Extracurricular – Makers

The largest overall trend in hobbies in recent years is the maker movement. The world is full of makers?you yourself might be one?but “maker” is a bit difficult to define. The dictionary definition of a maker is someone who produces or creates something, and the maker movement certainly lives up to this definition, but also goes far beyond it. It is, in essence, an umbrella term that encompasses inventors, craftspeople, hackers, recyclers, and upcyclers, and anyone who can put a good idea into practice.

The movement always existed in one form or another. It lives on through people puttering in basement workshops, craft rooms, garages and garden sheds. Certainly, people have always felt a pull toward leisure activities that contain an element of creativity, whether learning how to restore cars or furniture, becoming self-taught in electronics, designing and sewing their own clothes, or making models out of Meccano sets?or even putting together the ultimate tropical fish aquarium. But one casualty of modern life is that a workshop is now an anomaly in homes rather than the norm. People who live in apartments, or condos with strict rules, often do not have either the space or freedom to indulge in projects. There are also so many activities nowadays that compete for time, leaving creative pursuits far down the list.

But the maker movement proves that the urge to create is not entirely lost. And the pursuits associated with “making” have experienced a revival on an incredible scale, due in part to a reaction against mass production, mass consumerism, and workaholism However, the irony is that this revival is not because of a backlash against modern technology. In fact, technology has been a large contribution to its success. The accessibility and affordability of personal technology such as 3D printers, home milling machines, and even build-your-own robotics kits has opened up a whole other dimension of creativity to a wider population, rather than just that confined to commercial industry. The Internet also plays a large part in this surge, because creative types across the globe can share ideas and project plans with each other. Crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter and the online marketplace Etsy provide a marketing platform for these small-scale produced products.

As a result, the maker movement is no longer a fringe movement and there is increased recognition in the value in both the financial sustainability and the personal sense of satisfaction that results from the process of overseeing a product from start to finish. The shift in the movement’s legitimacy and entrance into mainstream culture has resulted in the creation of popular Maker Faires, held annually throughout the world, and Make: magazine. Even the “old school” magazine Popular Mechanics is enjoying a new wave of popularity. Being identified as a maker is now viewed with a sense of pride and ownership rather than as a preserve for eccentrics.

The movement is being embraced by the mainstream in another significant way. Community associations and public library systems across North America have converted portions of their facilities to be used as “maker spaces” so that people can gather to share ideas and resources. Often these spaces provide tools for use or loan and may be run as co-operatives. Professionals may lend their expertise on occasion, but mostly they are hubs where the grassroots aspects of the movement rule.

However, there are challenges. Any inventor of a product, especially one that is based on a quirky idea, often faces a huge amount criticism and opposition. For those makers with an entrepreneurial inclination, who wish to take their creations a step further and market them, creating a viable small business also requires a lot of tenacity and business know-how. As well, maker-produced products must compete with mass-produced goods.

Predicting the future of the maker movement is difficult, especially in light of how quickly technology is changing. The safest prediction to make is that it will likely evolve, but, based on the fact that puttering, tinkering and creating has always been around, it is doubtful that it will end up as just another here-today, gone-tomorrow fad. Environmental awareness supports the movement’s values of creating new products from old, and salvaging and reusing items. Now, more than ever, people see the need to reassess the dominant consumer culture and the maker movement helps to serve that need.

But in the larger context, academia is also paying attention to the worth of the maker movement. Increasingly, post-secondary institutions recognize that the movement incorporates self-directed learning, learning across disciplines, invention, problem solving?necessary skills for the successful application of knowledge and the aspects of learning that are often neglected in a formal classroom environment. The spirit of making may, in the future, create new dialogues regarding collaboration that provide solutions to many issues facing humanity.

But perhaps the most interesting result of the maker movement is that big business is taking notice. Corporations are slowly realizing that consumers want involvement and input into the products they purchase, which has led to more companies incorporating an element of consumer input into product development and marketing. Several companies, such as tool manufacturers, are offering mentorship and advice to budding inventors. Quite simply, companies are beginning to see that the maker movement is not an anathema to their business model, but can be used as a big asset.

While the formal aspects of the movement may not appeal to everyone, there are lessons that anyone can take from it. First, it encourages people to be active participants in leisure activities. The maker movement encourages people to actually do something. Even if that “something” ends up as a project that didn’t quite work out the way it was intended, there is so much intrinsic value in pursuing active hobbies. It also encourages a sense of community; there are lots of available resources to tap into if people seek them out. The key is to take something that you enjoy?or think you might enjoy?and give it a try. That is the easiest way to become a maker.

Carla’s admits that her biggest craft addiction is purchasing fancy paper and washi tape. She vows to eventually find the time to make something from her stash!