I have been thinking about the maker movement lately, where it started and where it is going. You frequently hear people talk about this subject, but I wanted to put a little different spin on it and look at it from a different point of view.
Even though making is all the rage, and there are a lot of makers out there nowadays, where did they all come from? Did they not exist before this time? First of all I really think they have always been around, but lets start with a basic assumption. Making is fun, and making is good, and the more people learning and building the better. We all benefit from innovation and that is exactly what is coming out of the movement. So where did it begin?
Well if we start at the beginning we have been making for millions of years, the birds may have built a few nests, but we have been building tools for more than 2 million years. So I think it is safe to say that it is in our culture and our DNA as much as anything can be. That seems to be the point, humans like to make things, we are active, bright and smart, and unlike other creatures on earth we are not satisfied to lie around on the grass and bask in the sun. I really love how active humans are and this new movement has some interesting characteristics that separate it from even the relatively recent movements related to human building and creativity.
We are not the first to want a more genuine connection with our food, furniture or surroundings. As recently as the 1970's there were twenty and thirty-somethings who began to reject a mass-produced disposable lifestyle in favor of relearning values of the past, while others were very enthusiastic about the new possibilities in computers and electronics. So on one hand you have Alice Waters, Fine Woodworking and Roy Underhill, and on the other you have teenagers and twenty-somethings like Steve Wozniak ordering computer kits from magazines all over the world trying to build the first personal computer and push the boundaries of what was possible.
This was making at its best, and this has only continued to the present. Those initial movements in the 1970's have really spread though. The idea of a greater personal connection to furniture and building and food has blossomed in people of all ages and skill levels, personalizing all the stuff around them. Lets not forget those initial computer tinkerers that have moved into bringing us Arduinos and Raspberry Pis, and the food deserts of the past have been replaced by the new farmers markets and organic fast-food.
There are of course differences today. Learning has become cheaper, even though education has become more and more expensive, knowledge has become cheaper. The structure around us has changed dramatically, and communication, mostly due to the web, smart phones and YouTube almost forces us to be makers. Sometimes this is just to keep up, sometimes it is because we must rely on ourselves, and sometimes we realize everyone else has become both a teacher and a competitor. Teaching has become so distributed that we are all both learners and teachers. Every blog post, video, or even tweet adds to the general knowledge which we all now have access to.
In the past knowledge was much more difficult to come by, so it was cloistered in associations, universities, trades and the like. Those keepers of knowledge often made it difficult for knowledge to come out into the open. But that is where it is now. That is why it is a revolution. Never before have the tools been cheaper and the knowledge been more available.
Not that everyone is equally enthusiastic. You can always detect this unhappiness when you hear about how experience is so important. If there is a danger to the maker movement, it is some kind of over-arching regulation that tries to institutionalize knowledge, but as long as we keep it free, there will be makers.
I have been referring to the innovation-related maker movement, but it is certainly broader than that. People don't just make things to innovate, they do so to save money, make money, express themselves, feel a sense of control over their environment and a lot of other reasons. I'll leave all that for another time, for now it seems to me that the future for this revolution looks bright and I am happy to be a part of it.
This will be the topic of my next Podcast, so let me know your thoughts.