The Internet, the Makers, and You

I’ve been watching and reading a lot of content on Tested. It’s a great site run from the Mythbusters guys, run by Will Smith and Norman Chan that focuses on Making. The Maker movement is an old one, but I get the sense that it’s grown over the last two decades thanks to the internet [1].

What is the Maker Movement

Maker culture encourages informal, shared social learning focused on the construction of artefacts ranging from robots and 3D-printed models to clothing and more traditional handicrafts [2].

The community surrounding Making is huge and ecclectic. If you build physical things outside the traditional manufacturing paradigm you’re a Maker. The paper goes on to say that some critics call the maker community a “rebranding of traditional hobby pursuits”. This is a criticism only when evalluating the Maker community’s value as a learning environment [3].

We won’t do that here. I want to take a look at the Maker community as empowered hobbyists. We’ll consider this movement in the context of New Media businesses and internet communities.

From Hobbyists to Community Members and Small Business Owners

People made stuff before the internet was around. For the most part, people who made stuff subscribed to the appropriate magazines. Woodworking magazines were everywhere. So were sewing, quilting and even electronics publications.

But until the internet came along, the vast majority of communication was one way. Experts and editors communicated projects and tips to hobbyists. Occasionally there were conventions or trade shows the hobbyists might get to [4]. But for the most part, the hobbyist plied his trade alone.

The internet changed everything. Like it always does. Hobbyists began to connect with each other. They began to realize they could do more, they could add electronics to their cabinets. Instead of clothing, they could sew replica costumes. Their robots were no longer limited by the software they could write themselves. The Maker now had access to other programmers interested in robotics.

It wasn’t just a hobbyist to hobbyist connection, either. Non-Makers started seeing all these amazing, hand-built items show up in forums and articles. The Makers started connecting with customers. E-Bay provided an outlet at first, but the real innovation was Etsy [5].

A Revival of Sorts

I wrote last week how the internet has made our big cities small. How we make connections so much more easily, even when we’re surrounded by an anonimyzing crowd.

The internet has done the same for hobbyists, turning them into Makers. They were always there. They have emerged from their garages and spare bedrooms to form a huge community. To teach and learn from each other. To provide those of us without the skill or time with handbuilt items that delight us.

I have a deep and growing respect for members of the Maker community. We’ve entered a new age of artisanship. We’re seeing guilds crop up again [6] to develop and train new generations of Makers. And we’re seeing some amazing projects that wouldn’t have been possible just a few years ago.

Where do you stand on the Maker community? What’s your favorite Maker project you’ve seen?

  1. I want to disclaim a couple of things. First, I’m not a Maker. Oh sure, I dabble. I built a desk, printer table, and a display stand for my office. I fix things around the house. I’ll watch a video on occasion and dream about someday building something cool.
    I do love the Maker community, though. I love watching the videos the community makes. I guess you could say I’m a Maker lurker.
    Second, everything I say here is just the impression I get from observing the Maker community from afar. I haven’t done any research into this and I haven’t talked to members of the community or done any kind of interviews. These are just the opinions of someone from the internet  ↩

  2. Open University Innovation Report 2  ↩

  3. The purpose of that particular paper was to evaluate non-traditional learning models, the Maker community was one of them.  ↩

  4. My mom is a quilter so I am most familiar with them. I think of the quilters as a pre-Maker community. The social side of the quilting scene was critical even before the internet. The similarities between quilt shows and modern Maker conventions and meet-ups are numerous.  ↩

  5. Etsy provides a perfect connection to the kind of customer that appreciates hand-made products. Etsy provides an outlet for everyone from the Maker that want’s to go full-time to the one that wants to make a little money on the side.  ↩

  6. Check out Pixel Corps and The Wood Whisperer to see some modern-day guilds in action.  ↩

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