« The meaning of the FabLab network is the progress. (…) The point is not to be branded a FabLab, the point is what is enables you to do. »
Neil Gershenfeld, Fab Academy Recitations, The state of the Fab Lab Network, Available online: https://youtu.be/hNW-G7U9yTU
We are all Makers
Today, many of us are makers, we all make stuff in our own way. We now have affordable access to tools, like 3d printers, to DIY. Between our network of friends, Google and YouTube, almost everyone can find instructions on how to make almost anything. In schools, at all grades from small regional K-12 establishments up to the great temple of high technology that is the MIT, maker skills are used to facilitate competency acquisition by learners. In person or virtually, makers meet with other makers, exchange trick, ideas and discuss their latest projects. We join other makers in a third place as viewed by Oldenburg(1989): not our home, not workplaces, but a shared space dedicated to work on our digital fabrication projects together. In all regions of the world, we meet in meetups, Maker Faires, FabLab conferences or RepRap festivals. The same tools that allow the introduction of Industry 4.0, a new era of interconnected, autonomous, smart and sustainable industrial manufacturing, are now more affordable and simpler to use. These tools facilitate societal improvements in other aspects of our lives: Health 4.0, Cities 4.0 and perhaps Education 4.0. Schools today can use the new technologies of the new industrial revolution to rethink how we train the future citizens and future workers, of this emerging 4.0 world.
I am a maker. I didn’t always know it, but I have been for most of my life. When I was young, I was a curious child who used to take things apart to try to understand how they work. I couldn’t always put them back together, to my father’s despair, but I tried. In school, I was a stereotypical nerd. Later, I learned electronics and many other skills with the Boy Scouts and then the Air Cadets. When the first microcomputers were introduced, I was very fortunate to have an oddball high-school chemistry professor, Pierre Delagrave, bring a Tandy Model 1 Computer into his classroom and let us use it. I was hooked. Then, I became a geek. I’m now, forty years and a few graduate degrees later, an IT professor after being an IT worker for thirty years. Now that I purchased a 3D printer and Arduino boards, I call myself a maker. Like all my fellow Quebecers, I come from a long line of makers, as are all French-Canadians, descendants of early settlers would be. Even since, closer in time to me, my grandfather, an engineer, built a bridge over the Saint-Lawrence river and my father, also an engineer, the first high-voltage electrical transportation network and Quebec’s only nuclear reactor. We all have uncles who create and build in the tradition of handicrafts, “patenteux” as they are called here, do-it-yourself (DIY) tinkerers for pleasure or by necessity. Through a series of events, I became involved in the current maker movement when, as curator of the Quebec Computer history museum, I created a FabLab as a component of the museums public offering. I left the museum not too long after and it eventually closed, but I stayed interested in fablabs, makers and making. Since then it has become connected to my academic work.
Who are makers?
In their study, Kwon & Lee(2017) define a maker as one who makes things with technology. They also define maker culture as a technological phenomenon emerging from developments in IT and the proliferation of collaborative web communities and makerspaces. As Hatch(2013) put it in the Maker Manifesto:
”Making is fundamental to what it means to be human. We must make, create, and express ourselves to feel whole. There is something unique about making physical things. Things we make are like little pieces of us and seem to embody portions of our soul.”
The idea of a Maker Movement, as Martin(2015) indicates, can be traced to the 2005 introduction of Make magazine by Dale Dougherty. This was followed by the first Maker Faire organized by the magazine in 2006 in the Bay Area, just south of San Francisco. Lee(2015) and Tanenbaum et al(2013) mention that the Maker movement has many other names and labels: Do-it-Yourself (DIY), hacking, craft, democratized technological practice, and creative hobbyist practice. This variety stems from the multiple areas and domains where Makers are active and the intersection with other groups, like geeks, cosplay and many more. Kwon & Lee(2017) mentions that Martin(2015) and Tanenbaum, Williams, Desjardins, & Tanenbaum, (2013) have found that Makers are a very diverse group that see themselves as hobbyists, tinkerers, engineers, scholars, designers, artists, and entrepreneurs. The connect to multiple groups based on shared interests. There are experts and professionals, who make a living from their activities, but it’s mostly amateurs and non-specialists according to Hatch(2014) working at home, in their garage or in a shared makerspace, connecting and sharing in these third-places or using the multiple social media, forums and web 2.0 commons where other Makers are also present. Makers use 3D printing and laser cutters and many other digital and manual tools, which they have often learned how to use from other members of the maker community, in person or on YouTube as Baden et al(2015), Lang(2013) and others cited in Kwon, B-R., Lee, J. (2017) tells us. In much of the literature, the use of 3D printers, even occasionally, is really a common thread of what minimally separates a hobbyist or geek from the Maker. Doing thing together, doing it with others rather than just doing it yourself, in a maker community is also at the core of the Maker movement gestalt. Makers have created a loosely structured support system where they connect, socialize, share ideas, co-create, solve problems and learn from each other’s mistakes. This may be in person or by virtual means. In their community Makers fail together as they also generate collective innovation together. So really, what the literature seems to determine as the key elements of the modern Maker personae is (1) the use of digital technology in general, and of 3D printers in particular, (2) the desire to share knowledge and (3) creating or doing with others either in physical or virtual third-places.
I mention here mainly one study, but it is very indicative of what most of the literature I have found indicates. So should we say that a person who makes the conscious choice to be low-tech or no-tech does not have his place in the maker movement? I would argue to the contrary that they are likely making an important statement. More important than the idea of digital is the idea of sharing. The so-called Maker movement should really be looked at as the Do-it-with-others movement, a sort of collectivist revolution of creation and learning. I would suggest that it is more like the Bauhaus movement or perhaps the late 60’s hippie movement than the Industrial revolution 4.0 some mention, possibly to generate media attention or public funding.