Across America, in tech hubs from Silicon Valley to Silicon Alley, a curious new movement is taking shape: the Artisanal Internet. Young entrepreneurs dressed in denim overalls, plaid lumberjack shirts, rugged work boots and black-rimmed, non-prescription hipster glasses are attempting to return the tech sector to an earlier, less corporate era.
Unlike their Internet entrepreneur peers in tech hubs across the country, however, they are not rushing out to buy the latest high-tech gadgets or hanging out for hours in Apple retail stores in their free time. If anything, their purpose is more Foolish. They refer to their fellow employees as “artisans,” their products as “crops,” their offices as “farms” and they are hard at work at creating new technology products hand-crafted from natural materials in a way that is reminiscent of America's great past.
If there’s one individual who best epitomizes this nascent trend of the Artisanal Internet, it’s A. Preel Ful, an earnest twentysomething from Brooklyn with a wispy goatee who dresses for work each day in denim overalls and a t-shirt bearing the image of an 8-bit video game. Generally recognized as the creator of this movement, Mr. Ful refers to his Internet start-up — the Brooklyn Server Farm — as the first-ever farm-to-table company, and indeed, the entire layout of his office in Williamsburg resembles nothing so much as a miniature urban farm where tech products are raised in small batches before being harvested and brought to market. As if to underscore this point, Mr. Ful gestures to the back of the office with a knowing glance where the “server farm” resides and racks of wires are being “sun-ripened on the vine” along exposed brick walls lit by artisanal light bulbs.
This trend toward the Artisanal Internet is best thought of as a cross between the urban farming movement embraced by hipsters and the DIY “Maker Movement” that is starting to sweep through the tech hobbyist landscape. Now that new tools such as 3D printers are entering the mainstream, the Artisanal Internet has started to resonate with designers and craftsmen. Rather than buy bright, shiny tech gadgets manufactured in massive factories outside of the U.S., they prefer to buy their products from local craftsman who design and create their tech products from scratch using all-natural materials. They are even manufacturing small batches of tablets made from materials such as reclaimed wood, which gives their products a distinctive look compared to the shiny black and white tablets of today.
While there are only pockets of the Artisanal Internet that have formed so far, the movement is accelerating in places like Austin, Brooklyn and, of course, Portland. Young tech workers are re-designing their urban studio lofts to resemble rural barns, trading in their J. Crew Ludlow Suits for denim overalls, and toting growlers to work rather than water bottles. If you listen carefully in the background of your office, it might just be possible to hear the slow rumble of a tractor over the din of noisy taxicab horns honking outside.
Indeed, there is something wonderfully retro about the Artisanal Internet. In an era of vintage Hipstamatic filters, an obsession with 8 bit video games, and antique-looking tablet covers, the return to the crafts era of American manufacturing in the tech sector is perhaps to be expected. While lounging around during breaks, eating their artisanal cheeses and charcuterie, is it Foolish to think that people would not also want their artisanal tech products as well?
Editor’s Note: This post is a satire in celebration of April Fool’s Day.
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