The joy of tinkering, making, and sharing is part of the human condition. In modern times, this creative freedom too often is stifled by secrecy as a means of monetization – from non-compete laws to quashing people’s right to repair the products they’ve already paid for.
Adam Savage—the maker extraordinaire best known from the television shows MythBusters and Savage Builds—is an outspoken advocate for the right to repair, to tinker, and to put creativity and innovation to work in your own garage. He says a fear-based approach to invention, in which everyone thinks secrecy is the path to a big payday, is exhausting and counterproductive.
Savage speaks with EFF’s Cindy Cohn and Danny O’Brien about creating a world in which we incrementally keep building on each others’ work, keep iterating the old into new, and keep making things better through collaboration.
You can also find the MP3 of this episode on the Internet Archive.
In this episode you’ll learn about:
- How cosplay symbolizes what’s best about the instincts to make and share
- Why it’s better to live in the Star Trek universe than the Star Wars universe
- Balancing the desire for profit with wide dissemination of ideas that benefit society and culture
- Building a movement to encourage more people to be makers – and getting the law out of the way
Adam Savage got his start as a model maker and special effects artist for movies including Galaxy Quest, Star Wars: Episode II—Attack of the Clones, The Mummy, and The Matrix Reloaded, among many others. In 2003, he became the host of The Discovery Channel program MythBusters, in which he and co-hosts debunked or confirmed popular myths through testing and experiments. Today he runs Adam Savage’s Tested, a website and YouTube channel that provides “a community playground for makers and curious minds” by exploring the intersection of science, popular culture, and emerging technology, showing how we are all makers.
Music for How to Fix the Internet was created for us by Reed Mathis and Nat Keefe of BeatMower.
This podcast is licensed Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International, and includes the following music licensed Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported by their creators:
- JPEG of a Hotdog by gaetanh
- Tall Glass of Turnip Juice by gaetanh
- Gone for Smokes by gaetanh
- Declan’s Dipsy Doodle by gaetanh
- Whose Hand is That by gaetanh
Adam: One of my favorite communities is the cosplay community. And what I find in that community is almost no gatekeeping and a really incredible open sharing of information.
One of the things I just love about going to pop culture cons and finding great cosplayers is they’ll be like, “I took a cricket and then I modified it and I added this software and I did this thing. Then I sprayed it with rubber and here’s how it came out.” Then someone else builds off of that.
A few years ago on the replica props forum, there was a guy who posted a popular robot costume and he had done a beautiful version of it.
It was really amazing. It had all these moving parts and it was gorgeous. People immediately started saying, “Can you share some of your build pictures? We’d love to see how this was built.” He was like, “No.” People just stopped paying attention to his threads because that wasn’t what you sign up for the forum for. I haven’t heard hide or hair of him in years because that’s not what we’re about.
Cindy: That’s Adam Savage, who you may know from the show’s MythBusters and Savage Builds among others. If you’ve watched any of his work, it’s no surprise that Adam is a strong advocate for the right to repair, to tinker and to put creativity and innovation to work in your own garage.
Danny: Adam is going to tell us how we can build a movement to encourage more people to be makers and how the law can get out of the way.
Cindy: I’m Cindy Cohn, EFF’s Executive Director.
Danny: I’m Danny O’Brien, special advisor to the EFF. Welcome to How to Fix the Internet, a podcast of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Cindy: You are, I would say, one of the world’s most famous makers, but tell us, how did this start? How did you get into the idea that you were going to go build things?
Adam: I grew up in it. It was the water that I swam in growing up. My father was a painter, first and foremost, but he was also a madman back in the late ’50s and early ’60s in advertising. He actually got out of advertising and raised our family by doing animated interstitials for a new children’s show called Sesame Street in the early ’70s.
He was also a DIYer. He built a deck on the back of our house three times. I think by the third try, he got it right.
So, yah. I was always raised with the example that you built your environment.
Cindy: So, you’re an inventor and you hang around with people who see technology as a space for invention as well, and who are creating and using and inventing. What kind of obstacles are you seeing in the kind of technological space of invention? Are they different or the same as the ones you see kind of in the more traditional putting wood together with nails kind of invention?
Adam: Well, I mean, I guess the nice thing about putting wood together with nails is it’s being ignored by patent trolls.
