Punk Rock Makers

Huh? What in the world would make me even consider a blog post such as this? Well, there’s a lot to it, that’s what and the growth of home grown electronics seems, in many ways, to echo the DIY ethos of the early punk rock scene.

In the world at large (and particularly on the Internet), I am witnessing a HUGE resurgence in the DIY, “maker” type electronics space. There is a great deal going on and it’s fascinating to watch. All over the world, people are picking up their soldering irons, booting up their computers, assembling funny little bits of kit and tying it all together in wonderful new ways. Electrons are being manipulated and, for many, new connections are being made. Every day, people are introducing us to their projects and new fangled ways of interfacing both hardware and software on blogs, via Twitter and community forums. It’s a big deal. Just look at the growth of such entities as Make Magazine, Instructables, Hackaday and more.

So what does this have to do with punk? I believe that, in large part, open source hardware and software has been a driving force behind the boost in popularity. Linux distributions, open software/hardware, “hacker spaces”, and more, have fostered a sort of community of makers. Users helping users. Builders improving upon builders. Ordinary folks standing on the shoulders of giants and contributing in their own way. It’s now hip to be a geek much the same way the community of early punks, from London to New York to Los Angeles, fed on one another’s work in the 1970’s and ’80’s and reinvigorated rock and roll.

There is also a vein of rebellious, anti-authoritarian individualism that runs through the DIY community of electronics ans software hackers. Much like Sid Vicious got a new gig with the Sex Pistols when he was spotted wearing a home made “Pink Floyd Sucks” T-shirt, many of the most innovative electronics producers of today are eschewing the big corporate players, a la Microsoft. They’re embracing open (or semi-open) platforms and excelling despite (or because of) that decision. Curiously, like the DIY record labels, fan ‘zines, underground clubs and, hell yes, the bands themselves, that defined the early punk scene, some of the most successful players in the “maker” scene today are doing things their own way and redefining how business can be done. Makerbot, Adafruit, Sparkfun and, yes, even (to some extent) Google. The “gray hairs” are watching and they know that they’re losing market share to, of all groups, their own past customers. That’s right. We’re moving into our garages, home offices and hacker spaces in order to set up our own labs to compete against the suppliers we once supported.

Examples, you ask? Well, I’d say just take a look at the phenomenal success of the Arduinot. This simple little MCU/IDE combo has blown up and folks who would have otherwise never considered tinkering with such gear are finding themselves enthralled. Myself included. The fact that Arduino has made all aspects of the project open, thus spawning imitators, has not hurt them in the least. Rather, they have benefited from it. As we all know, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”.

Arduino doesn’t do it for you? Check out the enormous success of big brothers Beagle Bone, Raspberry Pi, and more.

Does this movement represent, like punk rock, a revolution? I think so. You may not have to create the electronics equivalent of “God Save The Queen” or “Blitzkrieg Bop” to enjoy this new paradigm but, you can sure as heck enjoy yourself banging out your own “three chord” masterpiece of LED’s, buzzers, Ethernet, and code…