Organic Technology

[Originally published December 2015.]

“Community access to digital fabrication isn’t a vision of the future,” Professor Neil Gershenfeld (USA), Fab Founder and director of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, said at a November TEDx talk titled “Programming a New Reality”.

Professor Gershenfeld continued, “A week or so ago I was at the United Nations general assembly. […] This is the biggest gathering of heads of state ever, launching the Sustainable Development Goals, this road map for the planet for the next fifteen years, and what the White House and the UN really wanted was not just to show problems, but to show solutions. […] I was with a colleague, Beno Juarez, who grew up in the Peruvian jungle in the Amazon, and as he described it as a kid, you had three career choices, you could be a farmer, a soldier, or a terrorist, and you got to pick one of them. And he has a wonderful project now, sending digital fabrication tools up the Amazon for sustainability in indigenous communities, and that’s what we showed at the UN general assembly.”

I could pretty much let Professor Neil write this post for me: “We’re running a program called the Fab Academy, where students have peers in workrooms with machines and mentors locally, and then you connect them globally with video and digital content sharing, and so you can bring the campus to the student.”

The Floating Fab Lab team is likewise able to operate because of twenty-first century organic technology. We’re dispersed across the time zones, and the project is brought to us individually. There will eventually be a physical result of our digital labor, and at that time, there may also be a physical migration of team members to the site of the action.

In addition to traditional crowdfunding and grant application, the FLF is relying on the Fab community itself to supply Lab components. Nicknamed “FabSourcing,” this crowdsourcing for stuff is sure to yield myriad materials and machines.

Delia Barriga (Peru) shares executive management with Beno and oversees the financial aspects of the FLF. Delia followed her daughter to a Fab Lab presentation in 2010, where she “first saw videos of 3D printing, and what this change meant for the world,” she wrote me in Spanish. She was deeply impressed at the time, but had no idea the impact the exposure would have on her life. She started working more with Fab Labs, her commitment increasing, until eventually she realized she could make a full time job out of pursuing funding for Fab Labs. She quit working as a corporate business adviser to follow a “vision that transcends the personal, to find the common good.” The funding campaign for the FLF begins in earnest in February.

The Floating Fab Lab relies on the various efforts of its team members, dispersed across who knows how many time zones, but also on nature itself. It’s almost as if it’s inevitable, not a vision of the future, but a feature of reality.

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