It’s like everyone gets so terrified to tell you their idea because we have this fictional economy that’s supposedly based on ideas. But it’s not, and that’s a fiction. You’ll have people like, “I’d love to tell you about something, but you’ve got to sign this big thing.” That sort of fear-based approach to invention is exhausting because everyone thinks that secrecy is the root to their payday. Instead of, we’ll incrementally keep on iterating and making this better as we collaborate and move forward.
Cindy: That’s such an important point. Really you got to blame the lawyers for this idea that the only way to get paid by something is not sharing it, is really at odds with how society develops. We stand on the shoulders of giants.
Danny: I think that there’s always this interesting kind of confusion too. When you talk to Silicon Valley originals, people who built this stuff, they learnt by working at The Homebrew Computer Club and sharing everything. That the two Steve’s, Jobs and Wozniak, would turn out there and show their working. Then I think some other people perceive it as, they have to come here and then go, “No, you need to sign my NDA. I can’t talk about it.” You go, “Everybody talks about everything.”
I think one of the things that you see from your work is that, invention and creation doesn’t have to be a professional endeavor. There’s this whole wider community of students and just part-timers. I think that there’s a big wash between those two things, right?
Adam: Yeah. It’s funny, one of the best hardware, software engineers that I know won’t work for a big company because he likes the freedom of taking weird freelance jobs and having total control over what he’s working on.
There’s a lot of folks out there like that, and it’s such an important sort of hidden economy of moving us forward.
Cindy: The open source community has really developed this idea and there’s a whole community around it, but it still flies a little under the radar, I think from the top line stories we tell ourselves about invention and progress.
Adam: Jamie Hyneman and I spoke at the RSA Conference here in San Francisco a few years ago.
Danny: The big cryptography-
Adam: Yeah. The big crypto-
Danny: … conference. Yeah.
Adam: … conference. I think the year after us, Stephen Colbert made a big splash at that conference. That’s how people might remember it. But when we were there, I told a joke that died in the room. Which was, they said, “Do you have any security myths that you’d love to bust?” I said, “Sure. How about that security through obscurity is idiotic and doesn’t ever work.” crickets and two laughs in the room.
Danny: We’re not supposed to talk about that. Security from obscurity being the idea that you can protect something by making it secret. That if you don’t reveal how the lock works, then the lock will magically be protected from lock pickers.
Adam: Well, and the absurdity of this is that these locks that the companies are hiding are effectively password 123456. But they’re making it illegal for your brain to receive that … I mean, they’d love to make it illegal for your brain to receive that information. That the password is so simple. That’s not security, it’s theater.
Cindy: That’s a huge chunk of the problem that EFF has with the anti circumvention provisions of the DMCA, which is a mouthful. But section 1201 of the DMCA basically says, if there’s something copyrightable that’s surrounded by a fence, you can’t break the fence and you can’t teach anybody else how to break the fence regardless of how ineffective the fence actually is. We’ve seen this. We’ve seen this law used against people replacing their printer ink by themselves, people creating garage door openers that interact with garages so you don’t have to pay the zillion dollars to the manufacturer to get something that’s actually quite simple. I’m wondering, do you have any experience with this? Has this happened to you?
Adam: I actually find hope in every corner of recent events. Like the anti circumvention for hospital equipment is absolutely absurd when you see hospitals with hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment they can’t use for want of a washer or a bolt or some little bit of software. The farmers for right to repair is a very exciting development. As well as states continuing to pass anti-non-compete laws. I think those are all part and parcel of the same thing of the absurdity of these companies’ attempt to extract money from parts of the chain that are before the end, and of consumers going, “This doesn’t work for anybody.”
Cindy: I recently did an event with the right to repair people out of the consumer electronic show where we chose the Worst in Show. The John Deere tractor that gives you a warning light if you try to open the hood of it, that something horrible may be happening, was one of the big winners. I focused more on the privacy ones, but John Deere is really on such a bad track with actual farmers who want to be able to fix their own equipment. It’s insane.
Adam: The one part of the John Deere story I haven’t seen recently is, a few years ago, they were getting dinged for hoovering up all the data about what farmers were doing with their tractors and then selling that. Are they still doing that?
