Will Global Tech Giant Apple Support Digi-Makers?

HighWire at Lancaster University has requested a series of six blog articles.

The Curiosity Bureau’s Partner Rebecca Taylor responds to the Narratives and Meta-Narratives seminars on Digital Innovation – its impact on the world, the economy and society.

Article 2: Digital Innovation Series

The Sunday Times has claimed they have the first in depth interview in 20years with a certain 'little-known' designer, Sir Jonathan Ives. Whilst as popular as Apple itself, he too perhaps runs the same risk as a global technology brand - of becoming a victim of his own success. In and amongst the muddy waters of all the technology giants I might just have stumbled across some optimism. However, my question is, will Apple be the one, brave and bold enough to change the rules it created for and of itself?

These past 10 weeks I have been subjected to an array of interesting narratives and meta-narratives surrounding digital innovation and whilst there are conversations arising regarding the shifts from modernity to late/post-modernity and the issues of current paradigms of consumerism and capitalism, I am biting the bullet. Following my read of the Ives interview I urge that we must not forget to remain curious of the likes of these larger, global tech businesses. They continue to cater for a mass consumer market - and yes, 'mass' and 'consumer' and 'market' are perhaps now seen as blasphemous in the school for design for sustainability. However, allow me to let you in on a little secret - and Apple folks, if you're listening, perhaps you too could act upon this...

If Ives is sharing in his awareness of 'the resurgence of the idea of craft' - perhaps we could be seeing a change in the thinking of a major global tech business? Could the victim of its own success buck its own trend? Will it stand out and stand proud by supporting the community for which it has created? Could Apple become a business that supports human capital, social capital and social meaning?

Ives' was quoted for saying: "I want to know what things are for, how they work, what they can or should be made of, before I even begin to think what they should look like. More and more people do. There is a resurgence of the idea of craft."

This stirred my interest, especially as I have currently undertaken a collaborative inquiry between The Curiosity Bureau and Shrimping.It at the iTECH STEMNet Faire at MoSI. We welcomed 200 11-14year olds from a range of schools across Manchester and created an imagination and electronics shared space called 'The Invention of Things'. I have since found OpenIDEO have been inquiring in the same space too, asking their community; 'How might we inspire young people to cultivate their creative confidence?'

Further to this, if we look at our current worldview - or differences in opinion - regarding modernity to post-modernity, some see a similar shift in business systems from Fordism to post-Fordism. Post-Fordism being defined here as the dominant system of economic production and consumption. If this is the system in which we are all currently existing within, it is the system that supports the resurgence of the idea of craft, the idea of small batch production, specialised goods and services and the emphasis on types of people as opposed to social class.

If my interpretation of Ives' becomes a real possibility, then could we see Apple's design of its hardware, or firmware become accessible to all? They led the way by opening up the space for software to be crafted by folk - an invitation to build and sell millions of software applications that we didn't even realise we would need in our lives - from recipes to fitness routines, to social puzzles, to life-planners, to holiday itineraries, online purchases and restaurant recommendations.

With this in mind, could Apple now look to providing us with the parts to build our own devices? Could they look to the resurgence of bicycle shops such as Brooklyn's famous 718Cyclry and be inspired by the behind the scenes experience, involving users in the the design, craft and engineering process? Could this see the likes of Apple provide for users space to build their own digital device from scratch? ...better still, encourage users to bring with them the existing technology we have now lying around our homes?

Mend & Make Do

The information we seek is saturating our lives, but alongside this are our community groups (and/or individuals) mending and make-doing. As we spend our hard earned cash on digital information or the devices we use such as mobile phones, iPads, Kindles, televisions, digital radios, our hard earned cash is also being spent on the bills that service our technology, and it doesn't end there, because we are also paying for the services that bill us to explain to us how to reboot our technology, and so the chain continues.

Alongside these newly acquired direct debits and regular tech-purchases we are now choosing to save money by making, swapping, and mending our clothes; growing, baking and cooking our own food; helping, skill-swapping and knowledge-sharing in our local communities. Locally run projects such as FoodCycle and globally supported networks across the world such as Knowledge Gateway for Women are just a couple of social initiatives that are popping up all across our world. Rather than a matter of survival, we are creating solutions such as these as a matter for humanity. The austerity of the 20th century meant people became menders and make-doers, clever-re-users and disciplined organisers - think of the food rations in the war. However, our world is different now, we have access to stuff whenever we want it and however we want it, we have freedom, and our shared definition of 'austerity' is perhaps a very different type of austerity.

We are Digi-Makers

We are now living surrounded by odd and random bits of technology - our living areas are not quite a scene from BladeRunner, but we're not far off. The video recorders or DVD players are now becoming as out of date or as redundant as the cassette player or MP3 player that is clogging up what little storage we have.

Welcome to the time when we are now a little bored of having to buy things when they break, or simply are cash-poor to do so because we're still paying for the last one.

Welcome to the (smart) users turned designer-doers... tinkerers and DIYers... to use the term coined by Alastair Fuad-Luke we are most certainly seeing a growing community of 'digi-makers' (2009), which was inspired by Justin Marshall's paper: Bunnell, K. and J. Marshall (2010) Developments in post industrial manufacturing systems and implications for craft and sustainability. Paper given at Making Futures, Plymouth College of Art, 17-18 September 2009.

As Professor of Practice, Emerging Design Practices at Aalto University, School of Art and Design and author of The Eco-design Handbook (2002) and Design Activism: Beautiful strangeness for a sustainable world (2009), in 2011 at The Making Futures Conference at Plymouth College of Art, Fuad-Luke positioned the importance of Human Capital and further to this posed the question: Is it possible to develop ways of qualitatively and/or quantitatively measuring the impact of designing and making projects on social capital?

He moves on to share in the meaning of Social Capital; ‘Social capital holds a wide variety of meanings but most agree that it concerns connections between and within social networks that encourage civic engagement, engender trust, create mutual support, establish norms, contribute to communal health, cement shared interests, facilitate individual or collective action, and generate reciprocity between individuals and between individuals and a community.’ (Fuad-Luke 2009: 7)

With projects and organisations such as UK initiative Restart and USA initiative such as Story of Stuff - there is evidence of Social Capital at work, communities keen to mend and make do with the technology that exists amongst our living spaces - our ornaments, clothes, art and artefacts in and on our wardrobes, kitchen cupboards and living room shelves.

So, dear Jonathan Ives... please allow me to end with a few extra questions before we are made to wait another 20years (?!) for an interview with you. As you suggest in your interview, you have not forgotten your past, the workshop, the craftsmanship. Perhaps you are one of the original digi-makers of the world... and if so, how are you going to support this growing community of digi-makers? Those curious enough to break apart and put back together the technology we are surrounded by? Those willing to mend and make do? How will you keep technologically curious minds interested in Apple? And, will you encourage people to break them or will you provide them a broken one to fix?