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January 23, 2015

“Why I Am Not a Maker”
Posted by Patrick at 10:02 AM * 100 comments

Deb Chachra, engineer, teacher, sometime Making Light commenter, on what’s wrong with the notion of “maker culture”, and why she doesn’t identify as part of it.

The cultural primacy of making, especially in tech culture—that it is intrinsically superior to not-making, to repair, analysis, and especially caregiving—is informed by the gendered history of who made things, and in particular, who made things that were shared with the world, not merely for hearth and home.

Making is not a rebel movement, scrappy individuals going up against the system. While the shift might be from the corporate to the individual (supported, mind, by a different set of companies selling a different set of things), it mostly re-inscribes familiar values, in slightly different form: that artifacts are important, and people are not. […]

[C]oders get high salary, prestige, and stock options. The people who do community management—on which the success of many tech companies is based—get none of those. It’s unsurprising that coding has been folded into “making.” […] Code is “making” because we’ve figured out how to package it up into discrete units and sell it, and because it is widely perceived to be done by men.

But you can also think about coding as eliciting a specific, desired set of behaviors from computing devices. It’s the Searle’s “Chinese room” take on the deeper, richer, messier, less reproducible, immeasurably more difficult version of this that we do with people—change their cognition, abilities, and behaviors. We call the latter “education,” and it’s mostly done by underpaid, undervalued women.

When new products are made, we hear about exciting technological innovation, which are widely seen as worth paying (more) for. In contrast, policy and public discourse around caregiving—besides education, healthcare comes immediately to mind—are rarely about paying more to do better, and are instead mostly about figuring out ways to lower the cost.

Worth reading in its entirety. Deb’s email newsletter Metafoundry, from which this was reprinted, is a constant stream of similar insight, and is thoroughly recommended.
Comments on "Why I Am Not a Maker":
#1 ::: Liz Coleman ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2015, 12:36 PM:

Yeah, I'm currently getting my Masters degree to become a psychotherapist. One of my classmates pointed out the seemingly inverse relationship between pay and client vulnerability. The highest paid therapists treat the "worried well" who are generally financially stable and not severely mentally ill, while the crisis line counselors who literally talk people off ledges? All volunteer.

Somewhere, I read a great article about how jobs that are "personally fulfilling" like teaching, social work, and community organizing, get paid less, as if that fulfillment was a benefit equivalent to paid sick days.

#2 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2015, 02:33 PM:

Liz Coleman: There's also a phenomenon I've heard described as "strip-mining enthusiasm", the use (and using up) of young idealistic volunteers or near-volunteers in political campaigning. I experienced a much milder variant when I worked for a company that made educational software; the expectation was that our enthusiasm for "helping kids learn" would make us willing to accept substandard pay and benefits.

However, I'm having a hard time reconciling some of the article's black-and-white claims about "maker culture" with things like the local "repair cafe" event, where people volunteer to fix others' small appliances, mend worn clothing, etc. I've also seen a fair bit of traditional "women's crafts" (knitting, quilting, making clothing) presented as "making".

Regarding the citation of "Baumol's cost disease" in the article, the biggest example of it that I've seen is in the very male-dominated field of programming. There's been a lot of management angst over the last few decades about how our computers are getting so much faster, but our programmers aren't, countered by programmers pointing out that programming isn't manufacturing, it's design.

Furthermore, a lot of the "maker" activity I see is about teaching people how to make things (i.e., education). A lot of "maker" cheerleading I've seen comes from people promoting STEM (or STEAM, or STEAMXYZWQFLIZ or whatever's been added this week) education. There seems to be a pattern of "hey, this thing we haven't emphasized much lately is important and should get more attention" followed by "hey, this other thing I'm interested in is important, too, let's emphasize it too", eventually resulting in "let's emphasize everything in the world equally".

#3 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2015, 02:57 PM:

Yeah, as a knitting/sewing enthusiast, I've mostly seen the "reviving textile crafts" side of Maker culture.

Admittedly this can have its own problems when you think it through -- it tends to celebrate "women's work" but only for women who can afford to do it as a hobby.

#4 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2015, 04:15 PM:

I find it very hard to square my actual involvement and impressions of the "maker movement" with the assumptions of this article.

It reminds me of a literary screed against science fiction I read decades ago, in either The Atlantic or Harpers, which included the observation that SF authors were furthering cruelty to animals.

A good chunk of what I think of as Maker Culture comes from reading what folks like Mark Frauenfelder and John Edgar Park are up to, and as often as not it amounts to doing cool stuff with their daughters.

Anyway, I'll start worrying about corrosive effects of Maker Culture when I don't have explain what it is to 90% of the people who look puzzled when I mention it.

#5 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2015, 04:29 PM:

I'm finding the article so hyperbolic that I'm finding it very hard to engage as anything but a rant. For instance, whatever anyone may think of Ayn Rand's philosophizing, it's not a positive thing for one's thesis to give a wildly inaccurate picture of Rand's views about the worth of work, admit that one is going off of a very old recollection, and then proclaim that one isn't going to check up on that, when one of the signature images in AS is the philosopher Hugh Akston running a diner, and when there is obvious approval for Dagny taking an utterly menial job in Galt's Gulch. Ayn Rand was definitely on the side of taking pride in whatever one's work was; her issue was with people she saw as parasites.

I also have to say I don't see how the Chinese room image works. I hold up a CD with an executable file on it, and it is most definitely a thing, just as a recording of a performance is a thing. Saying that, well, it does stuff that isn't a "thing" is beside the point.

I understand some of where she's coming from, because everyone in the industry knows about the disdain from various angles for the often felt to be necessary evils of testing and documentation and marketing. But the other side of the coin is that over in finance land there is often considerable contempt for people who dirty their hands with mere things when they could be making money out of (apparently) nothing. The fact that the economics of trying to hire superstar programmer/analysts drives their wages through the roof doesn't really fit into some kind of thesis about how they make things.

#6 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2015, 04:29 PM:

A lot of people define themselves by their jobs. This seems to me like a different form of that concept.

#7 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2015, 04:51 PM:

When I moved up to this office I'm in 13 years back, we made things here. Actual custom computers. The motherboards and interface boards and custom chips were designed and specced out down the row from me. The parts were assembled and tested in a static-free room in the next building. There was an environment chamber where systems got shaken and cooked and frozen, and which occasionally got used to bake pizza after hours. Work stations with microscopes where parts that had gone bad could be peered at. In this building, we had folks who made operating systems and file systems; the kind of exercise you read the theory about in CS classes. There was beer in the fridge.

As of this week, it is gone. The shipping clerk and RMA and repair guys were laid off. The dwindling spare parts inventory is being shipped to Mexico. The manufacturing floor will be a new cube farm by the end of the year, full of Windows developers working on a logistics application. Product design and direction are handled far away; the relentless pace of work is shown on overhead monitors displaying "burndown charts."

The Maker Movement to me is at least in part a kind of rebellion against top-down atomized cube farm workplace. Showing people how the stuff that increasingly rules our lives works, encouraging them to open things open, screw around with them, make mistakes.

#8 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2015, 05:12 PM:

Well, either Deb Chachra has no idea what "maker culture" is, or I don't. I have long seen maker culture as standing primarily in opposition to "consumer culture." I see it as being about giving people the tools, the knowledge, and the confidence to actually make some tangible, useful or beautiful finished project. I understand maker culture to be about demystifying the making of physical objects and bringing the process of creation back into the locus of control of ordinary people. I've not seen it as deprecating care giving or elevating male contributions over female so I'm mostly just baffled.

#9 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2015, 06:12 PM:

It seems to me that people are reading a very different article here than I did when I linked to it in the Parhelia (Patrick later took that link down because Deb sold it to the Atlantic).

What I saw in that article echoed very strongly with my experiences, both personal and professional. When I was doing a lot of bookbinding and going to bookbinding workshops, my craft work—my making; my participation in maker culture—was critically dependent on Martin providing childcare. Most of the bookbinders my age that I met were male and had wives taking care of the kids; the women I met were all older and any children they had were grown.

This in turn echoes the fact that the Suffragettes were only able to spend the time and energy they did in political protest because they hired other women to be nannies and maids of all work. And, like Martin with his childcare, those nannies and maids didn't get the credit for the achievements that they made possible.

The merging of fiber-arts culture (Ravelry and the like) with maker culture is relatively recent, in my perception. There seemed to me to be a long run of very masculine Maker Culture contrasted with, or separate from, a feminine revival of knitting (the Stitch & Bitch crowd, yarnbombing). And I still see a lot more women wiring than I do men knitting; the deprecation of the traditionally femiine looks alive and well from where I'm sitting.

Maybe Deb and I haven't encountered the One True Maker Culture. But she's not alone in this perception.

And when it comes to work...I work with developers, but I am not a developer. First I was a tester/test manager; now I'm a product owner. And until moving into my most recent environment, which shows signs that people have worked hard to break the pattern, I was always seen as not quite as good as a developer. When I was given tasks that made me unhappy or were tiresome, that was not the kind of problem that it was when a dev was. I was paid less, too; the pay scales for testers (like technical writers and community managers) are lower than for developers.

Deb's article felt like a consolidation of a bunch of things I've perceived but never tied together, about physical cultures in historical context, invisible work, and the ways that this enforces existing power structures. It felt like a vocabulary for a bunch of experiences and half-understood phenomena that I didn't have a vocabulary for.

And it touches on the guilt I have had as a binder, looking at the lovely things I've done and wondering how much of it is just going to end up as clutter.

It's unfortunate that it isn't lighting other people's neurons in the same way.

#10 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2015, 07:03 PM:

All I can say for sure is that obviously not everybody means the same thing when they refer to maker culture.

Speaking as someone who is only a maker if software counts, I am a little envious of people who can turn out something creative and useful with their hands, whether it be a sweater or a bound book or a patio sunshade. My father is much more a maker than I am, as the only handy skill I picked up from him was interior house painting, which I guess counts as repair rather than as making. My mother is a much better cook than I am, although I do enjoy going beyond simple recipes now and then. Two weeks ago I made Teresa's chicken with brown things. (It was so good I made it again the next weekend.) The recipe has Teresa gave it is vague about quantities and spices, so I guess cooking it can be considered creative.

TMALSS, I favor broader and more inclusive meanings of the term "maker".

#11 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2015, 07:04 PM:

The recipe *as Teresa gave it...