Cindy: Yeah. In fact, there was an FTC complaint that was just filed against them,
by the iFixit people who are good friends of EFF and a bunch of farmers. That I mean farmers have strategies for how they want to grow the most things, and they’re really not crazy about John Deere having access to all of that information.
The company that sells you your tractor ought not be surveilling you.
Adam: It ought not to know more about you than you know.
Danny: When you create a law that says, this part of something you own is hived off from you, there’s going to be all kinds of rotten things going on in that. This is something we try to explain when they introduce DRM, digital rights management, into web browsers. Web browsers are this thing that is where hackers go to break into your computer. That’s the most vulnerable part. They wanted to create a little ticking time bomb in these browsers that would be locked away where not only would it be hard for you to work out what was going on, because it’s to stop people copying movies and they don’t want hackers looking and working out how to do that, but also it would be illegal for security researchers to even probe it for these same 1201 reasons.
Adam: Right. It’s funny, because one of the founders of the EFF, John Perry Barlow, wrote that beautiful essay so many years ago about information wanting to be free. I remember the first time I read it, I was thinking of it as a kind of hippie, anti-capitalist, like it’s all granola. I loved the stance, but I now think that it was actually the opposite. He was writing that essay to set a frame of, you’re never going to put these genies back in their respective bottles. You have to build a system that understands that this information’s going to leak and we’re going to need cooperative strategies for being able to make sure we have privacy and liberty and that we can profit from our inventions.
Cindy: Yeah. Free as in speech, not free as in beer, I believe, is one of the ways that…
Adam: Oh my God, I want that as a T-shirt.
One of my favorite communities is the cosplay community. Which to be fair, when I first dove into cosplay for real, which is around 2008, 2009, I found a community of very striated with some people at a very high level, some people at a medium level, some people at the bottom no one’s paying attention to. A lot of gatekeeping about what was and wasn’t cosplay. And now what I find in that community is almost no gatekeeping and a really incredible open sharing of information.
Danny: I think another thing that’s really interesting about the cosplay community and also the fan fiction community, is that they’re both examples of areas where people don’t take it seriously to begin with. I think that makes them very vulnerable from a legal point of view. Like in the mid 2000s at EFF, we spent a lot of time working with fanfic writers because they were getting legally harassed about whether it was okay to use the characters from books. One of the reasons why that happened, I think, was because people said, “Well, that’s not a thing. That’s not real fiction. You’re just riffing.” Same with remix culture. Same with mixing music in the ’90s and ’80s. Again, I think it’s this weird transition where people do this for fun and also because it’s captivating, but it’s in a legal gray area. If you’re not careful, it gets thrown into that legal gray area and you just get a whole amazing community of creativity that becomes hip hop, that becomes endless sequels of Star Wars and so forth.
Adam: You have some wonderful artists illuminating that. Kirby Ferguson’s incredible documentary, Everything is a Remix, which he keeps on updating and keeping current, I just love that. Just the fertility of that sharing of ideas, it … One of the things that I have also encountered is, I once played poker with the head council for Lucasfilm, and he was telling me, this is 20 years ago, but he was like, “We know everybody who’s making stuff out there. We know all the stormtrooper costume makers. We know who’s making what.” He said, “We’re not interested in stopping someone from making them. We just don’t want someone to turn it into a multimillion dollar business.”
Which fair enough actually, but they wouldn’t ever say that publicly and therein lies the problem. It’s like, remember the whole legal thing we tried to thread of allowing doctors to say, I’m sorry, without expressing a legal liability for saying, I’m sorry? This is this problem we have in our culture of this, well, we can’t really admit it publicly that we do this, but Lucasfilm was very clear on how much the fandom supported and helped Lucasfilm in its mission.
Cindy: Yeah. I think this points a way to some stuff that we could fix pretty easily. Fair use is a kind of complicated legal doctrine, but it doesn’t have to be. Companies could just say, “We think this is fair use. This is …” Just put it outside of this realm where you have to come ask for permission, you have to sign a document, you have to do all this thing. It’s just fair use.
Or lawyers with overboard trademark argues. This idea that if you don’t come down hard on anybody who uses your trademark, somehow you’re going to lose your trademark. That is actually not a big threat for most of the people who are wielding it around. It’s too bad that that’s not happening with more grace from a lot of companies.
