Tuesday, September 06, 2005

DIY & Potatoes

DIY -- A Plate of Delicious Sliced Potatoes
Gao Mingxin

Another person has come to Zhongguancun. In the blink of a eye, he has bought a screwdriver. A few hours later, he has collected a CPU, a monitor, memory and other Zhongguancun “specialties” to take back home. This is “DIY” a newly fashionable phrase in the Village (Zhongguancun’s nickname). Put simply, DIY (“do-it-yourself”) is a three-way contest between a screwdriver, a computer case, and a monitor. “Cultured people” in the Village explain the phrase this way: “DIY is directly oriented to a large number of users. DIY assembly is the bridge between users and component sellers. DIY is the delight of component manufacturers; DIY is the scourge of complete system manufactures.”

A few days ago, the computer industry branch of the Beijing Electronics Merchant Association united with several dozen Zhongguancun brand-name computer manufacturers to present the government with a report. In the report, the licensed, brand-name manufacturers expressed outrage -- how is it that any Tom, Dick, and Harry can make computer assembly into a puzzle game? The report showed that the DIY market is in chaos: some DIY-ers are not licensed but still assemble computers at large scales. This phenomenon should be clamped down upon, the report recommended. There is no quality assurance for DIY products without licenses, and the safety of products is suspect.

Although the word DIY is of recent origin, the history of assembling computers in the Village is a long one. To learn how to eat sliced potatoes with vinegar and sugar, is it necessary to learn how to DIY potatoes? No, and yet many people who use computers start to learn about them from DIY. If a citizen wants to start work but has no abilities, he/she is not even given a chance to DIY a wooden stool in middle school crafts class. But if one’s dream is to use a computer -- starting an information revolution in the household -- one can actually use this passion to DIY computers. Part of the motivation for DIY comes from the simple fact that a portion of price goes to software makers; another portion goes to workers at the computer company. Men and women of the world prefer to grasp their pocketbooks tightly. Even if the memory strip doesn’t exactly fit in the motherboard, it is of little consequence -- take it and your screwdriver back to Zhongguancun.

In practice, those who can DIY potatoes but not computers need not worry since there are specialists in Zhongguancun’s electronics markets who DIY machines just like putting together a puzzle -- sticking together the different pieces and finishing within an hour. For the thousands of computer market counters, DIY is a Zhongguancun specialty. But the happiness of this bunch has become the worry of that bunch. The DIY business makes brand name manufacturers furrow their brows. With the appearance of licenses, brand names are more authentic and trustworthy. As the Chinese proverb foretells, “the army of the emperor will always defeat a lesser known army.” But history has shown that Li Zicheng still was able to occupy Beijing. The DIY-ers in the present component market are still riding high. “On Sunday’s, individual computer assemblers resemble a rushing stream -- they encircle the display areas of dozens of manufactures. In one day, every manufacturer has revenues over 100,000 yuan.” If everyone’s bowls were full, there would be no starving people suffering from famine. Isn’t it a good thing that everyone can enjoy DIY?

Demand has freed the market, so limiting DIY will not work. The debate over DIY does not boil down to a simple statement, nor is it a fundamental problem. DIY has real significance for the formation of the market and for rules of the market. DIY has relative standards that are based on price. Just as some people wear alligator skin shoes purchased from a store, others wear handmade vagabond shoes: it is not a question of whether or not your toes are comfortable -- price is the decisive factor. It is said that DIY products lack quality assurance. That is indisputable. Alligator skin shoes are more durable than vagabond shoes. But, as there are no DIY aircraft carriers, and no DIY B-52 bombers, there is little reason to fear.

10-20% of the U.S. computer market is personal or professional DIY assembled computers. But foreign DIY shows that red-hot demand centers on quality -- people who put a computer case together with a monitor suffer the scorn of experts. The originality of DIY comes from the pleasure of using one’s own hands in the process. If DIY creates a plate of delicious sliced potatoes but at the same time leads to conflict in the household, then losses outweigh gains.

Translated and edited by Tyler Rooker on September 6, 2005 for

Copyright help by original author


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