Who Are the Makers? - The World of the Maker - The Maker's Manual: A Practical Guide to the New Industrial Revolution 1st Edition (2015)

PThe Maker's Manual: A Practical Guide to the New Industrial Revolution 1st Edition (2015)

Part I. The World of the Maker

...people who hack hardware, business-models, and living arrangements to discover ways of staying alive and happy even when the economy is falling down the toilet.

Cory Doctorow

§ Chapter 1, Who Are the Makers?

§ Chapter 2, The Origins of the Movement

§ Chapter 3, A New Revolution?

Chapter 1. Who Are the Makers?

Today we live in a world many of us define as “advanced”, filled with technological wonders like smartphones and the world wide web. But these gadgets are just the fruit of an entire civilization based on the application of science and technology to our daily lives. Thanks to that civilization, we can live in a warm place, store our food without it spoiling, have light even when it is dark outside, communicate with the people we love anywhere in the world, or travel faster than our legs can carry us.

At the same time, many of these changes -- the same ones that have improved our way of living -- have limited our lives. Most cannot live without computers, telecommunications, electricity, and synthetic chemicals. If those technologies were to suddenly disappear, a large portion of the Earth’s seven billion people would start to die very quickly.

We are bombarded by media that do everything they can to encourage us to consume in an uncontrolled way, to queue in front of an Apple Store every six months, or to buy a new car every two years. And the same media make us feel “out of place” if we do not adjust to all the things advertising intends to inflict on us.

Within this context, products are no longer made to meet the consumers’ needs, but to create a vicious circle: objects are designed to last shorter and shorter amounts of time, to break soon after their warranty expiration date (accurately calculated by statistics) so that we have to go out and buy new objects, thus artificially creating a market whose only aim is to support production.

Today all governments are only concerned about the GDP growth (in Italy for example, the decreasing curve of the yield spread is, at the time of this writing, a further common concern). Even so, the GDP is a somewhat poor indicator of national contenement, because it also grows at the presence of events such as disasters or wars.

But has it always been like this?

The Culture of Reuse

For our grandparents and their parents, everything was different. Those born around, say, 1925, grew up during the Great Depression -- a period of high unemployment, job insecurity, homelessness, even starvation in some of the most advanced countries in the world. They learned themselves -- and imbued their children with the spirit -- to make do with what they had, which was almost nothing.

This shortage of resources led to a culture of recycling, respect and reuse. Nothing was thrown away, everything was so ingeniously transformed using whatever tools were at hand. Our grandparents used to build by themselves what they needed, and they were happy because they had something we often lack: the personal reward for having built something with their own hands, seeing their creation evolve from a conceptual idea to reality. From cutting boards, knives, barrels, and sickles to more technological tools.

It was a question of culture: when something was needed or had to be solved, people tried all different possible ways, starting from what was available and often recycling something in previously inconceivable ways, until they found a solution.

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Figure 1-1. The pleasure of building something with your own hands

We Are All Designers

When we were children, many, if not all of us, happened to dismantle some toys to understand how they worked. Some of us even managed to assemble them again. All the toys we dismantled taught us something, allowing us to modify them according to our tastes or to create new ones. This kind of activity was very widespread among adults too, practiced by the so called “tinkerers”: people who took abandoned objects and dismantled, modified, and redesigned them into something new and absolutely wonderful.

Today, technology allows us to do the same thing digitally. The necessary tools are at our disposal, free-of-charge or at reasonable costs. We can design very different objects following very similar processes. Thanks to the access to all information and to the community’s support, learning is going to be very simple, and we can become productive on different tools in a very short time.

Not Only Digital

In the Nineties everyone seemed to have suddenly become a web designer: the spread of the Internet and the World Wide Web had created a small factory of bits and bytes in many people’s home. With simple editing software, people could create web sites. We believe that the immediacy of the results and the low cost of entry have contributed to distancing today’s young people, the so-called digital natives, from the traditional do-it-yourselfers who are linked to the physical world.

What has changed recently is a sort of democratization in access to things like 3D printers and other rapid prototyping machines, which has made a return from bits (digital things) back to atoms (physical things) easier. These technologies have already been in existance for a long time, but they have usually been inaccessible to most people because of their extremely high costs. Today, a 3D printer can be had for as little as $500, much less than the original laser printer ($3,000). Even if other tools like laser cutters and computerized milling machines are still somewhat expensive, there are different services that allow you to use such tools at very low costs. It is like renting a factory without bearing all the startup costs: you only have to pay the manufacturing costs of what you need (plus, obviously, the supplier’s mark-up).

This increased access to tools--as well as access to information on how to use the tools--has triggered the return to a culture of making and the spread of the maker movement.

The Maker

The maker is an enthusiastic hobbyist who little by little becomes part of a community of people who share the same interests. More and more he moves out of his field of competence, learning new skills thanks to the sharing of knowledge among the maker community. Once upon a time people had to apprentice with a carpenter if they wanted to create beautiful wood carvings, or with a blacksmith to forge metal. Today, those people can simply design objects with different shapes and have them created by computer controlled woodworking machines or laser sintering machines.

Such hobbies do not only become the occasion to meet new people, but they often offer the makers the possibility to earn some money, sometimes to found small companies, and in some cases they even lead to the birth of real phenomena in both cultural and economic terms.

Innovation, which, according to some economists, is the only way to increase a country’s productivity, is a constant element for a maker, as they always try to outdo themselves and go beyond what is at their disposal. The maker is like a new tinkerer, an inventor with a great deal of possibilities which, until a while ago were inconceivable.

With this great power comes great social responsibility. We’re fortunate that most makers tend to share the results of their work, and to collaborate with different people from all over the world, no matter what their position or career background is.

Our grandparents were all makers. But what about us? Are we ready to be makers?