Adam: Humans, we are ludicrously inconsistent. We believe everything we believe fiercely right up until we’re angry. Then we’re leaning on our car horns to get you to move.
We’re fixing the internet in this podcast. Let’s assume that all of the obstacles to makers get out of the way, what do we get in this world? What does it look like if we get this right?
Adam: How do I say this? It’s like the hundredth monkey. Once you take a bit of technology and it gets out to five great people, really cool stuff happens. But once it gets to 100 people, you can’t even predict where it’s going to go and what sort of amazing things are going to come out of that.
People are incredible. The human mind is an unbelievable machine. The idea that we’re going to pretend that commerce can somehow inhibit human invention is a fantasy. That’s where you get the dystopia. I mean, that’s why I love Star Trek people. I grew up on Star Wars, it’s in my bones. But if you ask me where I want to live, it’s in the Star Trek universe, not the Star Wars universe.
Cindy: Yeah. Me too.
Adam: I think that drones were a really great example of a real net benefit to everyone to the largest degree. I actually appreciated … I don’t know. It felt like the FAA has really been attempting to find a reasonable path through to drone usage. At the very beginning, every TV show had like the drone shot and now you see the technology maturing, people are using it in more interesting ways. I’m not noticing drone shots as often. It’s like you get this brand new toy and there’s only one way to use it until everyone sort of figures out the subtleties of the execution.
Cindy: Yeah. I think drones are a good example. EFF has been involved in some work with the FAA around this, and especially around kind of the kind of bigger drones and privacy and issues. But I do think that drones are one of these things that are getting cheaper and cheaper and people are figuring out more things to do with them. Some of them are annoying and we might need some regulation, but a lot of them are really cool. Again, back to our farmers, farmer’s ability to fly over their fields is one of the things that’s really exciting about kind of taking this technology and making it usable by people for their everyday lives.
Adam: I mean, the people we’re fighting against here are people who would love to have patented the idea of using a drone for real estate photography, and then nobody else can do that without paying them. That’s mind-bendingly stupid.
Cindy: Yeah. It’s funny how IP, intellectual property, comes up a lot in this space because it is often a set of things that are trying to create artificial scarcity around things that are not scarce. Getting that balance right is really important because not everything should be scarce in our society.
Adam: Years ago, I actually read through, I can’t remember what author inspired me to do it, but I read through both the Copyright Act and the patent act at the beginning of the founding of America. They’re both really, really clear. They’re both crystal clear in their language about how much ideas that go out into the world are a net benefit to society and culture as a whole. Let everyone make a little money at the beginning, let everyone else benefit from the invention at the end. It’s such a beautiful plan. It just feels like we’ve been chipping away at it for 200 years.
Adam: I did some work with the Obama administration, helping them promote making around the country and around the world. One of the most amazing places I visited was the Elizabeth Forward High School in New Jersey, where they’d gotten a grant for some 3D printers and they gave these 3D printers to a young teacher and said, “You have a 3D printing class now.” She didn’t know how to use them. She didn’t know what to do with them. She got together with the students, a bunch of Christian girls and 13, 14 years old, and she took them across the street to an assisted living facility where each student adopted one of the residents of the facility and spent a semester iterating a 3D printed thing that would improve the life of that resident.
Cindy: That’s fabulous.
Adam: I can’t think of a more beautiful curriculum, and it was completely organic based on the teacher’s interactions with the printers and the students and the assisted living facility. That to me is the utopic future we can shoot for. Where it’s not like someone’s going to come in and monetize all those inventions. It’s just that we’re going to know about them and we can expand upon those things and keep on taking the lessons from that iteration. Again, improve the lives of the residents, not just of the facility, but of earth.
Isn’t that beautiful? I was so moved by the story as they told it to me and realizing there’s no greater lesson for a young industrial designer, whether or not you’re going to end up being an industrial designer, than iterating a product with somebody who is vastly different from you in their life and experience. That, right there, we know from our vantage point how much value there is for a young person to go through that experience. To me, that’s what a real shop class curriculum should be.
Cindy: The sense of power, the sense of being heard and listened to, and this creative conversation. We talked with a guy named Zach Latta who runs a thing called Hack Club and has kids learning how to do a lot of these skills. This is really something that helps our future generations and it helps our current generations really have agency over their lives.
