In the run up to the end of term for my masters course things have been hectic indeed. The imminent pressure of academic deadlines, coupled with video editing jobs piling up as everyone wants something back before the end of the year, and then the added dread of the ever-present need to finally get round to christmas shopping, has left me too busy to get around to writing one of these blog posts. But here I am, aiming to be as productive as possible by trying to bash this one out in between cleaning the house for the imminent arrival of my parents in a day’s time and dealing with my new computer’s hard drive suffering a catastrophic failure. So forgive me if this post is a little confused and lacks a few images.
In the run up to taking part in a MACE conference this Friday focusing on ‘Crowdsourcing, Crowdfunding, and the Maker Movement’, I have been doing a lot of thinking about what these things are: particularly concerning the ‘Maker Movement’ and ‘Crowdsourcing’, as these are two terms that I have heard across the internet over the last few years, but have never really sat down and considered.
So to start with, what is the ‘Maker Movement’? How has it come about, and is it a positive development? Well as defined by AdWeek the ‘Maker Movement’ is:
‘the umbrella term for independent inventors, designers and tinkerers like Saunders. A convergence of computer hackers and traditional artisans, the niche is established enough to have its own magazine, Make, as well as hands-on Maker Faires that are catnip for DIYers who used to toil in solitude.’
So this is a seemingly internationally based community – although i believe it is more strongly represented in more developed nations – or hobbyists and enthusiasts both professional and amateur, that share a passion for making stuff. That stuff can be anything from traditional craft goods to film and software, but over the last 10 years since the initial publishing of Maker Magazine in 2005, there has been a particular trend towards the innovative harnessing of new tech advancements such as 3D printing, the Arduino and Raspberry Pi, as well as newer drone technology and leaps being made in robotics. In my opinion this integration of technology into the maker-sphere is an entirely natural one. Human beings have been making things for thousands of years – take the first few pre-historic tools being deftly crafted by early man, for example – but it has historically been difficult to share our experiences and processes with one another. Now however, living as we do in an increasingly social and digitized world, the opportunity for widespread collaboration that is not hampered by geographical proximity is running rampant, with websites such as Reddit, Etsy, Youtube and even Facebook all doing their part to connect enthusiasts with one another, allowing them to learn from each other and to share their output.
Now, for all the positive press that the movement has received over recent years, the cynic within me wants to criticize the ‘feel good factor’ associated with maker communities. It all sounds too good to be true, and when i look at the news and see what a despicable place our world can be, I can’t help but look at this trend in a negative light. Yes, there are successful advancements being made as individuals address real problems that they face as users, and yes, these community actors help support one another online and at organized physical events. But surely it all just comes back to the same thing – money. If you can’t sell what you’re making, what’s the point? Is this not really about community then, but instead about capitalism re-invented? And what about the industrial giants of the consumer economy – the Googles, Facebooks, and Home Depot’s of the world – who have recognised the power of the movement and are reaching out in attempts to grow their brand image by using (to be read ‘extorting’?) these individual ‘makers’ to provide themselves with current and appealing apps, ideas and products in return for a meagre sum of what the company makes as a whole?
After further enlightening myself, I have come to realize that while there is indeed a capitalist/consumerist aspect to what is happening to modern day DIY-ers, whatever it is that is taking place is indeed steeped in a real sense of human goodness. A perfect example of this is that the term DIY is now accompanied by another – DIWO. Do It With Others. To my mind this is proof that what people are really seeking through their toil and craft is a sense of true involvement. A deeper meaning than just cash in pocket. An opportunity to develop themselves, their environments and their human relationships, and the fact that this process results in a consumable commodity is just an added bonus.
What is perhaps even more comforting to realize is that while companies and corporations are indeed making money from the individuals who form ‘The Maker Movement’, they are also positively enabling it by providing platforms for sharing these pursuits or by allowing access to distribution networks that would otherwise remain monopolized by the big players. And what is more, because of the unfettered way in which online communities operate at the moment, the community has the power to destabilize any entity that takes advantage of it by damaging reputations and boycotting sales.
To conclude, the maker movement is an inspiring development of the internet age, providing the world with a faster rate of product innovation and development that never before, enabled by the unparalleled access that we have today to affordable and accessible materials, technology and marketing. I have every hope that this trend will develop into something that changes the way our economies consume, democratizing the markets in the years to come.