Sunday, May 04, 2008

Maker Faire

"Have you noticed that the term maker is being used to describe the activity of various people who may in the past be referred to as crafts person, or applied artist?" notes Sharon B in her quilting blog here.

I attended (and helped staff) the Maker Faire this weekend. It took a broad view of the term "maker", including everything from rockets and steam engines to spinning and weaving. It also included plenty of electronic things: a beat box using a visual pattern of bubble gum balls, various lasers and lights, websites, widgets, and hacked games, to name a few.

So what is a maker? Broadly defined, it's one who makes, in this context with a connotation of homemade, handmade, self-invented, reinvented, or hacked. There seems to be a division (still?) between crafts (fabric, paper, yarn, string, ink, paint, and things done for the sake of decoration or art) and another sort of making/inventing, the sort that often looks more like engineering (metal, plastic, motors, electronics, gears, fuel, etc.) Somewhere, there's a third function or category for innovations in virtual space, things like wikis, widgets, software hacks, online communities. O'Reilly, the publisher that instigated the Maker Faire, publishes Make Magazine for the solid stuff and Craft magazine for things more in an artistic vein, all while maintaining a selection of websites, online forums, and dead-tree books about many programming and electronics topics.

The thing is, it's all one and the same; one big, lovely mess. It's not needles on one side and wrenches on the other, with programmers and writers of websites sitting at home. It's a big sea of ideas that need to be dreamed up, rearranged, recombined, reprogrammed, and written down so that new inventors can find resources and do it all again. Those people who recombine bicycle parts into novel shapes and unintended functions would do well to learn a bit of stitchery to fashion comfortable seats. A thriving community of textile artists and crafters shares patterns and ideas online in a whole world full of blogs. Anyone intending to build a robot will need to know at least a few things about mechanics, electricity, and, if it is a robot with intelligence, also some programming. Machines can be art, and can certainly be just-for-fun, while textile artists are experimenting with lights and other electronics. Certainly anyone building or inventing for the common good or otherwise hoping to change the world should publish their ideas so that others can use or improve them.

So please experiment beyond your chosen field. Generalize and diversify in addition to becoming an expert in something. Play. See what others are up to. Then, write down as much of it as you can manage and let others see what you have done. As much as you can, open your ideas to reuse by releasing them under a free or open license and asking that derivative works remain open.

The more mixed up, the merrier.


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