Danny: I think the goal here is to move the impediments away from that kind of direct connection. I think if we want a utopia where those sort of things happen on a daily basis, well, we have to sit and work out, what does the law look like that means that someone can do that? Someone can just go and make a thing for someone else without there being interference from people worried that they’re going to lose money because of it or liability in particular directions. I think that’s how you get to there.
Adam: I also think within rapid manufacturing, I think, it is as William Gibson so succinctly said, the future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed. You still have most marginalized communities don’t have access to 3D printing and rapid manufacturing. Every White kid in school has access to a 3D printer, give or take. I sit on the board of Nation of Makers and one of the specific tracks we’re going to have at the next Nation of Makers Conference, NOMCON, is around racial and social justice and activism. Because these are really fertile areas. When we only allow one community to have the benefits of some new technology, we’re not exploiting what it could bring us as a culture and as a society. We have to include all of these other voices in order to reap the full benefits.
Cindy: Absolutely. The other lesson that we’ve learned from this podcast over and over again, is that the communities know what they need best. It’s, the best ideas come from within these communities. It’s not just that the rest of us don’t get the benefit of these things, that the things that we might being developed, even with good intentions to try to assist this community, they’re not going to be as good a fit because they don’t come from it.
Adam: My friend, Sonya Pryor-Jones, in Cleveland has a wonderful organization called Mantles and Makers. She is working on building a house in a neighborhood in Cleveland that will be a community maker space with multiple tracks and multiple stories where kids and locals can come and learn about this and dive into this plasma pool and be part of this invention cycle.
Cindy: That’s so great. Because one of the other things that we see at EFF is that there’s little pockets of makers. Every community has pockets of makers. I grew up in a small town in Iowa. We had the gearheads, the people who were always working on their cars. That’s a maker community. As technology makes some kinds of making a lot easier and a lot … Those communities, they already exist. We don’t have to build them. We just have to protect them from the law and from kind of misunderstanding of what they’re up to and then they will grow.
Adam: Well, and I love the strange bedfellows of your average power user of a hacker space turning out to have the same goal as farmer in Iowa for the use and utility and repurposing of their equipment, I’m fascinated by that. I love that convergence of the most disparate life experiences yet coming onto the same plane for the same battle.
Cindy: Well, and I think it really talks at about making, it’s a universal value. It expresses itself differently in different communities, but you’re right. One of the fun things about EFF is, we got a section 1201 exemption for tractors and stuff. We took on John Deere and we won in the copyright office. But just finding those pockets all around the world of people who have a specific make need and working with them to try to build the law. I do think that the farmers are going to be a huge piece. There’s federal law pending on right to repair. Joe Biden has said that he’s supportive. There are a lot of people who are really talking about this now. Honestly, I think we have the farmers to thank because they enlivened a whole other piece of our representative government around an issue that just probably didn’t feel like it was relevant to that community until recently.
Adam: Well, and the ethos of being a farmer, which is so deeply baked into American culture, turns out to be the ethos that we’re fighting for. Which is, I can repair it with number three fencing wire if I need to. There’s a joke that they make in … I’m modifying a joke in New Zealand. It’s, if it can’t be fixed with number eight fencing wire, it can’t be fixed.
Cindy: It’s how I feel about duct tape.
Danny: We’ll just fix the law with the fencing wire.
Adam: Number eight fencing wire?
Cindy: Yeah. Just go to D.C. with a bunch of it and be like, “Here, we have what you need.”
I feel like there’s more of us and we’re louder and we’re stronger, but this is not a battle that’s going to be won automatically. This is one of those things that seems obvious to the people who are on our side of this that it ought just happened. The amount of fight we have and are going to have around this is going to continue.
Danny: Some people see the future as being that we just rent things. We just have subscriptions. We don’t own anything, and that will be very freeing. I sense you do not feel the same way. That actually ownership is an important component of having control over your technology. What is that difference? Where does that come from?
Adam: That’s fascinating. I mean, I was really surprised that I was so happy moving to a subscription model for Adobe Photoshop, for instance. I was pissed off about it at first and then when I went through it, I realized actually over the aggregate, I was saving money on this and I was having more up to date software and I didn’t have to worry about it. On that front, that model worked out beautifully for me. But you’re right, we’re at this point where I have songs I downloaded into my iTunes 15 years ago that are just gone because through some update, Apple just replaced it with something else.
