Very basic defining Digital DIY and "ABC"

David Gauntlett's picture


This conversation follows on from Luca's email (sent: 08 February 2015 19:10 to the extended Steering Board) which invites us 'to start working on ABC cases as "core examples" of what we should take into account in our project'.

I wasn't sure whether to start a new thread, or to add this on to Bruce's attempt to start a list of *examples*. But this conversation is, I think, about even more basic definitions, so I started a new one.

So: I think we can agree that our project centres around what you're calling "ABC" technologies, i.e. (as I think it means) digital technologies that lead to the production of physical stuff, but there is still the question of whether it has to be an internet-connected machine which does the making, or if an internet-connected human can be the one who does the making.

Note also that the internet-connected machines typically require a lot of help from humans anyway, and don't sit in their own houses devising and fabricating their own projects. So I mean it's always blurry, and there are no projects that a machine initiates and completes single-handedly (as it were).

Nevertheless I suppose we can have a 'tighter' and a 'wider' definition, both of which are probably acceptable to all of us, but where the tighter one means you've got a device connected to the internet which manufactures things (? - is that what you'd have in the tighter definition?) and the wider definition is about digital technologies fostering and inspiring making, but where the making can be done by humans, humans with tools, and/or machines.

What do you think?

Incidentally, about this "ABC" phrase ... to be honest I joined in with pretending to recognise this phrase as you were casually using it to refer to these kinds of things ... and it seemed to stand for "Atoms to Bits Conversion" or something [note added 24 hours later: it's "tags/atoms-bits convergence" isn't it, sorry] -- Anyway so just now I Googled "ABC atoms bits" to see what in-use-in-the-world definitions I could look at ... and I don't really see any ...

... or at least the main thing that comes up is this exhibition by John Maeda which links Atoms, Bits and Craft (ABC)

... so personally I like that, but it's not the "ABC" you've been talking about.

Also, I think we described archetypal ABC technologies as 3D printing and Arduino. 3D printing clearly counts but where does Arduino sit in relation to either the theme of turning bits into atoms, or small-scale manufacturing ...? [comment added 24 hours later: ah, since ABC means atoms-bits convergence (rather than 'conversion'), then it's a bit easier to imagine some kind of answer, but I'm still interested to hear an answer from one of you...]

Sorry if I'm asking stupid questions, but they might be stupid questions that other people might ask, and it would be nice to have the answers to them!

To summarise, the questions that arise from this message are:

* Do we accept a 'tighter' and a 'wider' definition of Digital DIY, as outlined above?

* What precisely is the 'tighter' one - does it necessarily involve a device connected to the internet which manufactures things, or something else?

* Are we going to use this phrase 'ABC' and if so what exactly does it mean? (Are you drawing on a previous use of it ... and presumably it's not the John Maeda one [though I'd be happy if it was]?)

* In what way is Arduino a typical example of it?

Best wishes

David Gauntlett  


lmari's picture


Thank you David for your important -- far from stupid! -- questions.

My claim is that we need to maintain the basic distinction between two issues:

  1. what is DiDIY?
  2. what should the scope of our project be?

The first issue is semantic (what does "DiDIY" mean?), the second is strategic (what scope for the project can help us to maximize its prospected benefits?). Of course, an ideal situation would be the one in which we are able to agree upon a concept of DiDIY which also maximizes the prospected benefits of our project. But I have no doubt that we should focus on a restricted meaning of DiDIY were this useful to increase (the chance) of benefits for the project.

This is my only reason for putting an emphasis on ABC as a critical component of the scope of our project (not of the meaning of DiDIY, then).

Given this, in different post I will try to argue about this claim.


Wouter Tebbens's picture

interesting reflections!

I have started with an intent to define these three main aspects of our research topics in this collaborative editing pad, s if you want you may join in there and edit, add, change anything you see fit there:

For your convenience let me copy the current text over to here:

  • Definition DIY
First DIY, from its Wikipedia article we know: "Do it yourself, also known as DIY, is the method of building, modifying, or repairing something without the aid of experts or professionals."
  • Definition Digital DIY
Second, we need to define Digital DIY. This would be DIY methods where there is an interface between the digital and the physical (Atoms Bits Convergence), where the physical process of DIY is enabled or empowered by digital tools. In this sense “digital” refers to computer digital, no to the more general discrete. Digital DIY should at least provide its users the freedom to use and adapt the technology to his/her needs. While open source / free licenses add also the freedoms to copy and share the digital information and to distribute modified versions, this isn't a prerequisit for all Digital DIY: we can still consider Digital DIY a patented device – if it at least allows us the first two freedoms. Notice that for software, binary files don't allow for adapting, and source files are required for its possible adaptation.
  • Scope DiDIY project
Third is the scope. Our first delimiter is mentioned in the project description: Atoms-Bits Convergence (ABC), which cover both digital fabrication where bits are converted in atoms and networked sensors, where atoms are translated into bits, and back again into atoms through connected actuators.
Possibly other delimiters apply. In the project definition we refer to technologies that are having or will be having considerable effect on our societies, so mainstream technologies should be excluded.
This might be the case of digital music, which might still be considered digital DIY, but it is far from new, and its main impact on society has already been applied -it has become mainstream years ago.
  • Elevator pitch
If I had to explain what we're exploring in a so called “elevator pitch”, that would be all those digital technologies that enable and empower DIY, that one may find typically in a FabLab. A FabLab covers the typical tools for digital fabricaton, such as 3D printing, scanning, CNC mills, laser cutters but also the electronic sensors and actuators and encourages amateurs to engage with these tools for DIY purposes. That said, the FabLab shouldn't be the ultimate delimiter for our scope, but it does provide a basic context, or maybe a starting point.  
David Gauntlett's picture

Hi ... this is all a very interesting conversation, and I'm just replying to one bit at this moment.

Re the elevator pitch -- thanks for this, Wouter. It's a good idea to develop a simple elevator pitch!

Here, it sounds like we don't exactly have a rationale ourselves, but we have adopted someone else's rationale (i.e. it's whatever you would typically find in a FabLab). But what I'd want to know is, what is the rationale for things being included in a FabLab (or not)?

And it would be nice to have an explanation that can be understood by people who don't necessarily already know what you'd find in a FabLab.

So, it's good to say that we are exploring "all those digital technologies that enable and empower DIY", but then we need a bit of extra explanation, which doesn't rely on FabLabs! 

David Gauntlett's picture


I'm a bit embarrassed that in my post yesterday, I was thinking that ABC meant 'atoms - bits conversion', which then got me confused. In fact of course, according to our own application, it means 'atoms - bits convergence'.

Nevertheless, this proves the point I've made my whole life (!) about how using unfamiliar acronymns is not helpful (!).

And I'm still interested in where this comes from -- if we made it up, that's fine, but I'm curious -- and the question about how Arduino fits. I can see that digital data (bits) can be loaded into Arduino machines (atoms) which then do things in the physical world ... but then that's also a description of, say, a computer printer, which most of us have owned for decades ...