Note: This is a op-ed blended with personal narrative. It’s unapologetically 3200 words. I welcome your views and comments to further the conversation.
1. Are You a Punk or Outlaw?
The DIY movement has its roots in home improvement – decades before Home Depot made it vogue and cheap. But its more current currency has rougher roots. For over thirty years, DIY has come to mean
- doing something without the need of professionals or experts
- doing something outside and without the need of institutional support or validation
DIYbio is a good example of how people are learning biology and how to conduct biology experiments of their own without university or government support.
DIY Rocketeers are another example of people who aim to reach outer space without NASA.
DIY at its best has the spirit to empower people who feel on the fringes and disenfranchised. Imagine a young Patti Smith amping up in London, 1976. Unbridled, rough, raucous, she belted out spontaneously to the “mob of hapless kids” questions like, “Do you feel frustrated? Do you feel like a loser?”(1) What became tagged as punk rock – and later alternative rock like it – had at its core the drive to buck the music industry machine – not unlike, for country and western fans, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson starting their “outlaw country” movement several years before Patti Smith’s London performance.
Punks and outlaws form the original spirit of the contemporary DIY movement.
Most creatives and entrepreneurs reading this piece might or might not think of themselves as punks or outlaws. Yet they might, quietly, feel frustrated and cast on the outside of this digital world abuzz with promises of glory, hardwired happiness, and badass creativity. If anything roils their middle-aged heads, it’s this peculiar online and cultural conversation that is the latest iteration of the DIY Story.
At its best, this latest act of the DIY Story has empowerment at heart. To empower people to educate themselves, hone their own skills, and create for themselves without necessarily having to rely upon paying experts, attaining a formal education, or thriving by receiving a field’s institutional approval.
No more hoop-jumping. No more gate-keeper passing. Assume the Nike ethos, and Just Do It Yourself.
Want to make art? JDIY.
Want to write, design, and publish a book? JDIY.
Want a website? JDIY.
Want to start a business? JDIY.
But taken the wrong way, this version of the DIY Story actually can turn out to be ironically expensive, frustrating, and self-limiting. [click to continue…]