One week ago I came back to Bari, to the Open Source School.
On July 23 the 2017 edition of XYZ co-designing workshop has begun, and will end this afternoon with the public presentation of the final outputs by the three working groups, respectively committed to:
- X Communication (typography, propaganda, UX, UI);
- Y Tools (alternative economies, IoT, DIY, open data analysis);
- Z Processes (debugging, hacking, governance, community).
This year I do not deal with teaching, as I did during XYZ2016, but I'm following - together with a 5 people team - the school communication and social management. An unusual role for me, which makes me challenge new problems. Again this time, I first experiment and then wonder about the path I undertook. Now I understand that it is my way to approach almost everything; maybe it's even my way of learning, I do not know.
That's why at the Open Source School I feel at home. This educational model works perfectly here.
On July 28 (I’m writing the date for a reason, which I will later say) I interviewed a special type, one with whom I officially had been friends for some time now. Maybe I should say that, more than an interview, we made a chat. In fact, that is how we have ideally followed a long, rather articulate, long ago-started speech that goes on and on in our respective time scraps.
Massimo Banzi is a very reserved but friendly person, with whom you can talk about everything. So far, we have never once touched the Arduino topic. It might sound incredible, but it is. Mr. Banzi is kept far enough away from our private conversations and I must say that this second side of the public figure is not bad, because it allows us to span also on another.
So it went for the interview.
The Open Source School pirates had left me some questions to ask him, but as I made the first, as soon as he started answering, I realized that the speech was taking us elsewhere. Fortunately (or unfortunately?) I'm not a journalist and I can allow myself to follow the flow of my interlocutor's thoughts without hitching it into a precise ladder.
What are you doing, Massimo? Define your business and the field you move in.
I trained as an interactive designer. I like to design tools that can turn technology into a creative tool and potentially within reach. Arduino is also that, in the sense that makes electronics simple and for everyone. I like to think that you can make accessible something that is actually complex.
You used the term "creative": can you give me a definition of the concept of creativity in your opinion?
For me it is creative who has an idea, a good idea, but not only. You also need the skill and tenacity to realize it.
Often, many people have great ideas they want to accomplish, but only a few succeed. Sometimes it simply happens because they have no way of freeing and developing their own creativity.
If there were more tools to implement this, if there was time and space to facilitate this process, there would be more people represented in the world.
Do you think creativity is an innate gift or is it built?
I believe that each of us is born by having and developing ideas, but then there are those who choose to develop them and who doesn’t. Here is also a world of thoughts about who is self-proclaimed “creative”: there are authentic idiots who think they are geniuses, and then there are talented people who do not even realize the potential they have and could develop and share.
Is there a way to help those who have a good idea to develop their own creativity?
The only way to change the world is education, in my opinion.
"The English term “education” describes this system much better, including the school but also all the contexts in which apparently non-formal (but fully effective) educational activities are developed"
I also think that role models are always needed, that is, people with strong evocative strength, positive models that inspire and draw to represent as many people as possible.
I think for example at Maker Faires: if a young girl comes and sees another girl who at that time presents an innovative project, the latest immediately represents a model for her because the identification process will be immediate.
Is education therefore a formal, a non-formal concept or both?
It's a combination of several factors, because no training venue can run out of all educational needs alone. Today I red about a guy who self-proclaimed a visionary, saying that the Khan Academy will revolutionize the concept of traditional school and will definitely scalfy it. Nothing more absurd. I believe that if there are no teachers who physically move to go to school, if there are no students who leave home in the morning to go to school, school wouldn’t exist.
Then I'm also convinced that there are places, physical and virtual, non-formal, where knowledge can still be developed. Informal contexts are ideal for developing projects effectively because they allow you to freely experiment. I think a lot in Project Based Learning, because in our own personal project we are interested in bringing the knowledge and the skills we have acquired in our training course.
If you had a son and lived in Italy, would you enroll him in a public school?
Yes, surely, because I think he should take time to deal with every kind of person. I attended a catholic private school with a selected social environment and a very selective educational system based on non-inclusive principles. Such an apparently protected place doesn’t help to prepare yourself to face the world: children and young people need to mix with people of different types and cultures to grow and learn.
What would you tell a boy or girl who decides to leave Italy (or to stay) to complete their study path?
In my opinion it is crucial to spend a period abroad because it is the only way to establish the right distance from Italy and to learn to look at it in perspective, to acquire a different, mature and conscious point of view. At high school I wanted to move abroad for a year but I didn’t have the chance; I did it later, years later, moving to London. It is an experience that has given me much, both on a human and professional level. In the 1940s my grandmother moved from Milan to Monza and a friends called her the "foreigner". Here, in Italy, we always have this image, the one that who goes abroad is the old-time emigrant, with his cardboard suitcase. Our brains produce ideas by treating things experienced throughout life; more experience, diversified, help to enrich our ideas and make them grow better: the product that comes out of your head and the material that it produces is also a mix of different disciplines and cultures.
What meaning you give to “Open Source”?
For me who live it in the context of technology, all artifacts come from projects with documentation on which any changes should be communicated and shared. In Italy, unfortunately, Open Source is an idea related to the concept of free content and who decides to release something in open source is considered basically a naive, a shameless, who throws away his job. But only because there is a context in which ideas are literally stolen or unrecognized with the due credit.
"Open Source works – and it works well – if there are rules. I can decide to share what I've done to the world and it is a right for others to accept shared rules"
Open Source works if there are responsible people who collaborate and respect each other, giving their own contribution.
For example, the science system works like this, scientists are accustomed to share the results of their studies with the international scientific community, which in turn adds new contributions. For me, to share in Open Source is important: I expect that those who use my project, once shared, use it to achieve something positive that can improve people's lives. Sharing also helps me to improve it and make it a common good.
How do you imagine an Open Source School?
Perhaps it is really possible to design an open source school with courses and educational materials available to be used and shared. Many people may contribute, though not enrolled or physically present during lessons or activities.
At the Interaction Design Institute of Ivrea, we used a similar model: every year we met with other teachers and pledged to redesign the activities together. I personally have always published all the material I was using and producing during the lessons and I am pleased that some people have inspired my courses to design new ones.
Many people point to you as one of the fathers of the making movement, what do you think of your "son"?
The making movement did not come from scratch; there’s always been people who learned technology on their own.
Then definition was born, which is declined in different ways depending on the places where it’s used.
"I joined this model because I wanted to create tools that would help people do things in a simple and accessible way"
At California Maker Faire today the driving force flattened and slowed down, with great disappointment by many of those who had joined since the beginning. At first we were a group of people with similar and shared ideas, with great respect for each other but, as is often the case, when a movement begins to widen with the participation of many people, an important market share also widens and increases the risk that people who abuse a genuine idea would enter.
At the moment I believe that the making movement might have the courage to make important changes and evolve.
The time available for our chat is over; a few hours later, as he had anticipated days ago without revealing what it was, Massimo tweets: https://twitter.com/mbanzi/status/890984661626880000
He has officially become the new President and CTO of Arduino, thus closing a long strike on the brand and perhaps even that strange concept of open source that just doesn’t seem to work.
The sun is still high on Bari, the cathedral is whitewashed. The alleyways of the old town are crawling with children, dialect discussions and “orecchiette” handmade at Arco Basso.
In a few hours I will leave back, bringing home the flavor and beauty of # XYZ2017.
Isolato 47, Old Town of Bari, August 1, 2017