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RE: I had an Arduino evening | A conversation about DIY

Subject: I had an Arduino evening
From: Asako
To: Cindy

Hooray, my Arduino did the blinking!!
and the light turned on when button is pressed!
and it turned on when the button is NOT pressed!
and it blinked very rapidly and then slowly when the button is pressed!
I’m very impressed about this and proud! It was fun! Thanks for giving me the opportunity to feel this way.


Subject: RE: I had an Arduino evening
From: Cindy
To: Asako

No, thank YOU for the inspiration!

I love DIY
and my favourite part
is doing-it-myself
connect. upload. blink!
I’ve challenged a new part of me!
with a cable and LED in my hands
not for utility
but for autonomy
in an unlikely capitalist backdrop
In the fringes of the DIY world
I play
But in periphery
I will stay
DIY electronics
a double-edged sword
empowering – me
but harvesting us all


So here is my qualm about the DIY movement, especially the DIY electronics movement: simply put, there two groups of people involved and their approaches are in tension:

a) the backers, pushing for DIY electronics with an enthusiastically overpowering vocal support for activities revolving around citizen sensing, Hack Days, the Internet of Things, the Quantified Self, etc., and
b) emerging groups of DIY ‘tryers’ who look to explore the world in their own terms.

The rhetoric of the first group has a strong focus on the media itself (DIY electronics), on connectivity, efficiency and ease, as well as on the power of the individual to change that world. However, in practice, supporters of this group organize their own selective and exclusive groups or communities with specialized language and methods, which often subvert the interests of ‘tryers’ and even alienates them – as has been the case with some Citizens without Borders* members.

There is little evidence supporting the existence of the second group, the ‘tryers’, if such a group can be generalised. However, from experience, these groups are characterized by a less organized environment, with little or no rhetoric, and hence, more leeway to try and make mistakes. I relate this group with Citizens without Borders, where there seems to be a strong sense of ‘safe community’, where no single medium is favoured over another (because media are not the focus), and where exposing our vulnerabilities becomes a part of the process of learning and sharing, and of building communities based on trust and understanding. For example, lack of knowledge of electronics, or art, or math, become motivators for self- or group-improvement. As one of the members shared with us “I had not done art in 60 years! When I was six years old, I was discouraged by my teacher who said, of a sculpture I had made and of which I was very proud of, that it was rubbish. So here in these playshops* I’ve been able to overcome that and even go beyond what I could imagine!”

In his “myth of amateur crowds” article Daren Brabham (2012) alludes to a tension between practice and promise. He would say the first group would be mostly comprised of “self-selected professionals and experts who opt-in to crowdsourcing arrangements” and that in fact the DIY electronics world is not an altruistic feel-good hobby: “large amounts of real work and expert knowledge are exerted by crowds for relatively little reward and to serve the profit motives of companies”. We try out Arduino and apps on our mobile devices and take part in activities to collect data. In some cases this data is harvested without our knowing, it is then sold to third parties, and then it is sold back to us. This is not new and it happens all the time with other products and services but they do not come with a façade, a constructed promise…

There is tension between the way the ‘Hacker- and Maker-culture’ has been marketed and the way it is practised. In the case of organised DIY electronic movements (focused around gadgets), like the Air Quality Egg and the Quantified Self, there is a hijacking of concepts, a strong borrowing and objectifying of the idea of ‘power to the citizen’ and people’s desires (for empowerment, novelty, freedom). These are then manipulated, reframed, and commodified in the market economy “bringing DIY electronics to the masses!” (WIRED magazine, 2012), but blind to questioning power for what and by which citizens?

Do we need to stay in the fringes to not get absorbed by commodification of the DIY, Hacker, and Maker cultures? Or can we create our own alternative? If we do prototype alternatives will they have continuity and will they be ‘immune’ to the above?


Subject: RE: I had an Arduino evening
From: Asako
To: Cindy

For my next step with my Arduino, I’m thinking about making a thermometer with the lights I’ve got in the box you gave me. Like, say, if it’s over 24c then 2 red lights will turn on! If it’s between 22-23c 1 red, if it’s between 19-21c 1 red and 1 green, if it’s below 18c… well you know! I haven’t figured out how I can do this yet, but I think it’s doable, no?

As for the earlier email (or in the blog), yes, as you may guess, I definitely relate myself more with the second group. I’m not very interested in media or connecting with other people through any particular kinds of media (or objects of any kinds). Nor is it so much about a struggle against consumerism or capitalism… For me, it’s more about exploring our own paradigm. Or more precisely it’s about realization of our dogma of self-categorization and our own capacity of going beyond this. This dogma constantly remind us to ‘know our place’ and ‘assign ourselves to where each of us belong’ in various spheres of life. This prevents us from trying, appreciating and realising beauty in many things. What is really fantastic about realising own capacity of going beyond this is not only its being such a powerfully exhilarating experience, but its infectiousness. So it doesn’t stop at the place where it enables us to overcome imagined allergy to electronic technologies (or art, or music or dancing) but it infects other areas of our life through getting us more open, explorative and interested in our selves, other humans and creatures. That includes simply making more eye contacts (or more scratching and stroking if they are dogs or cats!), or saying if s/he is ok when seeing someone is quietly crying on a bus or talking to homeless people (rather than, being in tune with the dogma, thinking they’d be taken care of by ‘public authority’ and not ‘our area to deal with’).

I don’t think I directly responded to your qualm, but this is what I’ve been feeling through Arduino.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In Citizens without Borders playshops we’ve engaged in both the exploration and research of ourselves and our environment. We use Arduino micro-controllers to build electronic sensing equipment for some activities and repurposed materials to create artwork in others. We collect both qualitative and quantitative data with the aim of putting into perspective how we perceive and relate to ourselves, the world, and to the tools we use in our everyday life.

Brabham, D. C. (2012). the Myth of Amateur CrowdsInformation Communication Society15(3), 394–410. doi:10.1080/1369118X.2011.641991

Ceceri, K. (2012, November). SparkFun’s Kickstarter Aims to Bring DIY Electronics to the MassesWired Magazine, 2. Retrieved from


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