Susan Crawford posts an excerpt from a 2001 interview with Jane Jacobs:
I’ll tell you something that had been worrying me: I liked to visit museums that showed old time machines and tools and so forth. And I was very struck. There was one of these museums in Fredricksburg, Virginia, which was my father’s hometown. He was from a farm near Fredricksburg. I was very struck with the way these old machines were painted. They were painted in a way to show you how they worked. Evidently the makers of them and the users of them cared about how these things were put together and how what moved what so that other people would be interested in them. I used to like to go to the railroad station in Scranton and watch the locomotives. I got a big bang out of seeing the locomotives and those pistons that moved the wheels. And that interested me how they were moved by those things and then the connection of that with the steam inside and so on. In the meantime, along had come these locomotives that had skirts on them and you couldn’t see how the wheels moved and that disturbed me. And it was supposed to be for some aerodynamics reason, but that didn’t make sense. And I began to notice how everything was being covered up and I thought that was kinda sick.
Jane Jacobs died Tuesday. The weekend before her death, I attended an event emblematic of the curiosity about the world and its workings whose loss Jacobs lamented. Make Magazine‘s Maker Faire — bearing the motto, “If You Can’t Open It, You Don’t Own It” — drew a crowd of tens of thousands of intellectually curious tinkerers to the San Mateo County Fairgrounds to participate in workshops and meet with other tinkerers in what felt like a big, joyful adult science fair.
The “joyful” bit was what surprised me most. Attendees seemed genuinely, deeply happy that there were so many others who shared their curiosity and do-it-yourself spirit.
Many tinkering projects run afoul of intellectual property laws. Even leaving aside patent concerns, all tools that manipulate media are tools of copyright infringement, and tinkerers see no reason why laws initially intended to prevent unfair competition within the content industry should keep them from making and using cool new tools.
The publisher of Make Magazine, Dale Dougherty, gave a presentation to a very enthusiastic crowd at dorkbot a few months ago. After the presentation, I asked him whether the DIY attitude toward technology promoted by the magazine required hostility toward laws like the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions. His answer was telling. “It’s not a matter of ‘To do this, you must believe this,’” he said. “It’s more, ‘If you do this, you’ll come around to believing this.’”
Tens of thousands of people gathered last weekend because they didn’t like “how everything was being covered up,” and they wanted to celebrate the creativity and intellectual satisfaction of making things that work. What will happen when they all come around to believing that laws restricting what they do on their garage workbench represent misguided policy?