What the hell even is a “maker?” I made myself a sandwich today for lunch, does that make ME a maker? Well, yes actually. A maker is quite simply defined as anyone who undertakes the project to make something and ends up, well, making something. And yet, the folks who make things have now suddenly been ascribed a new industrial revolution movement, and are touted as the future of entrepreneurship.
(Photo credit: http://flashgamer.com/arduino/comments/maker-faire-oslo)
“In an age of custom-fabricated, do-it-yourself product design and creation, the collective potential of a million garage tinkerers and enthusiasts is about to be unleashed, driving a resurgence of American manufacturing. A generation of ‘Makers’ using the Web’s innovation model will help drive the next big wave in the global economy, as the new technologies of digital design and rapid prototyping gives everyone the power to invent — creating ‘the long tail of things.’”
A lot of the focus in subsets of the maker movement is on robotics, drones, open source design and 3-D printing- some pretty sexy and disruptive product categories. So it all sounds justifiably exciting and worth paying attention to. What is it, then, about that term “maker” that bugs me but also excites me?
(Photo credit: http://www.houstonmakerfaire.com/)
My theory is its ties to the whole nouveau “back-to-the-land movement,” the hordes of hipsters making everything out of reclaimed wood, and the back-to-the-landers farming their parents’/aunt’s/uncle’s/grandparents’ property in the center of the country with no idea how to do it, and online craft markets like Etsy that hawk felt belts but really do more to supply websites like the now-defunct Regretsy.com (RIP) than they do to spur a new wing of the crafting movement. That is to say, this maker movement in some ways feels trendy, disingenuous and bandwagon-y. But there’s also a central core of people here who are doing great, innovative, exciting and disruptive things that really required the outlet, and that merit serious attention. Makers and their products can be twee and no longer novel, but they can also be admirable in that folks are eschewing intangible technologies and software in many instances, and going back to making things with their hands and/or, occasionally, they are fusing technology and old arts to create something new that is tangible and noteworthy.
I think it’s the tangibility that I really love about it, because I find myself constantly repeating that quote from “Pretty Woman,” [yes, go ahead, insert eye rolling here] in my head where the character of Edward (played by Richard Gere), disillusioned about the nature of his multi-million dollar business comments, “we don’t build anything, we don’t make anything.” I think this scene and these complaints were prescient. OK, that was going a step too far. But I do think that many people of my generation, ye old Gen X/Millennials, are finding that they are dissatisfied not building anything tangible on the job every day. There is a creative outlet itch that only gets scratched when working on a project where, at the end, the product is something useful, or visible, or three dimensional.
I’m thinking more than usual about this entire movement because this year we are considering introducing a new Makerspace at one of our events in January, tying it into the very closely implicated world of supply chain. Part of the motivation here is to integrate a youthful cultural phenomenon that has a significant output our audience needs to be engaged with and aware of, and part is that we’re trying to shake an industry event in its fourth year up a bit by asking the question, “if the definition and requirements of your supply chain changed completely tomorrow- would you be dynamic, responsive and agile enough to adapt to its new reality?”
If you’ve ever successfully incorporated a Makerspace into an event you managed, or saw a Makerspace that was leveraged particularly wonderfully or creatively I would love to hear about it!