dust of our tools. It&#x2019;s interesting to know how comes I DIY in one area, such as my education and professional life, but can&#x2019;t or just hate to do it in a different area.
Thinking hard enough about it, I can&#x2019;t seem to escape the thought that it must be about passion. Loving to do something so much, that you&#x2019;re willing to put time in it, almost regardless of the consequences. That passion is one of the main drivers for me to do things myself. But passion alone is not enough to explain why I DIY. I do a lot of stuff on a daily basis that have hardly anything to do with following my passion. And I could have become a doctor and be just as passionate about that profession, as I am about interviewing people. DIY is not a goal in itself, it is a means to an end. And that got me thinking what DIY often leads to. And it started to dawn on me. Doing It Yourself is a way to EMPOWER yourself.
For my parents it felt empowering to be able to buy the tools and materials to do chores around the house. To me, sawing, painting, repairing, feels like a nuisance that costs me time and doesn&#x2019;t feel empowering at all. What would make ME feel empowered is to be able to afford to hire someone who does it for me. When I&#x2019;m allowed to be following my passion for sharing and telling stories using video, I am more than willing to put in the hours, work on all the different aspects involved to create a piece of film, and thus I learn to do more things than just point and shoot video. Learning this stuff empowers me to to create more valuable materials and work for others.
And it even gets better. By doing things right now, like presenting at SHiFT, empowers me to do even more stuff myself, do a better job at it the next time. So if you would ask me now, why I DIY, mys answer would be that the empowering force of these three little words, Do It Yourself is why I&#x2019;m doing it myself.
And now I even know what IT refers to: the things I like doing the most. I DIY video&#x2019;s, not gardens.
Now that I know that DIY is really about empowerment, I can start to include you in the equation. Because I like to DIY certain things, but the ones I dislike I&#x2019;d rather you would DIY. So if I can make a video about you doing the gardening, we could be headed for a win-win situation. Because I can never do all of it myself. I&#x2019;m only human, there are 24hrs in a day, and I like to sleep a considerable part of that time. I can&#x2019;t do more than my body allows me to do and neither can you. Therefore we need each other. And if we start scaling the empowering force of DIY up, we can start thinking about the bigger picture here: a friendlier and cleaner planet. So I want to take this opportunity to suggest what we could work on together, on stuff that matters to me and that, hopefully matters to you too. I believe every person on this planet can be more helpful for stuff that matters when they are empowered themselves. I believe that every person on this planet is more capable of doing it themselves than their governments seem to think.
What we could work on together is to: - Empower people by educating them. School is a good start, but also in sports, in music, in art, in electronics, in engineering, in drawing, etcetera;
- Empower people by giving them tools. People are already empowered by the Social Web, can publish online wherever they want, and are about to discover the places where they can make and design real and tangible stuff, but don&#x2019;t stop there. Think of all the tools we haven&#x2019;t invented yet;
- Empower people by giving them space to discover. People have to figure out for themselves what they&#x2019;re passionate about, how they can contribute to stuff that matters, to them, locally and globally. I you&#x2019;re a boss, avoid being strict about endresults, the good stuff happens in the unexpected outcomes;
- Empower people by trusting them. Trust the skills, knowledge and good will of people. Whether you are working in government, running a business, make that trust part of your structures and processes. Most people on this planet are of good will and are very knowledgeable in their field. Trust in them to do good and empower them with space and tools to learn, in every thinkable way. Dear listener, trust the person sitting next to you. Trust that he or she will have something to tell you and could empower you.
You&#x2019;re done listening to me, now it&#x2019;s time to start talking. Enjoy your lunch. So I want to take this opportunity to suggest what we could work on together, on stuff that matters to me and that, hopefully matters to you too.