#12 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2015, 07:10 PM:

Well, yes, parents of small children need childcare when they wish to do grown up things outside the house. This is equally true whether they wish to go out to the symphony, spend a weekend at a spa, attend a square dancing conference, or take a workshop that involves making things. Any hobby or interest that isn't set up to accommodate small children will create this conflict. I don't see how "maker culture" is particularly culpable, or indeed relevant there.

#13 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2015, 07:30 PM:

For my part? It's the contrast between the physicality of the made thing—so much more enduring than an evening at the symphony; a thing one can hand around or give away—and the ephemerality of the childcare that enables it.

Not that this is unique to maker culture; Western civilization is built on invisible, ignorable labor, from our literature to our clothing. But, though not unique, it is there, and to the extent that maker culture wants to shape the future, it's shaping it that way.

#14 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2015, 07:47 PM:

Abi @ 9... My work situation has somehow transformed from that of a maker into that of one whose work is of an administrative nature. Not as an administrator who can have some control over who does what when and how, but basically as a filler of e*forms and requests that are needed for system implementations, an important function that's so undervalued that a simple thank-you is omitted even for urgent last-minute tasks.

#15 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2015, 08:04 PM:

I strongly agree that "repair, analysis, and especially caregiving" don't get nearly enough respect, and I'll add maintenance to the list.

I'm not going to hassle maker culture for the lack-- it's a minuscule part of the situation.

#16 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2015, 08:20 PM:

Abi, I agree with most of your points, I just don't see "maker culture" as the cause of the problem. Or at least, "maker culture" is no more at fault than any other component of the larger culture it's part of, and arguably less at fault than some.

I, too, have experienced the disdain of "finance culture" for "maker culture" (decades past in high school, a friend told me "my father said I should go into business rather than engineering, because a business man can hire as many engineers as he needs").

Also, as a developer, I've definitely felt a sort of "privilege guilt" about how the QA engineers and tech writers around me are under-valued (the only place I worked that had a "community" managed to recruit volunteer community managers, so I've not yet worked with a professional community manager).

"... looking at the lovely things I've done and wondering how much of it is just going to end up as clutter" strikes a strong chord with me, considering this weekend I helped my younger son complete our family's eighth pinewood derby car in as many years (I'm not sure where most of the rest are hiding out, but the rules require building a new car for each year's race).

I think there are many valuable human activities (teaching, caring, entertaining, critiquing, informing, researching, questioning, pondering, etc. as well as making) and it's almost guaranteed that at any time our society is out of balance among some of them. I think it's pretty clear that we have far less "making" (at least as paid work) than we used to, and there is value in exposing more people to the underlying nature of the built environment we live in.

In particular, the critique that "maker culture" prioritizes making too highly above teaching rings particularly false to me, given how many "makers" I've run into who are educators, or are strongly pushing for more education, and how many are also pushing for more exposure of girls to "making". Admittedly, there's less push to expose boys to "girl's crafts", though there is a little, but I think the assumption is that exposing higher-privilege people to lower-status hobbies isn't as important as giving lower-privilege people more access to higher-status hobbies.

#17 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2015, 08:49 PM:

I'm experiencing a bit of cognitive dissonance--or something--reading both the initial post (and skimming the entire article) and the thread. To me, a "maker" is a poet, a writer, someone who creates with words (as in Dunbar's "Lament for the Makers"). Obviously, I know that that's an archaic usage and I'm being silly, but it still threw me at first, enough that I found the initial discussion just a bit confusing.

Not sure if that reaction is really relevant, but it did seem to shift the concepts involved for me, a little. Though I'm still trying to figure out exactly how . . .

#18 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2015, 09:09 PM:

Jeremy hits on a lot of points I wish I made.

RE child care:

Word.

Last week Obama dropped advanced word about a State of the Union bullet item: A proposal to make community college free.

I've seen a lot of negative reaction to this, but not the one I had.

Yeah, fine, make community college free.

But where we really need attention, the end of the education spectrum far more critical to educational success, is the beginning:

Free or heavily subsidized child care, so parents can have the slack time to go to community college, or finish high school, and get their careers started.

Quality early childhood education, so kids get the exposure to letters and numbers and color names and a wider vocabulary.

Health care and nutrition programs.

#19 ::: Megpie71 ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2015, 08:41 AM:

I know I read the article, and as someone who makes things, but is not part of Maker culture per se, I quite sympathised with it. It rang true for a lot of what I perceive of the culture from the outside.

What I know of Maker culture is what I've seen in various articles... in the technology sections of newspapers, in technology journals online, in the technology section of an online discussion forum. The focus has always been on the fun things that can be done with blinkenlights and buzzers, and this focus has always effectively said "Making is done with electronics and computer code. If you create something which does not involve electronics or computer code, you are not a Maker". As such, it's somewhat off-putting.

It feels rather like the whole "this isn't really for you, sweetheart - why don't you go back to the kitchen and make sandwiches?" feel I got when I was studying IT. It feels like if I want to take myself, and my crafting skills (in traditionally feminine areas like cooking, crochet, embroidery, sewing, knitting, cleaning) to a Maker fair, I'm going to have to go there prepared to fight for my place, and justify my existence and my space there to each and every person who asks, no matter how many of them there are. It was that perception which drove me away from IT as a field of study as well - the perception that no matter how well I did, I would have to continually and constantly justify my existence, because I was doing something while not being the Right Sort of Person.

I don't have the energy for that. I certainly don't have the energy to do that, AND do whatever it was I was doing in the first place.

This is the impression being given of Maker Culture to those outside it. Maker Culture is being positioned as part of IT geekery, and as such, as something which is expected to be predominantly white, predominantly male, and predominantly occupied by people of the upper middle classes. As with IT geekery, the impression being given is if you don't fit the image, or you're not doing the "right" sort of making (computer code, electronic components etc), you'll be expected to justify yourself to anyone and everyone who asks. Now, this may not necessarily be the case (although I'd ask those people who do position themselves within the Maker culture: how many women are involved in your Maker groups? What do they make? Is there anyone in the group who isn't working with code, electronics, woodwork, metalwork - and how are they perceived by the rest of the group?) but as I said, this is the impression which is being spread by the media coverage of the movement.

There's also the perception of the annexation of the term "maker" by the people who are primarily working with electronics and code - annexation which tends to set boundaries around who can and can't use the term. Strangely enough, it seems if you're not working with code, not working with electronics, not working in wood or metal, or any other traditionally masculine-coded material, you can't use the term "maker". So those of us who work in textiles, in foodstuffs, in paint or yarn or dyes, wind up with the less socially-prestigious term: "crafter". (In my case at least, it leaves me wondering: what is so wrong with the word "crafting" for what makers are doing? Why insist on "making"?)

Maker culture may not be those things. But I'd be hard pressed to tell from where I'm sitting - and what I'm seeing from where I'm sitting doesn't really leave me all that eager to try and find out.

#20 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2015, 09:02 AM:

I was struck that, yes, education definitely gets a lot of pain these days, but I don't think Makers as such are where that's coming from. Certainly I consider "I teach" to be a properly proud response to "I make stuff". (Admittedly, I come from a family of teachers.)


#21 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2015, 09:22 AM:

There seems to be a prejudice or neglect that cuts several ways. The maker group I found a couple years back seems to be all about circuits and codes, and not about machining or carpentry, tangible stuff like that. But a machinist and a textile artist were both treated well. Even so, the machinist at least felt like a bit of an outlier, and wished for more diversity in the group.
I agree that where not-fully-examined prejudices exist they must be mercilessly rooted out. Some folks need a break already.

#22 ::: Naomi Parkhurst ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2015, 10:38 AM:

It does really seem to depend a lot.

When the North Carolina Maker Faire started up a few years ago, the organization made an obvious effort to make it not just about robots and 3d printers - the first year's location was able to have more in the way of open fire, so the SCA group even had a forge. The organizers reached out specifically to local knit meetups and other similar groups. My knitting/weaving/spinning group was invited along and has participated every year.

As part of the local maker faire, I saw a lot of networking going on among the various groups - I went to one of the local maker spaces to look for help with 3d printing tools for a future faire. I got some good help and they were clearly reaching out to women. I didn't feel entirely welcome (the usual: feeling outnumbered) but they didn't do anything I found off-putting either. They are clearly interested in education as well - they run workshops for kids through our local library.

The larger NC Maker Faire had a real focus on education and on not just being electronics and 3d printers. Our weaving booth was one of the main features year after year, and was very popular among visitors. The policy of the faire was to give priority to groups who wanted to teach. Weavers, woodworkers, quilters, spinners, bookbinders, and smiths were all clearly considered to be just as much "makers" as anyone else participating. (And when someone groused on a comment thread about knitters taking up valuable space, the organizers were having none of it.)

Sadly, the NC faire is on hiatus on the moment due to volunteer burnout - also relevant to the conversation at hand. Apparently they were putting in twenty hour weeks on top of their day jobs--not sustainable.

While my personal experience has generally been positive, I do agree with Megpie71 about how I perceive the larger "maker" movement's presentation to the public. And I agree about the whiteness of the population involved, at least around here.

#23 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2015, 11:46 AM:

It's worth noting that Make Magazine is still going strong and that Craft Magazine folded after eight issues. I haven't looked closely enough to tell whether the craftier things migrated over or were bounced to the side of the road like Rango. Can anyone say?

#24 ::: Em ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2015, 12:36 PM:

I work as remote customer support staff for an online game company - community management is part of my job, so I was interested to note that my job is specifically named. We do get paid less than the coders and artists who do things you can point to (the company I work at is actually relatively good; I've mentioned I don't make a lot, but part of that is that I make an hourly wage, with fewer hours than I'd like. I get paid in USD, though, so my wage is also tied to the USD/CAD rate, which is working for me right now). My company's actually one of the better ones; my understanding is that my equivalent job at, say, Blizzard, earns minimum wage.

I wonder if part of it is that, to a degree, the things that make me good at my job are not things you can obtain paper qualifications for. This isn't entirely true across the board - early childhood education certification and degrees are a thing, though they don't guarantee you'll be good at keeping a room full of three-year-olds happy, safe, and learning things. While there are certifications in using various community management tools, there aren't any degrees in compassion, patience, the ability to say no to someone in a way that still lets them know you value them and see them as humans, the desire to say yes whenever possible, the ability to ask the right questions when someone is having trouble explaining their needs, etc. Certifications look fantastic on a CV and are generally correlated with higher income, but how do you certify empathy?

