When we started talking about Shanzhai and the maker culture in China, we got the chance to discuss the role it has in fostering creativity and advancing technology in China. A couple of days afterwards, I remembered an article I came across about a phone that you can build yourself assembling its pieces as you want them. The idea originally came from the Dutch designer Dave Hakkens, who wanted to reduce the amount of electronic waste in the world by making sure that people could upgrade/get rid of only the parts that were outdated/deteriorated. Hakkens explains on the project’s website that he wants this new generation of phone to be developed and created by a group of cellphone companies and a community made up of fans of the idea. This led to many companies starting to develop and build their own version of this potential next generation of cellphone. The most famous one being carried out is the project Ara, by Google/Motorola, and in this video, you can see the first prototype of the product. The idea behind phoneblocks is not only to reduce E-waste, but also enable the consumers to be more creative and be able to personalize their phones to fit their needs and preferences. The consumer is hence less restricted by the company’s product. The Phoneblocks team explain this concept even better in this detailed video from their website. They want to go even further and apply this modularity to all technologies, ranging from cellphones to laptops and washing machines.
This relates so much to the discussion we had in class concerning the Shanzhai and the maker culture in China, particularly to the discussion we had after watching the short video by MIT about this market in China. Indeed, one of the many points touched was the fact that the big phone companies around the world are not giving room to their consumers to personalize their own cellphones and define the features according to their needs. The video shows the market with unique phones that you usually do not have the chance to see in the world market (phones that can help charge other phones or ones with lights). This discussion also led to the fact that we, as consumers, do not have the chance to be creative and innovative with products such as phones or computers. We are less and less likely to become “makers” because we are so used to just buying them and adapting to their features.
The existence of this “community” in the making of the Phoneblocks also shares a great feature with Shanzhai and the maker culture; the gathering of a group of people with different ideas and skills who are free to develop their own versions of a technology.
It is very exciting to see the development of such a concept that is not only environmentally friendly, but will enable us to have more freedom over our technological products and make them fit our needs. It is also very impressive to see it coming from a Dutch designer and developed by groups of people from all over the world.