Like many other people I know, I often get through the week by going on a “news diet”—I turn off the TV and the radio, and avoid parts of the Internet which might provide me with any sense of what’s happening in the outside world. Do not tell me what just happened in Congress. Do not give me the latest economic statistics. Do not market me your cure-all fruit juice. I am overwhelmed and out of patience. Go away.
I’m not the only person who feels like this. Crushing sense of futility? Bet you can relate. Despair over the continuing grinding economic downturn? Absolutely. When I watch the news, what I hate most is the sense I have of good effort wasted. I look around me and I see brilliant people’s lives and inspiration wasted in corporate cubicle jobs that treat them as numbers to be crunched or beans to be counted, to be struck off the roll when it’s convenient for the Corporate Entity. Or, much worse, I see people who, despite their best efforts, are semi-employed or unemployed, living hand to mouth, and fearing illness because they can’t afford health care. This sucks, and nobody likes it.
Yet, people have not lost their passion or their promise. For example, in an online video Dale Dougherty and Anil Dash discuss the social and political implications of the “Maker movement,” a do-it-yourself, idea-sharing ethos that has arisen in the past half-decade or so and celebrated throughout the year at Maker Faires worldwide. The sheer joy of creation is universal to the human species; as Dash notes, it crosses political and cultural lines. At a Maker Faire, it doesn’t matter who you voted for or what church you go to—all that matters is that you are bonding with other humans over the things that you have each created. When we share our inspiration with others, we become truly human and truly alive. When we feel empowered by our ability to create, we are also empowered socially and politically.
Dash knows this. Even though the Maker movement is not political, he says “there is a political aspect to taking control in your hands of the tools of creation of the objects that define our culture and that define our lives…and to say ‘this is mine, I choose what I do with it, and I’m not going to let an institution (whether that’s government or a corporation or whatever) tell me I can’t do this with it.’”
Our creative identity has been given short shrift by a culture that tells us we are only important inasmuch as we consume, and we’re seeing a groundswell of reaction rising to that now. Consumerism tells us that we have no business making anything any more. Want dinner? Go to a restaurant. Want clothes? Buy them at a store. Broken DVD player? Buy a new one. Corporate Entities exist to take care of our every need and whim. But what if my need is to create things for myself?
We are all “Makers” of some sort, even if we would not classify ourselves as techies, hackers, artists or inventors. Everyone makes something—whether it’s food for the family, landscaping for the garden, scrapbooking memories, or simply arranging a house so that it’s a comfortable place to live. We find our joy in these actions, and when we collaborate with others to do these things we build love and trust among us. This is why “show” houses often feel sterile and intimidating—the design is there and may be very pleasing to the eye, but there is no sense of the family that should live inside that space. We yearn for contact with each other, and we intuitively seek a sense of the personalities of other people within the environment around us.
“Apathy happens in the environments where people feel like they have no agency; they have no control,” Dash says. How true. The default way of living now dictates that you trade your life energy (your time, attention and health) to a Corporate Entity in return for money, which you will then turn around and give to another Corporate Entity in return for prepackaged resources that will nourish your body, entertain you, and provide you with a sense of personal identity. Humans are tricky little monkeys, though, and we do not like being made to feel apathetic, and we are not so easily herded around en masse. For every supposedly uncrackable piece of software, there is someone who will formulate and publicly post a way to crack it, usually within a day or so of release. For every hermetically sealed electronic device, there are dozens of ordinary people who take it upon themselves to deconstruct it, figure out how it works, and to help others do the same. For every corporate logo that demands our respect, there’s someone who will cleverly parody it. Corporate culture says these actions are wrong, and that we are wrong for not being good little automatons with predictable and universally governable behaviors. I’m with the Makers on this one: I think that there is something in the act of tinkering so fundamental to our nature it can’t be snuffed out. Corporations and lawmakers ignore this to their detriment.
On the days I can’t stand to watch the news, here’s what I do with my life: I make stuff. Sometimes I play around with electronics or UV cure resin or papier mâché, or maybe I simply make a meal for my family at home. It feels good to do that. I’m not driven by politics and I don’t support any political party, but I suspect Anil Dash may be right: “[Making] solves every class of problem. Across the board, it’s jobs, it’s education, it’s defense, it’s health care, you can only Make your way out of it, because we’ve tried everything else.” To hell with politics, I’m fed up to the back teeth with it. Let’s go make stuff!
Watch this video of Dougherty and Dash: http://youtu.be/NzTRWuS6CKw
If you are interested in Making, many websites support open-source creation:
http://instructables.com, http://shareable.net, http://makerfaire.com, http://makezine.com, http://hacknmod.com, http://hackaday.com, http://ladyada.net —to name but a few. YouTube offers video tutorials of just about anything you might want to accomplish!
Alice Bain is a Salt Lake-based artist. Look for her blog updates, appearing several times a week, at www.catalystmagazine.net.