I don’t have enough personal time to go chase all those genies and put them back into the bottle, but it makes me really sad because it is this sort of very subtle mind fight against society about what ownership really is. The idea that I could have this pocket knife and not be able to drill a hole through it to do something important that I wanted to do because somehow there’s some label on it that says you’re not allowed to modify this thing, nobody wants a future in which we can’t do that. There’s no way in which that’s a net benefit to anybody. We’d have hospitals full of this year’s equipment that worked and last year’s equipment that didn’t.
Cindy: We use ownership as a shorthand for control and power. I think that for me, whether it’s licensed or whether it’s owned is important because it signals where the power lies and where things lie. As we learn over and over again, often shifting to licensing means surveillance. Because you can’t control what people do unless you’re watching what people do, and so surveillance ends up being a piece of this. I think that ownership, it’s tremendously important for some things, but it’s important because of the power dynamic. You could create a license that doesn’t have that power dynamic. It’s just that so few companies do.
Adam: It’s the flip side of the liberty to do what you want with the stuff that you have. It’s this really interesting way in which fair use and copyright dovetails immediately with liberty and freedom. I think those values about liberty and the use of our objects are completely nonpartisan. I don’t think we’d find Republicans … I mean, I’m very much a left leaning liberal, but I don’t think I’d find a Republican that would disagree with me about farmers being able to fix their own equipment. That actually gives me hope for the future. That, again, that image of the farmer and where they are in American culture is so powerful, it highlights deeply the absurdity of the position of John Deere.
Right to repair and tinker and all of those kinds of things, in some ways I think they’re deeply cross partisan. It’s this idea that you fix your own truck. I mean, again, I grew up in rural Iowa. The idea that you fix your own truck is not a partisan idea. It’s deeply, deeply embedded in whatever kind of self-respect, self-control, power, autonomy ideas that really, in some ways get voiced a lot more by people on the right. I think they’re widely shared though.
Adam: Well, I mean, I’ll point out another hidden economy that someone is going to try and monetize at some point. Which is, I was trying to fix one of my bathroom faucets a couple weeks ago and I called up a 10 year old Grohe service manual video of how to repair this faucet. We all love YouTube for that because anything you want to fix. Whether it’s this thing or your video camera, there’s someone who’s taken it apart. Whether they’re in Micronesia or Australia, it doesn’t matter. But the moment someone figures out that they can make a bunch of dough from that, I’m sure you would see companies start to like, “No, you can’t put up those repair videos. You can only put up these repair videos.” We all lose when that happens.
Cindy: It’s definitely the case. I mean, one of the biggest copyright verdicts in the world was a case where Oracle sued people who were granting access to internal materials about how you fix Oracle’s servers and the copyright damages were huge. I do think this is one area where the more you get into a purely digital situation, the harder it is to convince people that it’s the same problem. If it’s using genuine GM parts to fix your GM truck, most people know that that’s an optional thing. That you don’t have to do that and that that’s GM trying to make more money off of you. Don’t get confused by one’s hardware and one’s software or digital, it’s the same thing. Being able to fix your own stuff or fix stuff yourself is a value that shouldn’t turn on whether you’re talking hardware or software.
Cindy: What are the values that we are going to protect when we protect the right to repair and the right to tinker? I think we’ve said this a little, but I’d love to drill down a little bit.
Adam: To me, the word that comes up first is sharing. The sharing economy is an economy and just like any economy, it can benefit everybody if you treat it and grow it well like a house plant. That involves us getting past our own egos, moving past our fantasies of ruling industry and realizing that the things we invent can make things better for each other. But it doesn’t mean that if you invent one widget that’s popular, you should live the rest of your life in perfect sultan-like comfort.
Cindy: Yeah, absolutely. Well, Adam, thank you so much. This was just delightful and also very heartening. That this community is alive and well. We’ve got obstacles we need to get out of their way and kind of crazy things that are happening that are blocking people, but the community that you’re so deeply a part of is thriving. That’s good news.
