Photo courtesy of the Exploratorium via Flickr.
Ranging from crafts to robotics, a modern culture of DIY “making” is gaining commercial, corporate, and educational traction beyond the niche communities from whence it came.
The Maker Movement, as it’s called, promotes a culture that democratizes innovation, flips consumption on its head, and according optimistic leaders in the field, could spur a third industrial revolution in the future — one of personal manufacturing.
Here’s some AHA! facts to start with to show the size and scope of maker culture:
- 135 million U.S. adults are “makers,” according to broad but widely cited estimates
- Market for 3D-printing and other maker services expected to reach $6 billion by 2017
- Makers fuel businesses pump $29 billion into world economy each year
First things first: What is the Maker Movement?
According to Technopedia and TechShop’s Maker Movement Manifesto (pdf), the Maker Movement is a growing trend in which individuals or groups of individuals — including hackers, crafters, and tinkerers — make, share, and sell unique products using available tools, often in a collaborative setting or for entrepreneurial purposes.[contextly_auto_sidebar id=”6mDisZksqq8oCcG1eQl5aOznW3bjYggJ”]Today’s maker culture is a modern iteration of a long history of DIY (do it yourself) trends.
Take for example the Arts and Crafts movement of the late Victorian period. It rejected industrial labor and the replacement of human workers by machines, and sought to improve the standards for design by putting emphasis on human craftsmanship.
This movement fizzled out in the early 1900s because it was not a viable economic alternative to factories. But it did thrive instead as a hobby among those affluent enough to afford it. This sentiment has been attached to DIY throughout history — “making” as a pastime and recreation rather than a livelihood.
More recently, technological innovations have brought the power back to the people — in essence, democratizing innovation. With the commercialization of computers, anyone could become a hacker. Today, the mass production of tools and technology enables cost-effective individual making, while the Internet enables the sharing, funding, selling, and socializing of ideas and products alike.
Collaborative spaces and communities
This isn’t just about individuals tinkering in their basements, however: behind every great movement is community, collaboration, and a lot of experimentation.
Also known as hackerspaces or fab labs, makerspaces (pdf) are physical locations in which people gather to share resources, network, work on projects, experiment, brainstorm, and learn.
One company called TechShop provides a chain of DIY workplaces nationwide. According to TechShop’s CEO, Mark Hatch, these fully-equipped shared spaces allow entrepreneurs to cut traditional development costs by as much as 98 percent.
Hatch calls the spaces “communities on steroids,” emphasizing how the collaborative ethos and startup-friendly culture builds support for people starting businesses.
The maker community extends online, of course: Maker Media, a global connection platform for makers, is responsible for MAKE magazine, Makezine.com, Maker Shed (and online store) Maker Faire (a growing and award-winning bi-annual event), and a beta social network space called Makerspace.com.
Social media magic
So you’ve got your makers, and you’ve got your space, but it takes the more than just these factors for innovations to truly transcend.
One key aspect that makes today’s Internet-age Maker Movement so special is the impact of social media in spreading and funding ideas, fast.
Websites like Etsy and Quirky act as online marketplaces for DIY products, stores like Inventables as a hardware source, Pinterest and Youtube as tutorial spaces, and crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter as fundraising platforms.
The only issue? Today’s Internet is not as equal opportunity as it purports to be. Given that exposure is oftentimes dependent on Google SEO priority and existing social media followings, competition for exposure is fierce and virality difficult to attain. This is what some call the politics of the attention economy, and it can act as much against aspiring entrepreneurs as it can for them.
Commercial adoption, or radical revolution?
According to the New Yorker, Maker Movement thinkers like Chris Anderson and Kevin Kelly envision a world in which personal manufacturing will “undermine the clout of corporations” and compete with mass retail goods — deinstitutionalization and empowerment of the individual that jives closely with libertarian viewpoints.
But at its heart, if the Maker Movement in theory is a rejection of capitalism in favor of a personal and creative autonomy, therein lies its flaw.
Already, larger corporate companies like GE and Free People, government agencies like DARPA, and universities have emulated the makerspaces that spawned innovative and profitable ideas like the MakerBot 3D-printer, Pebble smartwatch, Coin smart wallet, and more. Other companies have simply acquired such startups, as Facebook did with Oculus Rift VR.
It seems unlikely, then, that the Maker Movement will evolve into a full-scale revolution that undermines either government or capitalism — not yet, anyway — though it may morph society’s approach to consumption over time.
The takeaway: Looking forward
The growth and scope of Maker Movement suggests that it’s transcending ideologies by inching toward the mainstream on many levels, including government, corporate, and importantly, education. With the newest generation of minds exposed to maker-inspired curriculum, maker culture could become integrated into society to the extant that it would no longer qualify as counter-culture.
What would such a maker-made future look like? No one knows for certain. But if, as the Maker Movement Manifesto states, “making is fundamental to what it means to be human,” humanity — and the economy — can only stand to gain from more skilled makers, large and small.
Some AHA! facts to come away with:
- There were over 280,000 Maker Faire attendees in total last year, with a 62 percent rise in attendance from 2009 to 2013.
- It’s projected that by 2018, nearly half of Internet of Things solutions will be provided by startups less than three years old.
- President Obama has expressed hope that future children will be “makers of things, not just consumers of things,” and the White House hosted its own Maker Faire in 2014.
Originally published on October 15, 2014.