#25 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2015, 12:51 PM:

Dave Harmon @20, have you seen this Zen Pencils on what teachers make?

I haven't paid a lot of attention to Maker culture. I hear about it. I had thought of it as encouraging Making as opposed to solely Consuming, which seems like a good thing, whether you're talking about physical objects or art. I'm sorry to hear that at least some of it views making very narrowly.

#26 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2015, 01:52 PM:

Well, coders tend to get a lot of push as they age to move 'up' from coding to managing of coders, and that move up means more money.

'Well, either Deb Chachra has no idea what "maker culture" is, or I don't. I have long seen maker culture as standing primarily in opposition to "consumer culture."'

That is what Maker culture has been, but as any successful media phenomenon it is in the process of being repackaged for consumer culture.

#27 ::: Lady Kay ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2015, 01:58 PM:

I think that Maker Culture differs greatly on where it is being discussed and who is discussing it. This article has a lot of "Silicon Valley" about it--a local culture where doing things online with computers is how people make their money.

In my local area, Maker Culture is almost completely dominated by hobbies and volunteerism. There is a strong push from education and teachers, teaching and organizations that work with children/teens. Those organizations are Girl Scouts and the Boys and Girls Clubs.

One of the things that drives it is that the jobs and careers here can be very demoralizing. Administration, policy-making, lobbying, regulating, auditing, inspector generalling, etc. are high-conflict, low-intrinsic-reward jobs.

Maker Space is usually for hobbies and for teaching and learning collaboratively. It has a belief in the goodness of humanity that is lacking elsewhere. And it is a chance to interact with people on a one-to-one level, not some one-to-many speech-making.

There is also a vision that "this is good for the kids" and a hope that it will give the kids a hobby so they don't watch TV/eat too much/have sex too young/get involved in gangs/keep saying "I'm bored" until you want to kill them.

#28 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2015, 02:09 PM:

Maybe it's my age (which, I sometimes hear, means I Just Don't Get a lot of things), but I intuit a lot of overlap between "making" (at least as framed by Boing Boing posts) and what I've always thought of as "tinkering" and a wide range of long-established hobbyist activities that focus on producing (or repairing or restoring) items like guitars or amateur movies or sweaters or coffee tables or jewelry or cars. The "maker" incarnation of this activity category seems to have accreted around new technologies (Arduino gear, 3D printers), and thus might be seen as gendered in the same way that, say, cabinet-making and knitting have been, thanks to the divisions of labor and skill-acquisition that evolved in the culture at large.

The question of what kinds of making--or work--get honored and/or rewarded seems connected tangentially rather than directly. I suspect that any sufficiently large and complex economic system requires not only a great number of non-"maker" functionaries but a great number of people to do the rest of the work of keeping the social machinery turning, whether at home or driving a garbage truck. (This jumps over the transition from hand-making to industrial production: weavers to mills, seamstresses to sweatshops, and the accompanying changes in economic and social status.)

I confess that the maker subculture strikes me (again, as an Old Guy) as a kind of hipster/tech-geek incarnation of the electronics or hot-rod enthusiasms of my vanished youth, with a dash of socio-political self-congratulation thrown in for good measure.

#29 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2015, 02:49 PM:

Houston Makerspace seems to be doing their best to combat that attitude. They have ceramic, jewelry, and textile areas and a big woodshop as well as electronics and computers. We would be members if their membership rates weren't kinda pricey; the cheapest category that would be of real use to us is $80/month.

Russell, #28: I was just thinking that the older term "hobby shop" was very strongly gendered as well, being mostly devoted to model trains and plastic model-building in general, with a nod to people who build and fly radio-controlled planes and/or model rockets.

(I did get very briefly interested in model-building as a young teen, but the kind of models I wanted to build, which were not "planes, trains, ships, and automobiles", were difficult to find, so my interest didn't last long.)

#30 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2015, 03:01 PM:

CRAFT -- which was edited by Carla Sinclair, co-founder of Boing Boing -- mutated into a website. I suspect it got a lot of competition from existing craft magazines.

One of my first Make-inspired projects, based on a T-shirt laptop sleeve plan in an early issue:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stefan_e_jones/16331341316/

My stereo camera, in cunning disguise:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stefan_e_jones/5720642005/in/set-72157624069008172

2013 San Mateo Maker Faire:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stefan_e_jones/sets/72157633541077054/

2012 Portland Mini Maker Faire; I was running a rocketry booth:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stefan_e_jones/sets/72157631554965256/

#31 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2015, 04:18 PM:

This is off at an angle, but I keep dropping "maker" into the same semantic bin as "curated" (for anything edited or gathered-together), "artisanal" (in everything from cheese-making and brewing to pencil-sharpening), "irony" (in its non-rhetorical sense--first Alanis Morisette and now ironic beards and entire wardrobes--how is this different from camp?).

And, of course, "hipster," which I suspect is a 21st-century (ahem) rebranding of (in reverse chronological order) the punk, hippy, beatnik, and hepcat, right back to the Bowery b'hoys and g'hals of 19th-century New York. (I've been reading Tyler Anbinder's Five Points.)

"Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?"

"Whadda ya got?"

#32 ::: Em ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2015, 04:24 PM:

I'm a big fan of the Calming Manatee, personally.

#33 ::: Em ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2015, 04:29 PM:

And that went onto the wrong thread. That's what I get for having multiple tabs open. Can we edit that (and this) out? Sorry!

#34 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2015, 04:43 PM:

OtterB #25: I have, and emphatically agree.

#35 ::: Lady Kay ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2015, 05:06 PM:

My spouse is doing the research on this (Google-fu).
Wikipedia--a lot about computer-controlled manufacturing.
Forbes--Etsy, first example is Etsy/Nordstrom's so likely to be clothing or jewelry
Economist--"The Art and Craft of Business" all about Etsy (Jan. 4, 2014)
NPR--Heard something tracing the Maker movement to Martha Stewart.

My sources tend to run to the NPR side of the spectrum, so comparing on Google does help balance it out.

#36 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2015, 05:06 PM:

Em @32 & 33:

We tend to leave these comments as reminders that Making Light is a weird and interesting place. But feel free to repost the link in the OT.

#37 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2015, 05:08 PM:

I've had a mildly negative and bemused reaction to the name "Maker" which I find silly in a couple ways, and to the way it's used - as I see it - to valorize a particular subset of hobbies.

What I mean about the naming part is that it seems to me we have long had perfectly good names for all sorts of roles for people who make physical stuff by hand, especially if they are good enough to do it for their livelihoods - you're a craftsman or artist, generally speaking, or any range of much more specific terms - sculptor, carpenter, luthier, painter, weaver, mechanic.... What is wrong with using those specific terms?

And then there's the unassuming traditional American adjective "handy". My wife just last week built a very clever wooden gate thing to keep our dog from getting into the catboxes without getting in the cats' way. I don't think she sees that as her identity, any more than my baking and cooking is my identity, but she might be pleased to hear again that she's handy with carpentry and plumbing.

Claiming that there is some common identity as a "maker" which one expresses by doing any of these things or a bunch more as a hobby, without necessarily even doing them well, just strikes me as very odd. There's some sleight of hand going on there - not just in what it excludes (though I don't disagree with debcha about that) but what it lumps together.

The other big problem I have with the term is a silly one in a canonically SFnal way - I can't hear it without thinking "a drowning baby sandworm?"

#38 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2015, 05:35 PM:

#37: Maker, as opposed to captive consumer?

* * *
If there's an emphasis on DIY electronic gadgetry in Maker Faires and Make magazine, it is perhaps because electronics gadgets have come to dominate our lives in many ways, but are not subject to the kind of hacking and mucking about that handy and skilled people traditionally expect to do.

I dug up a "Maker Bill of Rights" by Mister Jalopy, a frequent contributor to Make:

http://www.misterjalopy.com/?page_id=219

Note that it is all electronics oriented. Perhaps because you wouldn't need to have a bill of rights for other hobby and DIY pursuits. Things like wood and car bodies and cloth are more inherently hackable, and there are long traditions and bodies of lore associated with them.

#39 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2015, 05:36 PM:

Clifton #37: Oh, the "Maker" thing is totally tribalism, and yeah, the boundaries are interesting. I suspect the movement is a reaction to the financial crisis, meant to oppose the "suits" whose highly-paid "work" amounted to trashing the national economy.

However, the original impetus may have started with the geekier hobbyists, but that movement promptly ran into the older crafting groups, including the "back to the earth" types. And once cluebatted, the various groups do seem fairly good about learning that the traditionally feminine crafts are also "making". (Yes Athene, I know you have a sword. You can put it away now, please. :-) )

#40 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2015, 05:39 PM:

Russell Letson @ #31: "hipster," which I suspect is a 21st-century (ahem) rebranding of (in reverse chronological order) the punk, hippy, beatnik, and hepcat, right back to the Bowery b'hoys and g'hals of 19th-century New York.

Not sure I'd include those last ones in the evolutionary line, since as far as I know, they were a subculture that genuinely grew out of the slums, whereas the others tended to be middle-class kids imitating them, either in a sincere display of solidarity or an attempt to annoy their parents (this probably varied by individual). That said, there were probably some 19th-century scions of upper-crust NYC who adopted the dress and manners of the Bowery toughs -- I don't know if there was a name for this at the time?

#41 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2015, 05:55 PM:

My Mystic Lantern:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stefan_e_jones/sets/72157626852268457/

The runes spell out my brother's name. It was a housewarming gift. When you put it in a dark room multicolored runes shift and play across the ceiling.

I've since found another trashed lantern, which I plan on gifting to a publisher after I put on his logo. I need to find a more efficient way to make the vinyl masks; the logo is pretty complex.

#42 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2015, 06:23 PM:

Sarah @40: B'hoysters? (Boisters?) B'hoysies?

The thread I see running through all those subcultures and style-tribes (and through the flappers and sheiks of the '20s as well) is youthful assertion of a status that is between child and fully-responsible-and-respectable adult. There's a dose of courting-period display in there as well--every one of the movements is marked as much by Look as by Attitude. Middle-class kids might look "down" socio-economically for their aesthetic rebellion inspiration, but what I see from my perch is that urge to overturn grownup-culture applecarts and provoke kids-these-days comments and demands to get off the damn lawn. And to have fun, which not only girls want to just have.

Which comment wanders even farther from the matter of makers, though I suspect at least some demographic overlap.

