Cory Doctorow (craphound.com) laments in vol. 02 of Make that computer companies and content owners have sold us down the river... that Digital Rights Management (DRM) is driving out innovation, making impossible or illegal the sort of hacking that was a mainstay of engineering creativity for past generations of engineers. Are standards meetings the new smoke-filled rooms where our lives are legislated to the benefit of Big Capital? Well, sure. Unenlightened self-interest is the default setting.
New publications such as Make suggest that such fears are not entirely unopposed however. A hip Popular Mechanics, Make tells you how to hack your couch, turn an old mouse into a robot, resurrect old amplifiers, and become your own Podcaster.
O'Reilly obviously thinks there is a solid market for this sort of stuff. And on his website, Cory himself lists sessions he will attend at Interaction, the upcoming Sci-Fi conference in Glasgow:
You've Plugged _What_ into It? Hardware Hacking is an increasingly popular pastime. Also the advent of computer control has revolutionised many hobbies, e.g. amateur astrophotography. (with Martin Hoare amd Jordin Kare)
So which is it? Are we increasingly lobotomized slaves of consumerism or budding innovators? Both, of course. If television has replaced religion as the opiate of the masses, it (TV) is at least more diverse than the three-network world of our childhoods. Innovation has put in the hands of regular people the means of media production, and some of that creativity is making its way into The Commons (cf npr: Cable CHannel looks to 'Democratize' TV).
Some of us will always want to just watch. Some of us can't suppress the need to create. Most of us have a bit of both. Creativity will out. Its too early to count out innovation.