Adam: Well, through organizations that I get to work with like Nation of Makers and Mantles and Makers, it is I’m hoping to help raise a generation or two of digital natives who understand and swim in this language and can build the next generation’s sharing economy.
Cindy: That’s wonderful. I can’t wait. I can’t wait for all the stuff they’re going to give us.
Adam: I know.
Cindy: … stuff at EFF.
Danny: Cool things. Thank you so much.
Adam: I’m so glad you guys are out there. Like I said, I believe in your mission. Send me in coach, I’ll testify before Congress, whatever you need, I’m here for you EFF.
Cindy: You know I’m going to take you up on that. That’s wonderful. Thank you.
Adam: Well, thank you guys.
Cindy: Well, that was just such great fun. The thing that really comes out in talking to Adam is how making is a culture. It’s not just an individual endeavor. It’s not just somebody in their garage all by themselves. That, that person may exist, but they’re part of a community, they’re part of a fabric of how people are engaging with their stuff, digital and non-digital and how these communities set norms for themselves.
Danny: Yeah. There was a thread going through it, I think, of this connection between commerce and the world of technology and commerce and the world of technology amongst enthusiasts and hackers and hobbyists. Which of course is a really strong connection in computing technology. But it’s nice to sort of see it made explicit elsewhere. In both of those cases, one of the themes is that openness and sharing is actually beneficial. It’s beneficial not just to everyone, but also to each individual endeavor.
It is very confusing where we get this idea of secrecy as the key to a payday. I think anybody who’s spent any time in the development of technology knows there’s all of this sort of sharing of knowledge that goes on. That close knowledge really isn’t good for an individual and isn’t good for society as a whole. When we all participate in the development of technology, things naturally get better.
Cindy: Yeah. I really love how Adam really grounds this in an all American kind of context. I mean, I believe, and I think Adam would agree, that the urge to be a maker is universal. It’s part of our basic humanity, but the American story has a really lot of resonance. That farmers are makers. That the automotive hackers, when I was a kid, we called them gearheads, the people who would mess around with their cars, they make it better for all the rest of us and they are just a central piece of some core American identity. Adam makes that case really well that this is a piece of the, do it yourself ethos that is really across all sorts of other ideological differences that people might have.
Danny: Yeah. I think that the shared idea here is sort of incremental improvement and incremental improvement in society. I mean, we have it embedded in our idea of technology and the idea that technology gets better, but we should have it for everything. We should be constantly aspiring to improve the society we have.
Like the idea that you don’t need to have a contract. You don’t need to have a really dicty copyright regime when what you are actually trying to develop is a much more looser kind of liberal idea of, well, we know that it’s okay for you to … It’s good if you are building Star Wars costumes or something like that, as long as you’re not making a million dollars out of it. That means we don’t have to use the heavy hand of the law to extinguish every possible transgression while people are experimenting in this area.
Cindy: Yeah. I also appreciate how he really grounds this in the idea of liberty, of doing what you want in the kind of classic good way. The liberty to take your stuff and make it better and make it fit you. It’s all a piece of what I really appreciate about Adam, which is his optimism.
Danny: Yeah. I think people underestimate how powerful it is just to be optimistic. If you actually believe, oh maybe we can fix this, then you can go a long way. Of course, makers by definition must be optimistic because they’re always convinced they’re going to be able to fix or build something in the end. Otherwise, they wouldn’t start.
Cindy: I think you fundamentally have to be optimistic if you’re trying to build a better future. Whether that’s a better future by adding something cool to this tool or by making a cool cosplay costume, or in the work that we do a lot, trying to make the rules of the road and the law better. There’s an optimism that has to be built in that Adam just shines through with.
Well, thank you so much for joining us today.
Danny: If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please visit eff.org/podcast where you’ll find more. You can learn about the issues and you can donate to become an EFF member.
Members are the only reason we can do this work. Plus you can get cool stuff like an EFF hat or an EFF hoodie or even an EFF camera cover for your laptop. Music for How to Fix the Internet was created for us by Reed Mathis and Nat Keefe of BeatMower. This podcast is licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. It includes music licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license by their creators. You can find their names and links to their music in our episode notes or on our website at eff.org/podcast. How to Fix the Internet is supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Program in Public Understanding of Science and Technology. I’m
Cindy: I’m Cindy Cohn.