#43 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2015, 07:31 PM:

I suggest that the original link is part of a genre-- the easy outrage article.

Apparently, it isn't part of the worst of the genre, since it apparently applies to at least some aspects of maker culture.

However, these articles lack context, and sometimes they're just plain stupid. (I started thinking about this as a genre after someone wrote an article about women not voting for Obama because they were envious of him being thin.)

I don't know whether this is compassion or condescension, but I get some distance on these articles by imagining a writer with a deadline who isn't especially bright. They can't think of a topic, and they reach for something to be angry about.

I need distance from this stuff because if someone expresses a strong emotion, I reflexively check to see whether I share it, and I'm very likely to assume I'm wrong if I don't share it. (If you have advice on dealing with this kind of thing, I'm interested. Please don't just tell me this is a problem. I know it's a problem.)

I don't know how much making should be conceived as a rebel movement (it wouldn't surprise me if some of the people in it think about it that way). I think of it as people taking more initiative than usual in order to have fun.

#44 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2015, 08:58 PM:

Thank you, Nancy.

There are legitimate concerns in the article, but I don't know why how the Maker movement was chosen as an especially relevant peg to hang them on.

#45 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2015, 09:10 PM:

I had much the same reaction to the article as Abi did, and think Clifton@37 is onto something with his observation about things we do versus identities we claim. I'm glad that Chachra wrote up the piece and shared it with the world, and that Abi called it to our attention here.

I know that in my case, at least, a lot of what I see about "makers" carries an unwelcome resonance with the pernicious crud spread around when I was growing up about being "bright". It was easy to pick up the idea that being good at academics was innately connected to being insightful, capable of mastering anything worth mastering (and therefore that anything not immediately yielding was probably not actually worth the effort and could be dismissed as less valuable, and my goodness those grapes were clearly too sour), and (and this was the most noxious) wise. So I much prefer approaches that talk about things we do, and what it takes to do them from ourselves and from others, and do not build identities on them.

#46 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2015, 12:16 AM:

I have read one issue of Make (the first, and I tried to get a gift subscription for my dad but none of the others ever arrived, so). I couldn't do a single one of the projects. They were interesting, but required things I couldn't get or didn't know how to do.

Most of what I have read about Makers comes from Boing Boing's hyperbolic praise.

And yeah, if I hear about an Iowa City Maker event, I am not going. I would not expect anyone I know to go. I would not expect to enjoy myself and I would not expect to be welcomed. Because I don't think I'd like hanging out with a crowd I perceive as very self-congratulatory and male-oriented, a crowd that would perhaps see me as a cute little pet ("check out this five-year-old coding!" crows his father on Facebook). I don't have the money for a 3D printer. I don't have the computer for it, either (and hooboy, a lot of the Maker stuff I read is about printing).

I know that there is a number of times a person should try something before they condemn it, and it is more than once. But is it more than Abi has tried? Is it more than Deb has tried?

I don't think I'd like someone who identified as a Maker any more than I would a Gamer. Someone who does those things, sure. But if that's the first thing you claim as an intentional identity... yeah, I don't know.

Plus, as Abi said, we don't value the service jobs. I could make three times as much if I could get an environmental engineering job. I wouldn't be nearly as good at it as I am at my special-ed job coach job. But I'd be able to do more things. A friend of mine has been told she's wasting her education because she's raising her kids with it, applying the pedagogy she learned to a pair of developing minds.

So I guess... how do people committed to the Maker brand change its image among people who distrust it?

#47 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2015, 12:36 AM:

#46: Here are some photo sets I took of Maker Faires. Why don't you look at them before you make assumptions about the people who go to them, and whether you'd be welcomed?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stefan_e_jones/sets/72157619121497684/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stefan_e_jones/sets/72157626828157286/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stefan_e_jones/sets/72157631554965256/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stefan_e_jones/sets/72157633541077054/

I wish I had more photos of the little Portland Mini-Maker Faire, but I was too busy helping kids build rockets. There were pirates there, and a group showing kids how to make knap flint and use a fire bow, a group of armor-makers, and Miss Demeanor's http://criminalcrafts.com/ group.

#48 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2015, 01:00 AM:

46
One of the places I go online is Evil Mad Scientist Labs, which is maker stuff - but it isn't all robots and coding. They also have sewing and cooking and non-soldering electronics and some interesting linkdumps (and kits that are, unfortunately, out of my budget).

#49 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2015, 02:02 AM:

Before the discussion goes further in a direction that I'm finding very uncomfortable, I'd like to remind everyone that the author of the article, debcha, is a member of this community, and one whose contributions I personally have valued a lot.

Please think at least twice before you talk stink about your neighbor and acquaintance here. Thank you, sincerely.

#50 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2015, 02:45 AM:

I read this elseweb and there were aspects of it which rang clear as a bell for me. The Maker Culture I saw in SF was largely male dominated, with showier (or more "high tech") aspects being the one's people were talking about. Access to a machine shop is a larger part of it, which meant one had to have the time to get a place with the lathes/mills/welding equipment/etc. and the time/money to take the classes the shop required before one could use them.

I confess part of why I didn't join tech-shop was being sort of stiff-necked. I'm a dab hand on both mill, and lathe (having been a machinist), and paying them to say, "yes, you can use it; like so, and here is the class to use it like so", stuck in my craw some.

When I went to Maker Faire what I saw was big projects, with metal, and armatures, and electricity, gettint the front and center play, and the fiber arts, plants, soapmaking, beekeeping, being in the back. One can guess at the relative ratios of men and women in the various areas.

When I look at places which have projects (say, Instructables), I see a lot of stuff that requires tools (torches, forges, grinders, welders, lathes, presses, etc., arduinos), and a lot of it is money intensive. It's not that I don't think it's interesting, or useful: learning how to tinker is a valuable thing, but it's seems oddly skewed.

A recent Instructables has the following list:


Anti-Rape Gloves

Huge Wood Nixie Clock

10 Unusual Uses for Baking Soda

Make Wooden Rings with a Drill

Quick Mozzarella Curds

Palletable Workbench

Industrial Fly Trap

Adhesives 101: How to Glue...

Candle Polish Wood

$2 Dremel Router Attachment

Infinity Scarf Knit on a Loom

Can into Drinking Can/Glass

Woodcarving the Female Form

Copper Industrial-Style Display Lighting

Dead Bug Prototyping & Freeform Electronics

Five of those requires a shop, one is based on modifying a power tool (the Dremel: so it's a $2 kludge, for a $100 tool.

One of them is a case study about a guy who carves statues into lving trees (in this case a 500 year old oak)

The Candle Polish looks like it's going to be pretty simple, but he has a heat gun and a propane torch involved.

The Anti-Rape gloves (ignoring the problematic aspect of the "Stranger Rape" model which is the driving force behind his wanting to protect his sister), call for Calipers, Angle Grinder, Belt Sander, Dremel, Automatic Centerpunch, Tap and Die set.

The piece on how glues work is pretty simple, and informative.

COnverting the pallets to a workbench.... Clamps, planer, Miter Saw (or box), brackets, level, circular saw.

The Can into drinking glass was the only "no cost" project (being instructions on how to use a can-opener to remove the top, and thus have a cup)

The three which were obviously by women... Cheese, knitting and uses for baking soda.

It's not that women don't other stuff on Instructables (Chain Mail, knife making, and archery are three which I recall), but one has to search them out. The lists Instructables assembles and sends to me seem to pretty much fit this mold... tools and fire from guys, DIY swimwear from women.

And the stuff they do show tends to skew to stuff that wants a shop to do well (if at all). I make stuff. I fix stuff, but the Maker Culture doesn't feel inviting to me. I feel marginalised because I don't have a shop (though I'd like a small mill/lathe/forge). Most of the things I see call for several hundred dollars worth of gear. Yeah, being able to take a stack of pallets to my planer, and run 'em across the table saw, slap 'em with the biscuit cutter and glue 'em up would be handy for saving some money on buying a table... but it sort of pre-supposes I had the monehy to spend on the tools/space.

So, again, it's an inclusive culture; of one has the money/time. The barriers to entry are non-trivial.

And part of it is non-inclusionary. People make things. The same way we see patterns, we make things. I make yarn, and bread, and plants. I sharpen knives (just refurbished a lovely couple of pieces, a mid-weight cleaver [about 2 lbs] and a 14 inch chef/butcher's knife [made in Schwabia, ca. 1915-1925]). I repair things. I do pottery (well, not lately, but I have bowls and cups which I made, which will long out last me, even if only as potsherds in a tip). I've designed ditching to drain a paddock, and some to keep the roses watered deep (and the walk between the main house and the hens passable). I've built dog runs, and mouse barns and darned my socks.

But "Maker Culture" doesn't feel (to me) to value those things much. The quotidian efforts of people... sort of get overlooked; to some degree, disdained.

YMMV

#51 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2015, 02:55 AM:

I'm with Clifton (and I hope I didn't contribute to that aspect of the conversational drift).

This is a touchy subject, because what we do is part of how we define ourselves, and talking about cultural issues pokes at tender spots.

I"m trying to talk about the large aspects of what I observe. None of what I'm saying is meant to describe any single person. In point of fact the people I've talked to at Maker Faires (and the self-identified Makers I've hung out with) are all swell folks. They have been inviting, and not in the least dismissive.

How that manages to translate to the sorts of things I see in the meta-group I don't know. But that's the sort of issue I'd like to investigate.

#52 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2015, 03:31 AM:

Speaking as a moderator, I felt that the tone of the conversation became more acceptable after people started chiming in agreeing with Deb. That's one reason I posted comment 9, though it as stupid-late at night for me after a really difficult work week. But I see it's veering back into unacceptable territory.

It's unfortunate that the impulse to pile on is so much stronger when the person piled onto is not (seen to be) in the conversation. Then you can make all kinds of easy assumptions about them. But it is not, alas, surprising. Sometimes my job as a moderator is to stand next to the person being piled onto. I had hoped that would be the remedy in this case.

Clearly that's not working, so let me be blunt:

The article is written by an intelligent, engaged member of this community as an expression of her genuine lived experiences and her thoughtful attention to the nature of our discourse. It was part of her personal blog, and was only later picked up by the Atlantic. And many of the commenters here in this thread agree with her, in whole or in part.

If you have a problem, choose another vector for tackling it. Don't make the easy assumptions about who she is or why she wrote what she did. It's not doing your case or your views any favors.

