“We’re still in the punk rock stage,” says Aziz Isham, president of Brooklyn-based digital media publishing house Arcade Sunshine.
He’s talking about the revolution.
No, not in Syria. (Or in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, et al.) Nor is he talking specifically about Occupy Wall Street or the Tea Party.
He’s talking about one part – publishing – of the do-it-yourself revolution.
From community-made and driven political upheavals in northern Africa and the Middle East, to out-of-nowhere media sites like Instapundit, Gawker and their bazillion me-too spinoffs. From self-organizing interest groups creating metaphysics Meetups and Ron Paul rallies, to real estate being bought and sold without the involvement of any Realtors (r) (and without paying their commissions).
Much of this activity is driven by free or low-cost technology that has dramatically reduced the cost – in some cases, to zero – of starting a business, running a not-for-profit activity, or just getting things done. Free blogging sites like WordPress (which powers this very site!) let anyone become a publisher. YouTube, Vimeo and such let anyone become a video producer or star. Free Google analytics tools let publishers understand their traffic. PayPal makes it (relatively) easy for individuals to make and collect micro-payments. ITunes, Amazon and the like provide a marketplace for anyone to sell music or ebooks. Zillow was among the first to provide transparency to the secretive info-hoarding in real estate.
And these are just some of the well-known platforms and tools; there is a steady stream of new technology services being launched all the time.
Most critically, these transparent, collaborative technologies allow fellow DIYers to share knowledge and experience, and Google, Twitter and Facebook help them find each other.
This isn’t exactly news. Linux Journal senior editor Doc Searls has been talking about DIY technology since 2004. Four years later, thinker, teacher, and and social technology expert Clay Shirky published a book on “organizing without organizations,” called “Here Comes Everybody.” (I’ve always wondered if he stole – sorry, “borrowed” – the name from the Autolux song of the same name.)
Even so: as Aziz’s quote alludes, we’re still in the playing-the-church-basement, couchsurfing, Our Band Could Be Your Life phase of the DIY revolution.
Much more recently, DIY has gone mainstream…at least by my own observations; as Herman Cain once said, “I don’t have the facts to back this up.” In the US, it’s riding a wave of populism. And as I think more deeply about my own plan, and about what “Taking the Fork” really means, I keep noticing DIY everywhere.
Beyond easier-to-use technology, social and economic forces have driven more types of people – critically, non-techies – toward DIY. The theme here is a growing mistrust of institutions.
In the US, the Tea Party movement, not to mention the activist base supporting the candidacy of libertarian-leaning Ron Paul, reflects a mistrust of public institutions. The general tone of their battle cry is, “self-sufficiency!”
Private institutions have fared no better. Most blame the financial meltdown in the US on unconscionably idiotic risks by private financial institutions, allowed both by deregulation and the underfunding of any regulatory agencies that did exist; our private institutions screwed us, and our public institutions didn’t do their jobs.
A similar theme is playing out in Europe. An economics-obsessed friend tells me that the Greek crisis came about because of the naive execution of the Euro: Monetary policy, he says, is centrally controlled by the European Central Bank, while fiscal policy is controlled by each member state, with little or no central oversight. So once again, great institutions, because they lacked imagination into the worse cast scenario, failed to do what was expected, if not promised.
And then there’s the issue of transparency – from WikiLeaks to Super PACs to the privacy missteps of Facebook to the growing mistrust of Google, people are demanding better transparency from powerful institutions.
I could point to a thousand more examples of institutions letting people down: sex scandals in the Catholic church, airlines charging you to have a wee, the historic flameout of the Red Sox last September (or maybe that was just one institution returning to its old ways? Anyway.).
There’s a million more examples of DIYing: Home-schooling, micro-loans in the developing world, the slow, locally-sourced food movement, and on and on.
Where is all this going? Stay tuned. Long live the DIY revolution!