Huge tech companies such as Samsung and Apple dominate the technology we use in our everyday lives. For example, Apple recently reported its most profitable year, while Samsung is the brand of choice for Rihanna as she releases her latest album, Anti.
In a time of unbridled consumption, where huge tech companies seem stronger than ever, it’s easy to feel disenfranchised. This is no chance, as companies employ methods such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to impede us from repairing laptops and unlocking smartphones. This causes millions of tonnes of e-waste; with our gadgets generally hard to upgrade, repurpose of fix.
But this waste can and powerlessness is being challenged. Amid the spotlight, a different type of movement is quietly coming of age – one controlled by shared machine shops driven not by monetary gain, but by a passion for learning, community and neighbours.
Revealing the secretive tech world
In the past 10 years, several spaces have been made across the globe where anyone can go to learn new crafts and skills. There are 97 of these so-called repair cafes, inspiration studios, hackspaces, fab labs and makerspaces in the UK alone – only 10% of which existed in 2010 – featured with new tools such as 3D printers and laser cutters, and with traditional tool like fabrication and woodworking equipment.
Funded in several ways, including through public funds or grants, training, membership, donations, space hire, corporate income and sponsorship, these diverse projects are built principles of tech openness. They are also together in their belief that a new world is viable – one where rather than becoming more and more reliant on large tech companies to do everything for us, we are empowered to learn and build with the technologies around us.
Despite private tech companies apparent invincibility in many facets of consumer life, from privacy to copyright, there are holes in this façade. If we are serious about building self-sustaining communities where individuals are empowered not just to consume, but also to create, it is important not to overlook the importance of the UK’s fledgling shared machine shops.