#53 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2015, 07:50 AM:

I've read the article. It is definitely the case that "maker culture" varies vastly from place to place (with micro-inclusions that are very different).

But some trends I've seen in the large makes me hesitant to call myself "a Maker". Not as much as I hesitate to call myself "a gamer" though (30 years for both computer games and pen&paper RPGs, probably close to 40 for the wider sense of "boardgame"), but...

I do like to figure out how to make things. I have, at the moment, one project that's waiting for me to get back and re-design some spacer plates (and find a suitable 5mm rod), before it becomes a transparent 3-speed planetary gearbox. Not useful for anything but "aha, that's how it works".

What I've seen locally (that is, on the "we like to tinker with tools, sewing machines and the like" mailing lists at work) is helpfulness, a willingness to say "sure, I know how to X, if you want instruction...", enthusiasm and the like.

But, that's without any commercial pressure. Work's kindly donated space for workshops and it's essentially up to us to ensure that we balance "get stuff done" and "get fun done".

I started out by playing with filament extrusion 3D printing (yes, it's eminently possible to print a Sierpinski Tetrix, in such a way that it's internally self-supported; likewise Menger Sponges), because there were some interesting challenges there. I still haven't figured out something that isn't "because I can" to make with them, but that's not needed.

I've also spent some time playing with the laser cutter (burr puzzles, jigsaws and the above-mentioned gearbox). Because that's still full of skills to acquire. And who doesn't love a transparent burr puzzle>?

#54 ::: Lady Kay ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2015, 08:10 AM:

@abi, @52. I turned to sources because I was getting the impression that my (barely) lived experience with this was not typical. Sources showed that basically all I knew came from NPR, which has its own set of blinkers. The Wikipedia article is probably reflective of most people's experience with the Maker movement and the Wikipedia article is in fairly complete agreement with Deb Chachra's experience as described in the article.

I apologize for the use of Silicon Valley when I really don't know (and couldn't find) anything about the geographic area that Deb Chachra is reporting from.

#55 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2015, 09:00 AM:

Lady Kay @54:

Your experience may or may not be typical; it's still your experience, and completely valid. More generally, there are clearly gaps on the continuum from "individual" through "typical" and on to "universal"; some of the most polarized reactions look to me to be from people who elide those gradiations.

Another notable gulf between the two sides of the conversation is that between maker culture as a producer of physical objects ("What do you make?" and the profusion of physical goods when we're already drowning in possessions) and the culture as a place to foster the human act of producing physical objects (creativity, teaching, empowerment). The two coexist, and my sense is that many of the people who feel part of maker culture resonate with the latter. Deb, on the other hand, was put off (partly) by the former.

A third facet is that, despite its attempt to be something new, making doesn't come into a tabula rasa of creative culture. There's a long history of prioritizing some kinds of creators and creativity over others (chefs vs cooks; mechanics vs sewing). To be welcomed into maker culture when I've been sewing my own clothes since forever can feel erasing and devaluing rather than welcoming. In that sense, starting a Craft magazine was not a positive step; it felt very...Atwood, in the sense of "Let me reinvent the genre you've been enjoying forever. There! Now it's acceptable."

Sorry. That wandered away from being a response to you.

As for Deb's location, the footer to the Atlantic article mentions that she's an associate professor at Olin College.

#56 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2015, 09:34 AM:

Clifton #49: Thank you for that.

#57 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2015, 10:41 AM:

First, my apologies. It didn't occur to me that Deb might be reading the thread, and when I was ranting about poor quality journalism, I hadn't yet read the article.

I have read the article now, and it's definitely more based in personal experience than I was thinking.

#58 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2015, 10:48 AM:

Lady Kay, #54: Tangentially to your comment, I would like to note that Wikipedia is currently... less reliable than usual on matters relating "broadly to sex and gender". Frankly, at the moment, I'm not inclined to trust them on anything beyond the historical details of comic books.

#59 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2015, 10:51 AM:

Lee... ah yes,the charming mra dicks are at it again.

#60 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2015, 02:25 PM:

Abi @13: my takeaway from Deb's article is that it's a specific case of product is privileged over process. I'm not sure quite where we get it from, but human practices with reified outputs that can be pointed to are taken as status-elevating signals; whereas human practices that are continuous and on-going -- notably the caring occupations: cooking, washing, raising kids, cleaning -- don't leave a reified product behind to be pointed at and hooted about.

#61 ::: Lady Kay ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2015, 02:43 PM:

@Lee, 58 and @Serge Broom, 59. My first and second response is "What the actual hell?".

Then I remember this quote attributed to Margaret Mead, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."


Why, oh why is the group of committed citizens committed about putting another group of citizens into a lower place?

#62 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2015, 04:05 PM:

I've been thinking about the Maker phenomenon for a few days now. One of the things I'm seeing in it goes way beyond whatever sexism there is in its choice of what "making" to be interested in and straight into what comes across to me as act of appropriation against both existing craft communities and existing ways of relating to crafting.

Let me deal with the first by looking at the woodworking community. Once you step away from the huge mass producers, there is a complete continuity between people making a living building cabinetry and art objects all the way down to people doing no more than fixing their broken desk drawers. There are a whole bunch of different philosophies about how to do woodworking, all coexisting; there are many streams of dealing with tools and their purchase/construction/use. There is also a huge sense of historical perspective, partly because reproduction of historic styles is such a big part of the art, but also because of (at least in the USA) a lot of historical research into methods (as for instance at the woodshop in Williamsburg). Perhaps no single object exemplifies this as the Krenov plane, designed by one of the two most influential 20th century American woodworkers. And you can get instructions and plans to make one (for it is a homemade tool by its nature) online from Popular Mechanics; nobody thinks this odd. If you want odd (or at least not something you might have thought of on your own) you can build your own bandsaw from plans, and get something which is potentially as good as if not better than a commercial saw.

This culture is already out there, and while (as I said) there's a separate commercial culture, it's either about mass-produced shortcuts (Ikea) or simply doing what is done at home or in the carriage trade on a larger scale (reputable furniture companies). CNC is something you can buy but for the most part it has largely found use for reproducing decorative elements. Industrial concerns use gunstock lathes for gang production of irregular parts, and CNC has gotten into these as well; but making a home gunstock lathe is done occasionally and perhaps home CNC-driven versions will become available. Generating parts directly from computer models will probably happen eventually but at present the most common modelling tool won't do it and as a rule physical patterning is a lot faster and cheaper.

Anyway, after that long preface: what I'm seeing in this is that the Makers don't seem to me to have earned any kind of relationship to this, except to be instructed by it. Every aspect of woodworking as appropriate and sustainable technology has been hammered every which way for a long time, for the most part due to economic pressures. Getting affordable wood and getting as much out of it as possible is one of the obsessions of the craft; for example, there is a whole science of scavenging wood from shipping pallets. Tool cost and quality considerations have led to an ethic of working with antique tools, and if you look at any review of new tools there will be separate "best" and "best value" reccos made. But there's also an aesthetic component on how to work. A lot of people don't use big power tools because they're expensive and take up a lot of room, but there is also a hand tool movement which arises out of a desire to keep one's hearing, lung capacity, and appendages. The woodshops one sees described in TechShop's amenities are really nice if you come from the Norm "I never met a power tool I didn't like" Abramson school of things, but a lot of people just don't want to work that way.

Woodworking people didn't need somebody from O'Reilly to tell them to do this, and there's a certain amusement to be had in raising an eyebrow at their presumption in acting as if hotrodding (to take another subculture with a long and storied history) and home woodworking were something they'd invented. And the sexism is all there too, and a telling thing it is beyond that. It would be REALLY COOL to be able to design a fabric and be able to go to a community shop with a power loom and other equipment to crank out a bolt. Weaving, after all, is where computer control started. But what I see is that this is all about boy toys and not about a practical and historical relationship with real craft.

#63 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2015, 04:18 PM:

C Wingate @62:

CNC? I can look up the term online (Computer Numerical Control?), but a little context about how the term is used/what it's shorthand for would make your comment even more illuminating than it already is. (And it is, in point of fact, interesting and illuminating. Thank you for it.)

#64 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2015, 04:45 PM:

Sorry, I should have spelled it out. CNC means tools driven by instructions from computers or their ilk rather than by hands/mechanical/patterns/etc. A 3D printer is a CNC device. More classically CNC tools take a chunk of substance and cut away everything that isn't in their stored picture of it. CNC proper dates back into the 1960s with paper tape-controlled milling machines; the woodworking equivalent is something like Rockler's CNC Shark which moves a router (a spinning shaft with a carving bit on the end) with an X-Y-Z positioning mechanism, controlled by computer instructions. A typical usage is to put an object to be copied on the table and then scan it with a probe point that replaces the router bit and which is moved around by the same mechanism that moves the cutter. This generates a three-dimensional surface image in the computer which is then touched up and used by the cutting program to work out the path of the cutting bit. Neither scanning nor carving is an especially speedy process: for something about the size of your hand you would be looking at multiple hours for each, and the thing has to be supervised because screw-ups happen. The Rockler machines are considered to be good hobbyist machines, but you can spend three to five times that for higher end and larger devices; by comparison you can spend not much more money than this to get a whole set of decent versions of all the core power tools.

Other CNC machines seen these days are laser and plasma cutters to punch out shapes from thin materials, and the beloved-of-Makers 3D printer. Jacquard looms are the forerunners of the concept.

#65 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2015, 04:58 PM:

Abi @63:

Properly (as far as I am concerned), "CNC" is an adjective, applied to tools which can be controlled by computer. One could refer to a flat-bed plotter as a CNC drafting table (no one does, but it fits), for instance. CNC tools can be modifications to existing tools: take a traditional metal-turning lathe, replace the lead-screw drive and cross-head drive with stepper motors and electronic measuring devices, hook it up to a controller, and you can drive the lathe with a computer (or by hand, if hooked up that way). Or it can be designed specifically for computer control, no hand controls, like a 3D printer. When a computer-controlled tool has no traditional hand-controlled alternative, no one uses CNC (no one talks about a CNC 3d printer, a CNC laser cutter, a CNC plotter; they all are CNC)

"CNC" by itself, without a noun to modify, usually refers to whatever is the common CNC tool type around. Usually it's a mill, but I can see woodworkers using the term to refer to a CNC router as just "CNC".

#66 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2015, 05:18 PM:

C. Wingate: It would be REALLY COOL to be able to design a fabric and be able to go to a community shop with a power loom and other equipment to crank out a bolt.

