Recent innovations in materials and processes have radically changed how stuff is made. There’s not much talk, though, about how stuff is un-made. At best, we ship our old electronics off to the manufacturer and forget about them. What happens next is often a process that’s messy enough to make sausage-making look pretty.
If we want to innovate sustainably, we’re going to have to close the loop on how we un-make the remains of earlier innovation cycles. That’s not happening as well as it could now. Part of the reason this happens, I suspect, is because the fabrication of new technologies is proprietary information, and therefore recyclers don’t know how to un-make stuff safely and cost effectively. They have to trade off one for the other. But what if electronics came with a list of ingredients, so that recyclers could safely and cost-effectively un-make things? What if all the plans for making a thing were online, so that you knew how it was made, and how to un-make it?
Open source hardware is still in its infancy, and it’s mostly happening at the hobbyist and small business level. But that could change. There’s a spectrum to what open hardware and open fabrication could mean. Done right, it could have a positive effect on both our environment and our profits.
In this talk, I’ll lay out the problem of how we un-make things is currently affecting the environment, and suggest some practical models for making things that could change that for the better.
Tom Igoe teaches courses in physical computing and networking, exploring ways to allow digital technologies to sense and respond to a wider range of human physical expression. Coming from a background in theatre, his work has centered on physical interaction related to live performance and public space. His current research focuses on ecologically sustainable practices in technology development. He is the author of two books, “Making Things Talk: Practical Methods for Connecting Physical Objects,” and with Dan O’Sullivan, “Physical Computing: Sensing and Controlling the Physical World with Computers,” which has been adopted by numerous digital art and design programs around the world. Projects include a series of networked banquet table centerpieces and musical instruments; an email clock; and a series of interactive dioramas, created in collaboration with M.R. Petit. He has consulted for The American Museum of the Moving Image, EAR Studio, Diller + Scofidio Architects, Eos Orchestra, and others. He is a contributor to MAKE magazine and a collaborator on the Arduino open source microcontroller project. He hopes someday to work with monkeys, as well.