"It's not like everyone who does DIY is a communist!" - Instructables in the Financial Times
Eric Wilhelm was studying for his PhD in mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2000 when he decided that he needed an athletic pursuit. So he took up kite surfing, a sport that was then in its infancy.
Because kite surfing was so new, there were no established manufacturers producing reliable equipment. So Mr Wilhelm decided to make his own. He began sewing kites from rip-stop nylon and crafting boards from plywood. "It's a perfect sport for an engineer," he says. "You can build all your own gear."
Mr Wilhelm posted instructions and pictures of his craftsmanship on his personal web page. It soon gained a following, and readers e-mailed to ask where they could find documentation of similar projects.
The website evolved into Instructables, a San Francisco-based portal, and Mr Wilhelm is its chief executive. The business employs 10 and registers 5m unique visitors a month. The site, Mr Wilhelm explains, serves as a sort of collective repository for creative types who want to show off their wares.
More broadly, Instructables is a symbol of the latest evolution of a do-it-yourself culture of invention that has been the lifeblood of California's Silicon Valley high-technology industry. Apple, Google and Hewlett-Packard are just three global companies that began with a couple of creative tinkerers experimenting in a garage.
But isn't there something incongruous in a profit-seeking marketplace for specialised goods that are supposed to be the antidote to big box shopping? Herein lies the paradox of the DIY tech ethos: much as it would like to escape the confines of the throwaway economy, it cannot exist too far outside consumer culture.
Mr Wilhelm of Instructables does not see a conflict. The DIY movement, he says, "is not anti-capitalist...It's a backlash against mass market. It's not like everyone who does DIY is a communist."
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