Does Spoonflower count?

#67 ::: Bruce H. ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2015, 05:58 PM:

C. Wingate @62

Also, from Open Thread 202:

http://www.sartor.cz/content/8-fabric-on-demand-catalogue

#68 ::: Eric K ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2015, 05:58 PM:

I should know better than to write while suffering from flu-brain, because flu-brain tends to be exhausting and depressing. Curse H2N3 and its aftermath.

But I wanted to thank Naomi Parkhurst @ #22 for describing what sounds like a fun event:

The larger NC Maker Faire had a real focus on education and on not just being electronics and 3d printers. Our weaving booth was one of the main features year after year, and was very popular among visitors. The policy of the faire was to give priority to groups who wanted to teach. Weavers, woodworkers, quilters, spinners, bookbinders, and smiths were all clearly considered to be just as much "makers" as anyone else participating. (And when someone groused on a comment thread about knitters taking up valuable space, the organizers were having none of it.)

We don't have anything like this around here (that I've ever heard of), and it sounds like it would be a lot of fun. I always thought the name "maker" was a bit strange, but if people are going to use it, this kind of hugely diverse event seems like a wonderful thing to do under that banner. I'm sorry to hear that the volunteers got overwhelmed by the work involved.

#69 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2015, 06:04 PM:

Link cleanup needed in #66. There's an "http//www..." when it needs to begin "http://"

#70 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2015, 06:31 PM:

Carrie @66: Spoonflower isn't weaving-on-demand, it's cloth printing-on-demand. Which is fine if that's what you need, but wouldn't satisfy my desire to get custom-woven cloth.

Bruce H @67: Sartor.cz seems to have an interesting pricing structure that makes me tempted to abuse it. Either they are really eager to make a name in the US, or they don't sell to the US. I found 11 oz (230 g/m^2) wine red wool in 150mm width for $0/m (17,43 €/m).

Great... Now I want to do a CNC conversion on the 45" 4-shaft Leclerc sitting in my front room.

#71 ::: Lady Kay ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2015, 10:26 PM:

Can I just say, "if we don't like the way some people define Maker culture, can't we just use it to mean what WE want it to mean?" If it is useful to you, "make the weather", turn it into what YOU want it to be. Culture is made by people getting together and doing it.

I like the description by #22 ::: Naomi Parkhurst . Let's just tell the world that THAT is what it means. After we say it enough, THAT is what it will mean.

#72 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2015, 02:17 AM:

Lady Kay @ 71

More and more, I have been realizing that what I really want is a geek creative, where I can trade my own skills, tools and knowledge with other community members in a collaborative setting. I keep feeling like making and makerspace are intended to be that. But I also feel like - who am I, from the outside, who has not invested in the maker community, to say that from outside, their scope seems too narrow (because it does to me, too)? But also, do I want to invest in a community that is probably not a perfect fit, to get the credibility to advocate an expansion of their scope? Coming into an established space with the intention of changing it to suit my needs doesn't feel okay. But building up from zero is a lot more work than joining something already there.

I haven't arrived at a satisfying answer.

#73 ::: Eric K ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2015, 08:02 AM:

I'm thinking more about C. Wingate's discussion of appropriation @ #62.

In my chunk of semi-rural New England, we don't have a local "maker" community as far as I know. (Maybe I should look around.) What we do have is a hobbyist robotics community, driven by the ready availability of programmable LEGOs, FIRST robotics in high school, Arduino boards, and so on. I don't know of anybody with a 3D printer, but I do know people who order custom circuit boards and 3D parts by mail. The average age of the robotics folks is pretty young: high school and college. They have a ton of fun, because yay, robots.

We also have at least two older crafting communities that somehow seem to be distantly related: model railroads and miniature machines. The latter group seems to be made up of retired machinists whose jobs were outsourced decades ago, but I hear that they build some really impressive things—like working internal combustion engines that you can hold in one hand. But the average age in these groups tends to run much older: 50s, 60s or more.

In theory, there could be a big overlap between these communities. The word "hacker", after all, comes from the MIT Model Railroad Club. But at least as an outsider, I don't see any obvious relationship between these groups. The model railroad people seem to live in the glory days of railroad (i.e. trains obsolete long before I was born), and I've never personally seen an Arduino train controller or a cool modern train like a TGV. And the robot-builders have very limited machining skills compared to the engine-builders.

And yet, despite these huge inter-generational knowledge gaps, I can't find any useful way to think of this as "appropriation." Kids invent shiny new things, and they have every right to do so. They'll often take minimal guidance from their elders, and only when those elders actually volunteer to run a club and teach. They'll generally look at a bunch of model trains from the 1930s, say "oooh" for a few minutes, and then go do something else. And of course much of the robotics culture is commercial: most people can't make microprocessors or sensors by hand, and I'm ecstatic that capitalism is determined to market parts and equipment in the $30–$1000 range. At little bit of commercialization makes the hobby far more accessible. (As do a few enthusiastic magazines. Community matters.)

I don't see how the robot-builders have any responsibility to "earn" a relationship to any pre-existing community. They have a right to make their own fun. And sure, it would be wonderful if there were some sort of huge, inter-generational craft movement where everybody could all meet and talk shop. Our local fiber arts people are awesome, and we have some SCAdians who know their way around a forge. But we don't have anything like the NC Maker Faire here.

I do, however, agree it would be awesome to have programmable power looms in a "fiberspace" of some sort. But it takes a fair bit of time and money to organize something like that. (And now I have an urge to find out whether I can 3D-print parts for a Jacquard loom.)


KayTei @ #72: Coming into an established space with the intention of changing it to suit my needs doesn't feel okay. But building up from zero is a lot more work than joining something already there.

In our region of Vermont, we have an odd little non-profit that did a huge amount of community-building for farmers and restaurants. I think this might be an interesting model. Here's how it worked:

  1. They surveyed a lot of people: producers, customers, etc., and tried to tease out what people valued and wanted.
  2. They organized a local fair where farmers, chefs and caterers could have booths. The chefs and caterers, however, where required to prepare food using things produced by the farmers.
  3. They invited the community in to try free food. Hundreds of people arrived the first year, and probably thousands in later years.
  4. The farmers were ecstatic and overwhelmed by the public interest. And the public discovered all sorts of delicious local products to buy. And afterwards, there was an upswing in restaurants promoting local food. And today, there's even one small company that exists just to ship local food to local markets.

The basic model here was: listen to people, encourage them to create connections, and throw a great party open to the public. Then keep working away at it, year after year. If you were going to try this for crafts, I could imagine several ways to create connections. For example, you could give booth preferences to groups collaborating with other local groups, and to groups focusing on education. Or you could organize a multi-craft "geek creative" meetup.

#74 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2015, 08:30 AM:

Eric K @73, I think the difference between what you describe and the appropriation C Wingate discusses @62 is that the robotics hobbyists in your example just think robots are cool. They aren't declaring themselves to be "makers" who are making cool things that are so cool because nobody ever made anything before. In terms of Venn diagrams, you have three non-overlapping groups. (They might enjoy having some overlap and not realize it, but that's a separate issue.) C. Wingate described one circle of the diagram as declaring itself to surround the others.

#75 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2015, 09:33 AM:

Lady Kay, I wouldn't want to put in the work of forcing a community I'm not part of to change. I mean, yes, it's a good way to fix things, be the change you want to see in the world, only way things get done, and I don't mean those as dismissively as I type them. But there is value in what the Maker movement is now. It's just not valuable to me, and I won't be part of it as I perceive it. I don't want to do all that work that the community doesn't want just so I can join in. I have other communities.

Another data point: did anyone else see the Boing Boing post about the high-profile Maker guy's book? With the how-to-choose-tools teaser pages and the how-to-set-up-workshop spread? It mimicked Abi's lumpers vs splitters tool taxonomy, which was cool convergent evolution, but also demonstrated that it's not a book intended for me. My projects are mending things I don't want to replace (or can't afford to, in the case of my bag) and portable projects I can pull out while walking at work. I've probably done a couple inches of socks following a student around the Children's Museum, and it makes me a better job coach.

Hm. I haven't seen that essay yet: "How Making Things Makes a Better Parent". Because when you have your own projects, you don't meddle in your kid's. Because you demonstrate that you have your own life and ambitions. Because, like reading, you show that idle time doesn't have to be empty. Because you show how to handle frustration and other problems as they crop up.

But this requires a project you can do in the living room or at the kitchen table, or a workshop that functions as a play space so you aren't sequestering yourself away from the family. Which leads right back to knitting, I guess, because that's the experience I have. I wonder what other projects would work that I don't know about?

#76 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2015, 10:43 AM:

Eric K. @ 73

So in other words, starting from scratch is a lot of work. I can't imagine having the free time to spearhead a project like that anytime soon. Not that it isn't possible, or valuable, or a good idea. It just isn't accessible absent a highly motivated core with free time and a certain level of disposable income.

#77 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2015, 10:58 AM:

I helped create a makerspace in my town. My goal in doing so was to provide a space, tools, education, and other resources for people who want to make stuff, but don't have the space, tools, skills, etc. -- or the money to acquire them. We run as a 501(3)(c) non-profit.

Ideally, I want the makerspace to have a machine shop, a woodshop, sewing machines, 3d printers, electronic workbenches, computers, laser cutters, a kiln, welders, etc, etc. We aren't there yet -- these things take money, and space (which takes money), and money can be hard for us to get as otherwise. We are currently contemplating writing a grant to hire a grant writer.

I don't want us to be limited to the "new" techy fancy electronics/robotics stuff. I want people to be able to walk in and make anything they can imagine (that is possible), be it a pantsuit or a suit of armor, be it a miniature steam locomotive, or the Arduino train controller to run it. I want us to be open to the 80-year-old grandmother learning about servomotors and the Processing programming language, and to the teenage boy accidentally discovering that he's making a cable-knit s/w/e/a/t/e/r/ Mobius scarf.

But there are a few limitations we have to deal with: We run on volunteer effort, donations, and membership and class fees. We've had to refuse certain types of donations (within two weeks of opening our doors, we had more LCD flat-screen monitors that we have ever used), and we aren't getting others (we have one sewing machine; my girlfriend owns more). We have volunteers willing to teach welding, woodworking, and electronics, but no one has volunteered to teach knitting or crochet. So we don't teach it.

