Are You Sure You Own Your Stuff? Mr. Jalopy, a leader of the Maker Movement, pushes individuals and corporations to reconsider the meaning of ownership. The movement, which emphasizes fixing rather than discarding objects, is gathering steam across the country.
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Are You Sure You Own Your Stuff?

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Are You Sure You Own Your Stuff?

Are You Sure You Own Your Stuff?

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This is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.


I'm Alex Chadwick.

BRAND: Al you've been away for so long it's felt like centuries. We've started a summer series and it's called California Dreaming. Our blog is called Day Dreaming. Isn't that catchy?

CHADWICK: Yeah. Yes. Very good. OK.

BRAND: We've been looking at the faltering economy by examining how it affecting the California dream and, you know, many people think of California as this great place to escape the east coast, the cold.

CHADWICK: It is you know.

BRAND: It is. You did that. And settle down in a sprawling ranch style home in the burbs. But Californians are defaulting on their home loans and are spending hundreds of dollars filling up their gas tanks.

CHADWICK: Yeah, well still it is the place innovation and even optimism still, isn't it?

BRAND: It is and today on California Dreaming we are profiling an innovator and optimist. He goes by the name of Mr. Jalopy. Here's how he describes himself, mediocre welder, fair mechanic, and clumsy designer.

CHADWICK: That could be a lot of us.

BRAND: From his work shop in Los Angeles right off interstate five Mr. Jalopy is helping lead what's called the Makers' Movement. It's a trend that may transform the way we use the things we buy. NPR's Celeste Headlee has more.

CELESTE HEADLEE: Mr. Jalopy's garage is lined with cabinets filled with parts. An unimaginable number of widgets, wires and springs all carefully labeled and stored in case he needs them to fix a garage sale purchase. Over here is a station wagon that he's tricked out with Christmas lights and here is a polished wooden cabinet that he transformed into an MP3 player.

Mr. JALOPY (Innovator): I wanted to listen to a Dinah Washington song that I knew that I had on an album, and I thought, why should I keep buying the same music over and over again every time a new format comes out?

HEADLEE: So he took a beautiful art deco radio from 1940 or so, fitted it with an IPod and an LCD panel from an old computer monitor and then rewired the whole thing, so he could transfer his music from LPs to MP3s.

Mr. JALOPY: I've taken a portable iPod, made a giant iPod, eliminates all that mugging risk that they were talking about early on. Want to see the rest of Hoopy IC (ph)?

HEADLEE: Nearby is what he calls his urban gorilla movie theater. It's a sturdy wooden box mounted on a Schwinn adult tricycle.

Mr. JALOPY: Instead of bemoaning the end of the drive in movie theater in southern California. I decided to make my own drive-in movie theater, so that I can enjoy it with my friends.

HEADLEE: His theater travels anywhere and projects movies onto a 12 foot screen. Mr. Jalopy is a maker, a combination artist, tinkerer, and craftsman who's craft is inspired by what he finds at garage sales. Artist Nemo Gould is stirred by his discoveries at the San Francisco dump.

Mr. NEMO GOULD: Everything you've got in your home I've seen at the dump in any state of repair imaginable. Perhaps sealed in a box and brand new.

HEADLEE: Gould is a kinetic sculpture that makes robots and shiny sleek scooters out of discarded objects. He's also a maker, and both he and Jalopy are part of the growing maker's movement in California. Dale Doherty says it starts with simple questions.

Mr. DALE DOHERTY: What can I do with my first generation digital camera ,or second generation digital camera, or my first IPod? I mean, they're lying in a closet somewhere. I could do something interesting with them that it's part of the assets we have at hand. Why not use them somehow?

HEADLEE: And he says that leads to learning how to reuse and re-imagine objects you already own. Doherty is the editor of Make Magazine.

Mr. DOHERTY: On a really simple level, I think the maker movement is about - is sort of identifying yourself by the things that you make, and that could be dinner.

HEADLEE: But on a more complicated level, the maker's movement is about more than creating cool rockets or braided rugs. It's also a philosophical idea about what ownership really means. Mr. Jalopy defined this with a maker's bill of rights that he wrote in 2005, when he tried to replace the batteries in his IPod and found the case glued shut.

Mr. DOHERTY: If you're not able to open and replace the batteries of your IPod or replace the fuel center switch on your Chevy truck ,you don't really own it. The terms of ownership are still dictated by the company that assembled it and glued the iPod shut so that you couldn't get into it.

HEADLEE: The list of 17 directives includes, if it's snapped shut it shall snap open, and ease of repair shall be a designed ideal, not an afterthought. Nemo Gould says he wants to return to the days of the 1950s, when people kept things for years and didn't toss the out when they broke.

Mr. GOULD: A lot of average suburban men would have a medal lathe in their garage. That's something that you can't even conceive of today. But it was sort of common, oh well, if my lawnmower breaks I'll want to fix it, won't I?

HEADLEE: Although the maker's movement started with a few techno geeks artists and hobbyists, it's attracted thousands of people who never considered themselves handy. Bay area-based Make Magazine has a circulation of 110 thousand and a record 65,000 people waited in two hour traffic jams to get to the maker's fair, just outside of San Francisco.

Mr. JOSEPH LOPEZ (ACT Lab, University of Texas): There's a paradigm shift definitely occurring, but these are not paradigm shifts that have never occurred in societies.

HEADLEE: Joseph Lopez works at the ACT lab at the University of Texas where their entire purpose is to make stuff.

Mr. LOPEZ: You know in third world countries they do this all the time, you know, they have cars and they can't just go get the part from AutoZone. They have to just be creative and make it, and there's a whole culture behind making parts for your car that don't belong in your car.

HEADLEE: And while the makers mentality is spreading to mechanics in the U.S. Mr. Jalopy's philosophy has caught the attention of some major corporations. Jalopy has consulted with Disney, Apple and others preaching the gospel of open source manufacturing. He tells them to use screws instead of glue, to make schematics readily available. For technology companies, create forums for consumers to share ideas. For car companies sell patterns so people can make car seat covers. He says, it's about changing with the times.

Mr. JALOPY: You have to be ready for when your competition does open the doors and does start engaging with consumers in the way that they want to do business, because they're going to. And then you're going to have to figure out how to catch up.

HEADLEE: Jalopy says when a company engages with consumers, they get passionate advocates of their products. True believers that will give them free publicity and increase sales with very little effort. He says it's worked beautifully for Apple's iPod.

Mr. JALOPY: I'm sure there are other MP3 players out there, but who even knows what they are? Nobody even cares, because the true believers have made the iPods the brand that it is.

HEADLEE: And many of those true believers are driving the maker's movement. Mr. Jalopy says there's a real sense of satisfaction when you've made something yourself. When you've had an active hand in repairing, adopting, or transferring a broken egg timer into something useful.

Mr. JALOPY: In these objects that are out there in garage sales waiting for you right now. This Saturday, get up at seven o' clock, go out there and start looking for these objects, have already lived these incredible lives with people. These inspired objects that have caught sparks with the owners that had them.

HEADLEE: Jalopy says in the end, the maker's movement isn't so much about what you may find at some one's yard sale, as it is about becoming resourceful in developing a stronger relationship with the things that you own. Celeste Headlee NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: As the name suggests, Mr. Jalopy, he loves old cars and one of his favorites is a old yellow Camera (ph) he's called Sister Golden Hair Surprise. Well last week we asked you to send us a picture of your car and to tell us what it says about you. Go to our blog and check yourself out. You can also see Sister Golden Hair Surprise there. She's a beaut.

CHADWICK: This is what you've been doing?

BRAND: More to come on Day to Day.

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