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The Digital DIY phenomenon: challenge or opportunity for degrowth?


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Digital Do-It-Yourself (DiDIY) is a set of DIY activities and mindsets made possible by the availability of low cost software, digital communication networks and digital fabrication devices. Today, the most popular examples of DiDIY are 3D printing and the “Makers Movement”. DiDIY, however, is a much bigger phenomenon, with potentially huge effects on the economy and the environment.

So far, the interaction between advocates of degrowth and communities like the one of Makers has been very limited and not void of reciprocal suspicion, if not hostility.

Practitioners of DiDIY seem to propose even more consumption of resources, that is the opposite of degrowth; in fact, it is hard to deny that many current examples of DiDIY only solve “first world problems”, producing even more hardly recyclable waste. DiDIY also needs, by definition, products and infrastructures, from microelectronics components to the Internet itself, that have a very big environmental footprint.

In spite of this, DiDIY can, if not become an deliberate “ally” of degrowth, give a strong contribution to mitigate some phenomenons, from waste to overconsumption, that degrowth rightly sees as serious problems. We argue that this should happen, and that much more mutual knowledge and support between the two communities are needed.
In our talk we first summarize the characteristics of DiDIY, highlighting those that seem an obstacle to degrowth. Next we present some key issues on which the degrowth and DiDIY movements may cooperate to achieve a critical mass. Finally, we mention some actions that should be implemented, at the regulatory and advocacy levels, to reach that critical mass.

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The Digital DIY phenomenon: challenge or opportunity for degrowth?

  1. 1. Digital DIY: challenge or opportunity for degrowth? International Degrowth Conference 2016 September 1st, 2016 by Marco Fioretti
  2. 2. CC BY-SA Marco Fioretti Digital DIY and ABC: a SOCIAL, not technical phenomenon ● Digital DIY: DIY design and manufacturing only possible thanks to – digital product design processes – digital networks that let people directly share, and co-develop, those digital designs – "Atoms and Bits Convergence" (ABC): the possibility to transform (digital) designs, without manual work, directly into physical products, thanks to.. – personal manufacturing tools digitally controlled, that is directly operated, not by humans, but by software in their own computers ● much cheaper and simpler to use today than even a few years ago
  3. 3. CC BY-SA Marco Fioretti The DiDIY Project (,@digital_diy) ● EU H2020 research project, ending in June 2017, carried on by international consortium ● studies and models present and future DiDIY social, economical, cultural, ethical... scenarios, and their long term implications for European society ● will produce (also) guidelines, for EU educators and policy makers, about how to deal with DiDIY and maximize its positive impacts on society
  4. 4. CC BY-SA Marco Fioretti Characteristics of Digital DIY ● Really ubiquitous and flexible. Just like software ● Applicable with EVERY MATERIAL: including services and low-tech products ● gives more people more opportunities to ● do what they could have never done otherwise, like "sculpting" by controlling a 3D printer ● do it together online, by freely exchanging designs and know-how through open communities
  5. 5. CC BY-SA Marco Fioretti The «dark sides» of Digital DIY «3D-print your gadgets straight from your smartphone»...
  6. 6. CC BY-SA Marco Fioretti The dark sides of Digital DIY (2) ● solution in search of (first world) problems ● extra consumption, waste, futility ● “non-limitable” (“flexible like software...”) ● depends on huge polluting global infrastructures (Internet, microelectronics industry...) ● challenges responsibilities, guarantees, definition of good and bad
  7. 7. CC BY-SA Marco Fioretti Digital DIY may stimulate... ● new roles and relations among individuals, organizations, and society ● more Digital (or digitally-based) Commons, and Commons-based peer production and sharing – typically under free licenses – of ALL kinds of resources, from single products or tools (tool libraries) to community services (car sharing, internet access, healthcare) ● transition to an overall lower environmental footprint
  8. 8. CC BY-SA Marco Fioretti Digital DIY can be everywhere
  9. 9. CC BY-SA Marco Fioretti Digital DIY can repair many things
  10. 10. CC BY-SA Marco Fioretti Digital DIY can last a long time
  11. 11. CC BY-SA Marco Fioretti Digital DIY can last a long time (2) «a washing machine designed to last FIFTY YEARS...» Digital DIY can last a long time (2)
  12. 12. CC BY-SA Marco Fioretti Digital DIY may contribute to make.. ● WITHOUT ANY NEED for «a 3D printer in every home» ● small scale production/ mass customization economically viable – local, bottom-up solutions and production – also for services (OpenCare, local online markets) ● planned obsolescence avoidable: – bottom-up, collaborative design for reuse, modularity and repair – spare parts for everything, forever ● recycling and repair much easier, and convenient
  13. 13. CC BY-SA Marco Fioretti Yesterday’s Fantasy...
  14. 14. CC BY-SA Marco Fioretti DIY, digitally designed and/or controlled farming drones, milking machines, greenhouses, micro-watering systems, pest mapping... Today’s Possibilities...
  15. 15. CC BY-SA Marco Fioretti Repeat for furniture, homes, clothing...
  16. 16. CC BY-SA Marco Fioretti The real issues: legal, economical and cultural barriers ● a world with almost no intermediate steps/levels conceived between ● (globalized), industrial mass production ● or full time single artisan, overwhelmed by bureaucracy – and totally passive consumers ● lack of effective legal/regulatory SUPPORT (IPR, liability..) for – really on demand, distributed manufacturing – design for durability, fair reuse, right to repair – open digital standards (all too often, the only problem is in software)
  17. 17. CC BY-SA Marco Fioretti Digital DIY and Degrowth: working together? ● make Digital DIY known in degrowth circles: – visits makers, enter fablabs, to get help/co-develop common solutions ● coordinate lobbying with makers, to favour pollution-reducing and energy-saving applications of Digital DIY ● support the research of the DiDIY project by sharing proposals, case studies, questions... – See you online! ● ● Twitter: @digital_diy