DiDIY: An Interview with Marco Fioretti

by Stefano Serafini

Our friend Marco Fioretti is a former electronic engineer with much more interest in the ethical implications of Free Software than in coding. He focuses on the impact that open digital standards and Free Software have and may have on both society and environmental issues since the 90’s, and his mantra is: “Your civil rights and the quality of your life depend on how software is used around you”. Among other things, he is a board member of the Free Knowledge Institute, which is currently running an EU Horizon 2020 research project along with six other organizations from Italy, United Kingdom, and Greece on the spread of bottom-up digital knowledge and skills – the DiDIY Project.

Marco, what is the DiDIY Project?

DiDIY stands for “Digital Do-It-Yourself”. The DiDIY Project is an international Research Project in the Horizon 2020 programme, led by an international Consortium of seven partners. I participate as a member of the Free Knowledge Institute.

What does Digital DIY mean?

Don’t ask me for a complete definition of Digital DIY, please. Not now anyway. That is a really hard question to answer, and in fact arriving to such a definition is one of the goals of our project.

By now we can say that digital DIY has to do at the same time with digital devices supporting the convergence of physical and informational components, and with the accessibility of the related knowledge and data through open online communities. It is a phenomenon that brings together new mindsets and activities.

Come on… are you talking about the hipsters’ Holy Grail, the 3D-printers?

Much more. 3D printing is great, really, but yes, you are right, it’s being a bit hyped by mass media, and it steals too much the scene. Other Digital DIY technologies based on the same principles and practices in all fields, from carpentry to knitting, may be much more relevant for many people.

Isn’t digital DIY a merely technical issues?

Not at all! Of course, digital DIY involves and relies on digital and other advanced technologies. But we start from the assumption that digital DIY is above all a social and cultural phenomenon. It is leading to the emergence of new scenarios in the roles and relations among individuals, organizations, and society. If you look at it that way, digital DIY should be addressed, driven, and shaped by social and cultural strategies, not by technology.

This is why our project is financed by the Horizon 2020 programme for a “Human-Centric digital age”. Our objectives include production of information, models, and guidelines to support both education and policy making on digital DIY for every sector of society.

Give us an example, please. How digital DIY is relevant for the urban issues we care about?

The way I see it, biourbanism is about making the places we inhabit worth living thanks to sustainable, small-scale and self-organized actions (urban acupunture, right?); and those actions take into accounts all sides of human life. If that is the case, sooner or later most biourbanists should end up adopting many important components and practices of digital DIY, from Free Software to community mapping, Open Hardware, Repair Culture, and Tool Libraries, to name just a few. They won’t be able to avoid them even if they would like to.

Besides, the guidelines that we aim to produce should also include practical recommendations on how to minimize legal and bureaucratic obstacles to digital DIY. Those are big barriers for any adopter of digital DIY nowadays. Especially if those adopters are potential users of biourbanism, i.e. local public administrators, NGOs, and Small/Medium Enterprises. I recently elaborated on this in another interview.

Are you to evangelize biourbanists about digital DIY…?

I have the feeling that more than a few people who practice biourbanism today do it very well, but don’t know yet all the potential of digital DIY. I also wonder if they know about the opportunity of DIY at all. I may be very wrong, though, and it would be great! Biourbanists who already use digital DIY are warmly invited to let us know about their experience through our DiDIY resource form. Of course, we are at your disposal for more discussion on these topics, and to present both digital DIY and our own results, as we go along with the Project.

Thank you Marco. As you know self-building, p2p urbanism, and third generation cities are among the topics of our research since the beginning, and we share with you a critical approach to tech-centered recipes. You will be surely happy to get in touch with our team working on Smart cities and E-democracy under the direction of Prof. M.T. Vinod Kumar.

I will for sure. Technology is never the answer, but an ethical response to technology implies riding it, and riding it for the well. This is, as far as I am concerned, the main value of the DiDIY project. I expect relevant results from it, maybe not in terms of showy output, but of cultural and social activism seeds.