Welcome, dear reader, to an online conversation about open source fibre processing technology. This is something which I think should be of interest to a range of hobby or small-scale commercial workers involved in any of the steps of processing some sort of fibre into a useful product, such as clothing.
For thousands of years, humankind has processed a range of natural fibers, some of the main ones being wool, linen, cotton and silk, using the best available technology and processes of the time. A range of different steps in the process have given rise to many specialist occupations, and also to many unique machines.
Up until the beginning of the industrial revolution, improvements in the processes and tools used to prepare fibre products were typically shared directly from the innovator to other fibre workers. The tools used during this period were typically the product of many small refinements added by generations of workers who used these tools regularly to provide all or part of their livelihoods.
With the industrial revolution came technologies which would change the face of fibre processing, and entire society it clothed. For the first time, intellectual property laws were used to try and keep these advances in the hands of relatively few, and so the new fibre machines, while greatly increasing the wealth of the civilisation which possessed them, tended to concentrate these riches in the hands of powerful industralists and textile mill owners while at the same time impoverishing the thousands of cottage industry fibre workers.
This social inequality led to great unrest and hatred of the machines themselves, as evidenced by the luddites and many other groups of “machine breakers”. This blog, however, is not anti-technology, but is instead here to investigate the potential advantages to putting the technology back to work in the hands of the people.
What is Open Source Technology?
The term “Open Source” means a free and open design. The term comes from the computer software industry, where the “source code” is the design of a computer program. If you have the source code, you can change the program and make it work for you in a new way. In building a movement around this approach, computer programers discovered that there were many benefits to collaborating with others around the world on the design of their programs, and in fact doing so created better products and was totally compatible with their ability to make money doing so, even though they were giving the design away for free.
It is only relatively recently that these same open source philosophies have been applied to physical devices, hardware rather than software, although it could certainly be argued that this isn’t a new idea, but is in fact the normal way that human ingenuity worked aside from the last 250 years or so. That may be true, but we now have some advantages that the artisans of the middle ages didn’t have when designing technology.
The foremost of these is rapid global communication. Through the internet, experts in a field can collaborate on their technology in a way that was never possible before. Ideas and designs can be disseminated and tried out very rapidly. It certainly seems that if we hand to re-design all the fibre machines invented during the industrial revolution, starting at about 1750 AD, then we could do so in a lot less than 260 years, given our ability to communicate and share so effectively.
That may be a good thing, as it’s the contention of this blog that we should indeed redesign some of these machines, but with new design goals which will be discussed here in more details. Don’t forget that many machines of this period were designed with only one goal, to maximise efficiency so that more product could be produced with less people. Other possible goals, such as creating a safe and happy work environment, providing broad employment, creating more beautiful products, enabling the very poor to build wealth, and so on could all be considered when re-designing these machines as part of the open source revolution.
I believe that there are a range of possibilities for machines less efficient than those used by industry, but more understandable and useable by more people, particularly hobbiest and cottage industry producers. The key to this is to build a solid foundation of free and open designs that others can build upon. These designs, due to their very open nature, will actually become move valuable than proprietary non open source designs, because everyone who builds or buys an open source fibre processing machine will be able to take advantage of a global community of support, including ideas for open source accessories, design improvements, and usage hints.
Join in the open source technology revolution. No politics required, lets just build some great machines for our own needs, share them with others, and see the magic that happens when enough people start doing it.