But a big problem with tying ourselves in with existing communities of people who make stuff is that we need them more than they need us. Why would an established woodworker come to our space? Their tools (whether they take after Norm Abrams or Roy Underhill) are already better than ours, their workshops are already set up, etc. All we can offer is a social outlet.

On another note, about the terminology: In my view, the use of the term "maker" and "makerspace" is highly driven by the success of Make: Magazine, and Maker Media. Make:Magazine, Makerfaire, and the like are all commercial trademarks owned by Maker Media. As such, I'm not too keen on the term "maker" and "makerspace", as I view them to be too associated with a particular commercial enterprise we don't necessarily always see eye-to-eye with. But it is also the name that seems to have stuck.

#78 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2015, 11:47 AM:

C. Wingate, #62 & 64: That's a really interesting analysis. I don't have much to say in response, but I wanted to acknowledge that it's giving me food for thought.

KayTei, #72: Just noodling here, but it occurred to me that one approach might be to join the community that's "there but not quite what I want" and see if there are any other people in it who might also want the slightly-different thing you want. If there are, then you have a base from which to propose a sub-group that's doing the thing you want, drawing from people in the existing group but not setting up as a competitor for it. If it turns out that you're the only one who feels this way, then you can always drift away again.

What I'm thinking about here is the way that the Houston Gem and Mineral Society was convinced to add a beading section. HGMS had always been organized around specimen collectors, fossil and paleontology enthusiasts, and people who were into lapidary work, some of whom went on to make wirework and/or set jewelry out of their creations. But it's also a very social group with an emphasis on activities for the whole family, and eventually there were enough people who had gotten into beadwork that they were able to agitate successfully for use of the group's space on a regular basis. (They still take some heavily-gendered flak about not being REAL jewelers because they don't make their own beads and because they mostly work with seed beads which are glass rather than stone, but that's a different issue. A lot of the members of HGMS are from the generation where the mean "teasing" of women is considered to be Good Clean Fun.)

#79 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2015, 12:40 PM:

C. Wingate @62: there is also a hand tool movement

Jacque's ears grow points: links, please?

#80 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2015, 01:23 PM:

C Wingate's take on older making-stuff subcultures matches what I've seen among luthiers over several decades hanging out with guys (historico-cultural accident) who fix and build (mostly) guitars. Just about every repair/restore/build person I've encountered has had almost as much interest in devising tools, jigs, and clamps and in the process (the problem-solving) as in the final products. I did a couple of interviews with Jim Olson (whose guitars are played by James Taylor, Phil Keaggy, Kathy Mattea, Leo Kottke, and such), and we talked as much about the tools as the guitars. (I remain mightily impressed by an industiral-grade thickness sander he built. Since then, he has started using CNC machines to produce parts that can be standardized. I recommend a visit to his website, easily Google-able.)

I don't know that my father would have thought much of "maker" culture, but he was a competent structural carpenter (he gradually rebuilt and redesigned large parts of the house I grew up in), a functional car repairman, electrician, and plumber (he detested plumbing as a source of skinned knuckles and aching knees) who also produced knotwork that he called "tatting" while in the Navy. He once made his own paint-by-numbers pictures, using leftovers from commercial kits to copy Field & Stream covers. He and my mother knotted a 3x6' faux-oriental rug as a wedding gift for us. Both my parents possessed a restless inventiveness that found outlets in mostly domestic projects and products, some practical and others more aesthetic. I suppose that's why I see "makers" as nothing special except as a self-conscious social grouping with a particular set of material interests and, as Erik K @73 puts it, "a right to make their own fun."

#81 ::: Eric K ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2015, 02:12 PM:

OtterB @ 74 and Buddha Buck @ 77: Yeah, I've always thought the "maker" name was a bit weird. It does seem to descend from Make magazine, which has been a major proponent of craft crossover over the years. (I only ever saw one issue of Craft magazine, and it was very cool—one project involved both sewing and programmable LEDs, IIRC—but apparently they didn't find a market in time.)

Anyway, after a bit of Googling, I've turned up a local, self-described "maker" group that seems to have become active last year. First impressions:

  • They feature knitting and sewing very prominently in their photos: Much more so than 3D printing and circuit boards. Looking at their featured member projects, I see quilts, dolls, paintings and some surprisingly beautiful crafts using LEDs.
  • Both the leadership and the active membership seem to be about half women.
  • They seem to have been very busy this summer, and then gone silent.
  • They have an organized 501(c)3 and plans for a local "makerspace" or two. This seems interesting, if only because some of the cooler tools are expensive.
  • They appear to be interested by the local precision machinists and the local craft league.

Honestly, if they still exist, I'm inclined to sign up. Perhaps on some level they're guilty of appropriation or indirectly devaluing caregiving, as people have suggested. And they do seem very fond of the question, "What do you make?", even if "Quilts!" does seem to be a popular answer. But the impression I get is that they're a bunch of 20-to-50-somethings who want to do fun craft crossovers, and then maybe go watch a blacksmithing demo afterwards. To me, this looks like Good Clean Fun, or at least as close an approximation as humans normally achieve when doing hobby stuff.

*signs up to learn more*

KayTei @ 76, I agree that starting a local craft crossover movement from scratch would be a lot of work. Buddha Buck's summary @ 77 is about what I would expect: finding space, buying equipment, tracking down teachers, and living within the constraints of the available volunteers and donors. Worthwhile and valuable work, all of it, but community-building is hard. So that raises the question of pre-existing efforts. And locally, it looks like my choices are the aforementioned "maker" group (amateur, mostly 20–50) or the "craftsmen" league (stunningly gorgeous work, juried, professional, and apparently mostly 50–70). For me, the choice is easy: I'm more interested in amateur experimentation than in high-end professional crafting, and I don't have the time to start a new group from scratch. So for better or for worse, I'm inclined to check out the local "maker" group, and see what they're like.

And why am I tempted so strongly by the idea of craft crossover group? Mostly because I do enjoy soldering and robots and coding, and because those are a poor match for many existing hobby groups—even ones like model railroading. And because it's been too long since I've done any knitting. And because a small, tracked robot with a knit cozy would be just adorable. :-)

#82 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2015, 02:23 PM:

Lee @ 78

That's much closer to something that would feel comfortable to me. I'm not sure why I was overlooking it as an option. Thanks.

Russell @ 80, C. Wingate @ 62
I'm feeling a little bit of "damn kids" off this line of discussion. The people I know who value making are often self-taught hobbyists who want access to a community that supports ambitious cross-dicipline experimentation and learning. I'm not sure why I'm supposed to earn the right to that or how to do so, except by getting older and more experienced faster. I'm not sure why it needs to justify being any more special than "I am a geek. I am excited about this. Let me share my excitement with you." Obviously, people with more experience than me will be better than I am. But how are these kinds of attitudes supposed to convince me that I, as a novice, will be welcome in your traditional spaces? And if I'm not welcome, because I'm insufficiently expert, why shouldn't I wander off and do things I'm interested in with people who will encourage me to grow but who also appreciate who I am now?

#83 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2015, 03:14 PM:

KayTei @82, I'm not feeling so much "damn kids" as "oh, that"--and I'm pretty sure that most observers of A Certain Age (my particular C.A. being 70) will have that reaction fairly frequently when reading, say, Boing Boing or some other Oh Wow Lookathis! site. Things that I thought shiny and new when I was 25 I now recognize to have been modest transformations or adaptations of sturdy old human activities and tendencies. Thus my recollections of my parents' doings--those memories did not come to the surface by accident.

I confess that I find the social side of "making" not terribly compelling (though in my journalist days I wrote for and about a number of hobby subcultures), but that's just a matter of my own non-joiner personality. I figure that people will sort themselves out somehow and leave them to it.

#84 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2015, 03:28 PM:

I think the "maker" movement is, to some extent, reinventing the wheel. But the wheel needs reinventing.

If you were... let's say you were my friend J. He grew up without being around tools. He had a job on Wall Street. When clothes needed fixing, the dry cleaner did it; when cars needed fixing, the mechanic did it. If a computer (phone, printer, whatever) was three years old, the new one was half the price and twice the power.

He was in his 20's before he discovered that he could make or fix anything. He had to be told.

You could extend this example; there are people (I presume) whose hobbies are video games, who don't cook, who go to the gym and build muscles they never need, who have never made or fixed ANYTHING, including food. If they're in New Jersey they may never have pumped their own gas. Being a Maker might seem pretty revolutionary to them.

#85 ::: Zelda ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2015, 04:04 PM:

As a data point, I am a cog on the staff of a regional convention, MuseCon, that attempts to do some of this crossover. We don't identify as capital-M Makers, but we do advertise with local Makerspaces and don't mind swiping some of their buzz. We also advertise to fiber enthusiasts and the filk and SF community at large. Certain other Fluorospherians are also valued members of MuseCon.

It's run as an annual event, very much like a typical SF con. We don't have a year-round space, because of all the logistical hurdles mentioned above. But the general ethos is that every attendee is a teacher, and every attendee is a learner. There is a value set on trying new things, and people who came for the fiber programming discovering filk, cross-pollinations like that. Eric K's idea of a knitted robot cozy would be right up our alley.

Of course, pobody's nerfect. In part because the programming is broken up among hotel function rooms rather than one communal space, it is absolutely possible for someone to hole up in the tech room and never do anything but solder the whole weekend. We've had criticisms that the "try something new" philosophy can lead to programming that is predominantly at the 101 level, with few intermediate-to-advanced workshops. But the more common complaint has been, "You have too much programming! In every time slot there were always three things that I wanted to do simultaneously, and I had to miss things!"

I like the idea of creating a "maker culture" as an opposition to "consumer culture." Indeed, let's make our own fun.

#86 ::: Lady Kay ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2015, 04:36 PM:

Only--I will say that my base mood level may be manic right now. So I likely to be more intense than the average (and than my own average).

There are entire movements about traditionally-excluded people forcing their way into areas they had been excluded from and starting to use the tools, infrastructure, and social power there. I am thinking of women being admitted to Princeton University, but there are other examples. My inclination is to regard that movement as a GOOD thing; I suppose that someone could make a case that it wasn't unalloyed good.

#87 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2015, 04:45 PM:

I was reading a translation of a Chinese software developers' magazine interview with Bunnie Huang, one of the leading lights in the US "open hardware" movement, and this paragraph caught my eye:

The Maker movement, I think, is less about developing products, and more about developing people. It’s about helping people realize that technology is something man-made, and because of this, every person has the power to control it: it just takes some knowledge. There is no magic in technology. Another way to look at it is, we can all be magicians with a little training.
#88 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2015, 05:04 PM:

Zelda, 85: That's awesome. But can you maybe put the city on the front page? I shouldn't have to click through every subhead until I decide that maybe that info is on the hotel page.

