On the Make
In our digital age of share buttons, online communities, and virtual everything, the way we make physical things is evolving too. Modern makers are more likely to collaborate, taking advantage of online sharing and publishing tools and offering open-source hardware. From attending events like the Maker Faire to welding in the Google Workshop, makers are finding new ways to think, tinker, and even earn a living.
Every May, at the San Mateo Fairgrounds in California, hundreds of thousands of people make the annual pilgrimage from around the world to meet the ‘makers.’ The event is Maker Faire, and it’s something like a cross between the world’s biggest science fair and Burning Man.
Makers are people who create and share amazing things, such as a giant walking robot giraffe or a hacked plug-in-only Prius. You know the phrase, ‘Don’t try this at home?’ Well, you won’t hear that at Maker Faire.
We’ve been making and sharing things for millions of years – it’s encoded in our genetic desire to create. But perhaps surprisingly, as technology has blurred the boundaries between the real and the unreal in the last decade, ‘making’ has enjoyed something of a renaissance.
Forget the cliché of a lone hobbyist tinkering away in the garage; modern makers are more likely to work with each other, taking advantage of the sharing and publishing tools offered by the internet. As it’s become easier to share videos, photos, text, and everything else, makers have quickly adapted, using the web to pool knowledge and information.
At a time when copyright concerns are beginning to dominate the tech world, the modern maker can choose how and what is shared in these new online arenas, through open-source licensing and Creative Commons. One of the successes of this new type of sharing is open-source hardware, which, like open-source software, can be improved upon, shared, and remixed.
Makers have always been making, but now they have more places to share, too. As the movement has taken off, websites like Instructables and Make have become go-to hubs for sharing projects and developing skills. If you’ve designed a protective case for your phone, you can upload it to Thingiverse and anyone with a 3D printer can download and print it out. It sounds like a Star Trek replicator, but it’s real and it’s happening right now.
While Maker Faire events have expanded to more locations (there are over 30 per year, many of them self-organized), other, more permanent making spaces have started to pop up. ‘Hackerspaces’ are community-driven meeting places where resources are pooled to pay for space, hold workshops, and house awesome tools like laser cutters and CNC mills. It’s not just communities doing this either: Since 2007, Google has had its own Hackerspace, called Google Workshop, complete with welding equipment and hi-tech tools.
Commercial versions of Hackerspaces are called ‘TechShops.’ These fully equipped facilities have every tool you could think of to make your computer ‘bits’ into real ‘its.’ They’re membership-based – think of them as a gym for your brain. There are four TechShops in the US and another five on the way. Within the next few years, there will be about a dozen of them stretching coast-to-coast in some of America’s biggest cities.
Nor is the maker movement just a feel-good social cause to get us thinking collectively about engineering and making again; it’s filled with thriving businesses. For some makers, Etsy, a Brooklyn-based sellers’ platform, has become a full-time job; while others have developed skills in repairing, recycling, and reusing into a rewarding side-business.
As we ask ourselves what society will look like in a digital world, it’s worth remembering the words of Dean Kamen, founder of FIRST Robotics (a program that enables school kids to become scientists and engineers) and a famous maker in his own right. Kamen said, “We are what we celebrate.” That’s the maker movement: We’re trying to make the world a better place by celebrating ingenuity, creativity, sustainability, and, most of all, sharing.WHERE TO MEET YOUR MAKERS
Ready to jump into the world of making? Or perhaps you’re looking to meet emerging talent? Get immersed in maker culture at these places and events...Maker Faires / makerfaire.com
Dozens of Maker Faires are happening each year. Check the official website for the latest details.Hackerspaces / hackerspaces.org
There are thousands of hackerspaces around the world, which means there’s probably one near you. Find one or start your own.TechShops / techshop.ws
Membership based tool centers with laser cutters and 3D printers. They can provide all the training you need.Dorkbot / dorkbot.org
With monthly meet-ups around the world, Dorkbot is a show-and-tell for ‘people doing strange things with electricity.’Online
"Forget the cliché of a lone hobbyist tinkering away in the garage; modern makers are more likely to work with each other, taking advantage of the sharing and publishing tools offered by the internet."
- Published September 2011