The BBC reports today a great illustration of human creativity and the intersection of technology and subsidiarity. MIT has set up what they called Fab Labs (Fabrication Labs) in what many might consider the least likely places for technological invention. These Labs consist of basic tools and software than enable people in sometimes remote and rural locations to invent and fabricate the technology they need in their daily work. MIT professor Neil Gershenfeld:

In a world of Fab Labs, you can think about the other five and a half billion brains on the planet not just as potential consumers, but as creators, as inventors. Creation itself can become much more distributed, and you can bring not information technology, but IT development to the masses. You can close what you might think of as a fabrication divide.

Can you hear me now? Gooood.

These Fabs Labs are being used in small communites around the world to create a myriad of practical tools such as a Fu-Fu pounder in Ghana (fu-fu is a dish in Ghana…read the article), a tester for bad milk in India, and a sheep tracker north of the Arctic circle. MIT set up one of these Fab Labs in the barn of sheep farmer Haakon Karlsen. He used the parts and software in the Lab to create a custom GPS sheep tracking device out of cell phones. The trackers help him find his sheep in the dark, track their movement, and even tells him the temperature wherever the sheep happen to be.

Local governments are scrambling to get their hands on these labs, hoping that they will engender a spirit of local inventiveness and will “enable…entrepreneurs and engineers alike to test their ideas, and ‘fast track the process of growth and development.’”

Gershenfeld speculates about the reason for the success of these labs and

thinks that, more fundamentally, the idea of personal or small-group fabrication has tapped into the primal need that some people have to create things, to modify the world in which they live.

I don’t know that I approve of the word ‘primal’, as this word suggests ‘chronological snobbery’. However, replace ‘primal’ with ‘essentially human’ and I think he’s got something here. Consider these words from John Paul II:

…the earth does not yield its fruits without a particular human response to God’s gift, that is to say, without work. It is through work that man, using his intelligence and exercising his freedom, succeeds in dominating the earth and making it a fitting home.

Of course these Fab Labs are thriving. Creativity, problem-solving, inventiveness: these are some of the qualities that define us as humans. We are essentially entrepreneurial beings.
This is not a new idea. Thank God some are rediscovering it.