The Maker Movement

Olduvai stone chopping tool

Everything made now is either a replica or a variant of something made a little time ago and so back without break on to the first morning of human time.

Georg Kubler, The Shape of Time

I have recently seen, long expected, documentary from Mu-Ming Tsai MAKER and it inspired me to have a closer look at the maker movement. I was wondering how and why they became so popular in the US and what are the opinions about the movement outside the makers circle. In this post I gathered quotes from the Form Design Magazine based in Frankfurt, The New Yorker Magazine and MAKER documentary. I also felt Esther Pasztory’s Thinking with Things: Toward a New Vision of Art would give a dipper understanding of the phenomenon. I see the maker movement as a gathering of creative and independent people in action. The makers connect to the physical world around them. They look for self-respect and the possibility to decide for themselves. The makers are not consumers. They are ordinary people who, with some powerful tools at hand, can make a difference.

The maker movement, as we know, is an umbrella term for independent inventors, designers and tinkerers. … Makers tap into an American admiration for self-reliance and combine that with open-source learning, contemporary design and powerful personal technology like 3-D printers.

Time, Why the Maker Movement is Important to America’s Future by Tim Bajarin

The Maker Movement as being the web generation meets the real world. It is the tinkerers, the do-it-yourselfers, the hobbyist, the workshops  of the world, now working together online and using digital tools to do something that none of them could do by themselves. Let’s say the first industrial revolution was the mechanical revolution. 1700, the replacement of muscle power with machine power. The second industrial revolution was the information revolution. But this was not the creation of the computer, but rather the democratisation of the computer. … The third industrial revolution is just a combination of the two. The information revolution meets the mechanical machine manufacturing revolution. And, the reason it’s happening now is because that essential democratisation movement has finally kicked in. It’s not enough to invent technologies, they have to be put in the hands of everybody … it liberates the ideas and creativities.

Chris Anderson, C.E.O. 3D Robotics, Maker

An anthropological view on the material culture.

All things are related to each other in a vast chain of formal transformations. It is not as simple as the nineteenth-century writers thought, developing from naturalism to abstraction or vice versa.

Between levels of different social integration there are major dislocations and reformulations in material culture. I suggest that two processes are at work: translation and innovation. Innovation is almost always necessary at times of change and may effect both the type of object and its style. Innovation can be very sudden and dramatic. Translation is the term I prefer for the continuous reinterpretation of forms which have in them at least as much change and innovation as is often necessary to translate a statement from one language and context to another. Through a process of translation, a form may last many hundreds of years, but the relationship may be unrecognisable in terms of its appearance.

Althogether, “things” need to be reevaluated against other technologies such as writing and media. In fact, they all need to be looked at together as parts of a systemic and changing whole. This rises basic questions about things and how we relate to them biologically, functionally–and, yes, even aesthetically. Humankind has existed without writing and media for a long time but thinking with things goes back to Kubler’s “first morning”.

Esther Pasztory Thinking with Things; Toward a New Vision of Art 


Although, the maker movement is a fascinating concept not everyone seems to be impressed by it. Stephan Ott from the Form Design Magazine has a rather critical view on the makers community.

There is talk of a culture even a movement of “makers” who are revolutionising design, as cheap production of spare parts and small production is no longer a problem. But a cursory look at design history is enough to at least temper any such notion of revolution.

Whether in film, music or writing, it has always taken professionals to shoot, compose and formulate coherent content. This need still applies, and the availability of widely affordable 3D printers will not alter that: good products will continue to depend on a design file produced by a professional designer. There is nothing wrong with the maker community — essentially an amalgamation of the long-established do-it-yourselfers movement and the hacker scene. But one thing must be kept in mind: even by their own self-definition, makers are tinkerers and hobbyists, but not (yet) designers.

Stephen Ott Wohin der Wege? Designer 2014, Designer Quo Vadis?, Form Design Magazine Nº 251

Finally, in Making It: Pick up a spot welder and join the revolution Evgeny Morozov touches on a slightly darker and more complex side of the maker movement.

The maker era might not be upon us yet, but the maker movement has arrived. …

Like the Arts and Crafts movement–a mélange of back-to-the land simplifiers, socialists, anarchists, and tweedy art connoisseurs–the makers are a diverse bunch. They include 3-D-printing enthusiasts who like making their own toys, instruments,  and weapons; tinkerers and mechanics who like to customise household objects by outfitting them with sensors and Internet connectivity; and appreciators of craft who prefer to design their own objects and then have them manufactured on demand.

Each of these groups has its own history. What turns them into movement is the intellectual infrastructure that allows makers to reflect on what it means to be a maker. …

Then there are the temptations facing the movement. Two years ago, DARPA–the research arm of the Department of Defence–announced a ten-million-dollar grant to promote the maker movement among high-school students. DARPA also gave three and a half million dollars to TechShop to establish new makerspaces that could help the agency with its “innovation agenda”.

Mark Hatch (C.E.O. of TechShop), for one, shows no concern that proximity to power might compromise his movement’s revolutionary potential. “Now, with the tools available at makerspaces, anyone can change the world,” he writes in The Maker Movement Manifesto. “Every revolution needs an army… My objective with this book is to radicalise you and get you to become a soldier in this army.” How radical is Hatch’s project? At the start of the acknowledgements that open the book, he thanks Autodesk, Ford, DARPA, the V.A., Lowe’s, and G.E. His talk of becoming an army soldier may not be a metaphor. … Hatch and Anderson (C.E.O. of 3D Robotics) alike invoke Marx and argue that the success of the maker movement shows that the means of production can be made affordable to workers even under capitalism. … But both overlook one key development; in a world where everyone is an entrepreneur, it’s hard work getting others excited about funding your project. Money goes to those who know how to attract attention. Simply put, if you need to raise money on Kickstarter, it helps to have fifty thousand Twitter followers, not fifty. It helps enormously if Google puts your product on the first page of search results, and making sure it stays there might require an investment in search-engine optimisation. Some would view this new kind of immaterial labour as “virtual craftsmanship”; other as vulgar hustling. The good news is that now you don’t have to worry about getting fired; the bad news is that you have to worry about getting downgraded by Google.

Hatch assumes that online platforms are ruled by equality of opportunity. But they aren’t. Inequality here is not just a matter of who owns and runs the means of physical production but also of who owns and runs the means of intellectual production–the so-called “attention economy” (or what the German writer Hans Magnus Ezensberger, in the early sixties, called the “consciousness industry”). All of this suggests that there’s more politicking–and politics–to be done here than enthusiasts like Anderson and Hatch are willing to acknowledge. For Anderson, such innovation is prelude to a great business: when hobbyists cluster together to work on obscure technologies, someone eventually gets rich. But it’s misleading to view the Homebrew Computer Club solely through the prism of innovation and entrepreneurship. It also had, at least at first, a political vision.

Evgeny Morozov, Making It: Pick up a spot welder and join the revolution, The New Yorker, Jan.13, 2014 

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