Activism Comment

The Power of We: the revolution will made in a kitchen somewhere

I’m a great fan of kitchen-tivism (kitchtivism?) – and by that I mean the engineers who tinker away in their kitchens to come up with solutions to various problems.

kitchen-tivism isn’t a particularly new concept – it’s been around since the dawn of modern science. One such early inventor is the astronomer Herschel who made reflecting telescope mirrors in his kitchen, and perfected a process which enabled him to measure the distance between stars, discover Uranus, and for his sister to become a celebrated hunter of comets and pioneer female scientist. You can visit the site of Herschel’s kitchen today and even see the cracked paving stones which resulted from an early failed attempt to cast mirrors in lead – the molten mixture poured over the floor and shattered the stone beneath.

Shedtivism in action: Herschels mirror polisher
Kitchtivism in action: Herschel’s mirror polisher

There are many stories of such kitchtivists – people like the Reverend Stirling, who out of concern for his parishioners developed a hot air steam engine which worked at a much lower (and safer pressure). Perhaps not all of them created their works in kitchens – some used sheds, but you get the idea.

What perhaps is different now from the past, is that where before kitchtivists worked in isolation, often replicating work or encountering problems which were insurmountable on their own, today kitchtivists have the wonderful invention that is the internet to connect them with other activists around the world. Part of the success of the world wide web is the sharing of ideas – at no cost – and without boundaries. Experts and amateurs alike can pool ideas, and create technological mashups which combine bits of experience from a wide field of people.

Take for instance Frontline SMS – a handy bit of software which connects mobile phones with the internet, which was written by Ken Banks over five weeks on the laptop in his kitchen. In keeping with the spirit of the internet he gave Frontline SMS away.

“I made it a generic communications platform that could be used for almost anything, and I made it free.”

Frontline SMS was originally developed to help help South Africa’s Kruger National Park communicate and engage with its neighbouring communities – but since it’s inception it’s been used from earthquake survival information to providing radio shows with feedback via text from their listeners. The most notable Frontline SMS mashup being the Kenyan based Ushahidi – originally created to map post election conflict in Kenya, now being used anywhere map based tracking is needed.

There are many other examples – from the open source Arduino, to the Raspberry Pi teaching computer (created in their spare time by concerned computer science lecturers) – all demonstrating that the spirit of entrepreneurial experimentation made famous by the victorian pioneers is alive and well today.

The potential for the web – still a relatively young invention to not only mobilise activists on a global scale – but to potentially provide new solutions, ideas and technologies that are just given away for free is truly mind-boggling.

I for one are looking forward to the new and exciting technologies that kitchtivists are working on – and am certain that the next revolution will probably be made on kitchen table somewhere.

This was a post for Blog Action Day 2012.