Chief Technology Officer, The Fonly Institute
Lee Felsenstein, a player in the personal computer revolution, examines the maker movement as it exists to date and how it maps to various revolutions in which he was a participant. He examines (briefly) how this movement fits into larger trends and directions of the relationship between society and technology.
Born in 1945, Lee Felsenstein began learning electronics at the age of 11 and operated a TV repair business when he was 17. He entered the University of California at Berkeley in 1963 to study electrical engineering and joined the Co-op Work-Study Program in Engineering in 1964. Being swept up that year in the Free Speech Movement, Lee tried to find ways to apply his technical skills to the requirements of this unexpected eruption of community, setting out on a path that led to an understanding (by 1970) of the importance of widely-available computer networks to the process of social change. He soon fell in with others who had reached similar conclusions and helped to set up Community Memory, the first publicly available social network system. Understanding the necessity of accessible computer hardware, Lee self-published a specification for a modular, upwardly-expandable hardware system he called the "Tom Swift Terminal" in 1974, laying out the details of the shared-memory display architecture that has become the defining standard for personal computers. In 1975 he designed the first alphanumeric video display device of S-100 computers, followed by the Sol-20 personal computer in 1976 and the Pennywhistle-103 kit modem (designed in 1973 as part of Community Memory). These were followed in 1981 by the Osborne-1 portable computer and in 1991 by "Red" - a wearable computer with heads-up display and a CD-ROM (not commercially produced). Lee has been a continuous explorer and creator of new technological tools - in 2003 he developed and attempted to install (unsuccessfully) a wireless-linked VOIP computer system for remote villages in Laos - this led to the formation of Inveneo, a successful nonprofit that builds and installs such systems in the developing world. Lee has been honored as a Pioneer of the ELectronic Frontier in 1994, as a Fellow of the Tech Museum of Innovation in 2003, and with the Editor's Choice Award from EE TImes magazine in 2007. He operates a contract electronic product development firm in Palo Alto and is married to Lena Diethelm.