Editorial: Nostalgia

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Editorial by Allin Kahrl, originally posted on the discussion list

When I was a kid the school library was still full of do-science-at-home books from the three decades prior. These books suggested you could get really interesting chemicals at the hardware store or pharmacy, and magnesium filings or spring steel from any local machine shop.

Along with access to a lot of diy-inclined adults, I really grew up with the impression that knowledge existed to be shared. That was really borne out at my first serious job in the early aughts, manufacturing reproduction hand tools whose patents had expired before my father was born. Anyone could have built those products, and we could talk all day about how we did it. It benefitted our customers enormously to know certain details, and without the infrastructure or skilled labor we had, nobody really competed with us.

That's the sort of world I want to live in but each day I see the corporate manufacturing world trying harder and harder to keep a tight grip on their "IP" and thus keep consumers beholden. I know for a fact that people do not require exclusivity to do innovative things, but will not be shocked if I see lobbying to have patents renewed indefinitely in my lifetime.

Open Hardware feels like the best way to create goods which can be fixed, can be taught, can be extended at the discretion of their owners. In theory, even if open components are used in proprietary assemblies, the original openness can never be appropriated. Changes to the open design must be published, so they don't need to infect their host hardware with openness in order to provide hooks of understanding for able owners. So I suppose my interest grows at least partly out of nostalgia.

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