This is not just a problem with MuseCon. It's an irritating trend all over conspace.

#89 ::: Zelda ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2015, 05:13 PM:

TexAnne @88:

You are, of course, absolutely right. Unfortunately, we are between webmasters right now, so the wonder is that we have a site at all. I'll mention this to TPTB, and see if somebody can address it.

Itasca, IL (Chicago suburbs), if anyone else wondered.

#90 ::: Eric K ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2015, 05:55 PM:

Zelda @ 85, MuseCon looks absolutely awesome, and I am strongly tempted to make the plane flight out there. The lack of "maker" branding seems like a net plus to me, all things considered.

Upon further consideration, however, I suspect robot cozies should be crocheted and not knitted, for improved flexibility and comedic value. This is why I want crossover craft groups: I need technical advice, and of course this sort of silliness is much more pleasant with a peer group.

#91 ::: TrishB ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2015, 08:45 PM:

The comments on this piece leave my feelings all over the place. Lurked here for years and Deb Chachra's piece hit home for me. Thank you for the link, as I would not have found it otherwise.

I'm not a maker. I twiddle with water colors and sketching. I'm the odd one out in my family. My life is reading and processing, perhaps synthesizing. Somehow I fell out of an art history major to work with computers. How? Well, at a temp receptionist job, after I surveyed my tiny little kingdom, I decided that doing tasks 3 or 4 times over wasn't the best use of anyone's time. I learned early MS windows, I learned Excel. When that wasn't enough, I taught myself Access and then SQL. Don't get me wrong, my first database was barely connected to the concept of normalization, but it was better suited to get stuff done than what the company had previously used. This later turned into a career in IT service management, a PMP, and a LSSBB cert.

Mom knits, not as complex as fair isles any longer, but hats, socks and stuffed animals. Sister knits and cooks creatively. I still have afghans crocheted by my ZiaZia. My dad restored 2 MG TCs from scratch, one so perfectly, it won multiple awards. The next wasn't quite as original, but it had something like 12 coats of BRG lacquer hand buffed. Knitting bored me, as did car work.

I could wish I were more hands on, but instead, I read. My mind makes stuff.

#92 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2015, 10:32 PM:

Lady Kay @ 86

Just to clarify: My concern isn't about invading culturally discriminatory space; I'll absolutely join you in that, any time. My concern is more about joining a group with the up-front intention of deliberately introducing scope creep - I'm not entirely sure that's the same thing and I'm not entirely comfortable with it as an agenda.

That there are gender implications in the types of things being excluded is what makes me ambivalent; otherwise, I'd try not to even think about joining a group with the intention of hijacking it.

#93 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2015, 11:01 PM:

KayTel:

I think it's worth considering whether the cultural discriminatory space is that way intentionally or not.

You may find that a maker space might welcome the scope-creep you intend to introduce, simply because they hadn't considered that knitting/writing/painting/coding/crafting/organizing/teaching/ is making (which it certainly is). Or they don't have any current members who are skilled in those areas enough to be willing to share (and may want to learn).

#94 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2015, 11:24 PM:

Buddha Buck @ 93

Yeah, I've been reading your posts with some interest. It's obviously going to depend on the local situation, which I haven't checked out in a while, but it seems worth looking into. I just didn't want to leave the impression that I was suggesting girls should be willing to keep out, because that's not at all my style or intent.

#95 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2015, 11:24 PM:

One thing from upthread that's bugged me all day: maker culture vs consumer culture. Yes, we should all have maker culture... except there's a reason we switched, and it wasn't entirely brainwashing and habit.

Making things is expensive.

The socks I've been working on for more than a year now will be thirty or so dollars plus labor, just in yarn. They might make it up to fifty-sixty if I make them tall enough. My bag, the one being patched on the kitchen table, the one out of commission all week for said patching, is easily a hundred to begin with, plus time, plus elk leather, plus more time as I fix it. I charge a hundred twenty dollars for wedding handkerchiefs.

Making things isn't cheap. This is not the most efficient way to get a pair of socks. It is the most efficient way to get this pair of socks, the colors I like and exactly the size of my foot. Sewing a bag is the most efficient way to get exactly this bag, with the pockets I wanted and in colors everyone knows are mine. My skirt? Bad way to get a skirt, good way to get this skirt, this one no one else has, this one that fits. I am not reproducing/supplanting something mass-produced. I am reproducing/supplanting something created by a master.

Masters don't come cheap.

They really don't come cheap when you have to start with 'I think I can figure out how to thread this' and teach them everything. I'm growing a master. I have to do all the tuition myself, all the time and money, and that is one hell of an investment.

So yeah, my fifty-dollar socks are going to wear out because I used the wrong heel and I'll darn them because they cost fifty dollars plus time. My bag gets patched because I do not have the money to make a new one.

I guess... what I am doing is good because I am paying the full cost of what I do, rather than a sweatshop slave bearing the brunt of it. But I'm not able to do that for everything. My paycheck is a zero-sum game, and as nice as it would be to have everything Made by a Master Crafter, I also need underwear that fits and pants that don't have holes. I can't make those. I can't make those when even the ones I make won't last a year.

So, yeah. That is me pointing out that maker culture is not a universally available thing.

#96 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2015, 12:19 AM:

95
That's one of the reasons I've never tried to sell any of the things I've knit (or embroidered). I'll make them for my pleasure (because fun and also Things To Do For Mental Health), but I'll give them to people I think will appreciate them.

#97 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2015, 11:16 AM:

Diatryma #95: This is an issue with many sorts of art as well, for much the same reason: Each item produced consumes a disproportionate amount of time, which in many cases competes with the needs of making a living.

But... that leads into all sorts of other issues, like social justice and the exploitative nature of capitalism. Remember when all the new technology was going to leave everyone at perpetual leisure? That looked plausible based on prior trends -- after all, even in the 1950's upper-class women didn't have to spend their evenings making their family's clothes for the year.

The problem is, both employers and commercial interests spotted those extra hours as a windfall to be exploited. Among other issues, the reduced demand for bulk labor was used to drive down the price of labor in general, to make sure that whoever did need workers could get them cheap and (with a few cuts to "welfare") dependent. The increased productivity from technology goes to enrich the owners and investors, not to the populace at large.

Bringing it back toward your original issue, the time spent on an item adds expense because time is "scarce" -- but in the modern age, I'd say it's artificially scarce.

#98 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2015, 12:42 PM:

Diatryma @95: I don't think "maker culture" is promoting "make everything yourself, instead of buying it". That's a survivalist ideal (leading to the question, "where do you get your axe?"), not a maker ideal. I think maker culture is promoting the idea that you should be able to learn to make anything you want, but not expecting that you'll make more than a tiny fraction of what you consume. For example, Bunnie Huang, to whom I linked above, has an ongoing project to make his own laptop. He's acknowledged up front that it will be clunkier than a commercially-available laptop, and it will be more expensive even if you leave out the cost of his labor, but he's doing it to learn about the technology in laptops, and to make that technology more accessible to other people (for making laptops, or more importantly for creating new types of devices that we don't even imagine yet).

#99 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2015, 01:39 PM:

David:

Time needed to master a craft (and then exercise it) is scarce even if there's nobody trying to wring a few extra pennies out of you, because you only have so many hours in a day. Whether you spend your time stocking shelves at Wal-Mart for subsistence + epsilon, working a relatively decent blue-colar job with benefits and a good salary, or lounging in the garden of utopia listening to poetry and contemplating the meaning of life, you still have only 10-12 decent-quality hours in you per day, max, minus whatever you have to spend on keeping the lights on. A few hours spent mastering woodworking are hours not spent on reading or playing with your kids or whatever other things you might have done with your day. That makes them scarce--there are a *lot* of other desires competing for those free hours, ranging from low-IQ reality TV shows to reading philosophy books, but also including stuff like playing with your kids and spending time with your friends.

The other side of this: there are people who master some demanding craft despite a lousy job and not much money, because they love the craft so much. There are a fair number of surprisingly good musicians, woodworkers, knitters, poets, etc., often people working lousy jobs and stretching to pay the bills, while devoting their TV and Facebook hours to practicing the guitar or building some piece of furniture or putting together a robot kit or whatever else.

#100 ::: Eric K ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2015, 11:48 AM:

Diatryma @ 95: As somebody who occasionally knits, I'm sometimes almost heartbroken by church fundraisers. I'll see lovely hand-knit goods, stuff that probably took 10 or 20 hours of skilled labor, selling for $15. And adult-sized hand-knit cable sweaters are precious treasures: even assuming minimum wage (which is much too low), some of them involve $1000–2000 worth of work. Sure, some people knit in meetings or while watching TV, just to keep their hands busy. But even so, hand-knit goods are horribly undervalued.

So for people who feel the urge to create, I think a sensible strategy has three parts: (1) buy most things pre-made, (2) repair things by hand when it saves enough money to be worth the effort, and (3) create a few special things when the necessary time and desire are available.


KayTei @ 94: If you're interested in a "geek creative" where people teach and learn various skills, it might be worth checking out your local area. I did some more local investigation after work yesterday, and I met some really friendly people:

- One of the local yarn shop regulars is apparently really interested in interactive art installations involving fiber crafts and electronics. She's been to "Maker Faires" and experimented with Arduinos, and she recommended some cool electronics kits for total novices.

- One of the women who works at the local RadioShack has been pushing really hard to stock more DIY stuff: littleBits, robot kits, Arduinos, Raspberry Pis, sensors, books. It's great stuff, too: Lots of beginner-friendly kits and project ideas to help novices get off the ground. She had a lot of good advice.

So at least in my small corner of the world, there seems to be lots of friendly, creative geeks who move around freely between fiber crafts, art and electronic crafts. It feels like a very newbie-friendly environment, too. So if your local area is anything like mine, I don't think anybody would object to scope creep—the people I met were hugely enthusiastic and eager to learn new things. So at least it's worth a look—you might have the bad luck to run into the same kind of people Deb Chachra wrote about, or you might find something a lot closer to what you're looking for.

And as a result of my explorations, I picked up a crochet hook, some yarn, and enough parts to make a new robot. Now I just need to find some more time.

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