Phew. My legs are sore, and my voice is just returning to normal after a whirlwind two days at the Maker Faire in San Mateo. Thanks to everyone I bumped into and chatted with: I had a very nice time, and the partial solar eclipse was an added bonus (some pictures to come in a different post).
But in spite of all the fun I had, by the middle of Sunday, I had begun to have a bit of a uneasy feeling, a feeling that perhaps the event wasn’t really so much about making, but more about just a slightly different kind of consumption. For every individual who worked on some whacky project that they brought to exhibit, there seemed to be a dozen which were companies (mostly small, but some large) which were identifying “makers” as a new market segment that they wanted to sell products to.
In many ways, that’s not a bad thing: after all, I want companies like Sparkfun and Adafruit to succeed, because they make interesting components and technologies accessible to ordinary people with a desire to build. But I can’t help but wonder where are the consumers of these kinds of technologies? Of all the hundreds of thousands of Arduinos sold, why are there so few examples of cool artistic or technical applications being demonstrated on the tables at Maker Faire?
The reason that I go to the Maker Faire is to celebrate in the joy of craft and tinkering. I want to be inspired to think broadly and creatively, to extend my skills, and to share in the pleasure of making the world a tiny bit more beautiful/amazing/fun.
What seems really odd to me is that I heard more than one person lament the sorry state of science/electronics/shop skills in “kids” today, that it’s just really hard to learn this stuff. I couldn’t help but blink: with the internet, with YouTube, with resources like IRC and mailing lists, with great companies (large ones like Digikey, and smaller ones like Sparkfun and Adafruit) I don’t think it’s ever been easier. One lamented the long ago loss of Don Herbert: TV’s Mr. Wizard. It was a great loss, to be sure, but we don’t need a TV network to promote science to young people. We can blog, podcast, form clubs and hackerspaces, and communicate with people all over the world. We have Khan Academy, Udacity, the Khan Academy, Vi Hart, and dozens of others to help inspire and educate.
In other words, we can all be Mr. Wizard. We are challenged not just to be students, but to also be instructors. To inspire others, as well as to be inspired.
By five, our little group was tired, and we were heading back to the car. At 5:18, the moon started to cover the sun, and by 5:30 we were back to the car, where my little Meade telescope and solar filter was waiting. We watched as the moon slowly ate the sun, and shadows of point sources showed the tell-tale crescent shapes. The sky got oddly dark. The temperature seemed to drop, and the wind picked up.
And then, the sun started to grow again. We packed up, and decided to head to dinner.
And I started to talk this out. And I realized that the feelings that I had were really just feelings of my own failure to live up to the ideas that I set out above. After all, I didn’t bring any cool projects to the Maker Faire. (Okay, I wasn’t a total slouch, I helped some young people who did bring stuff there, but the point remains.) Rather than complain about what needs to be done, I could just do something myself. If the ratio of independent creative projects to others is too low, then there is something I can do: I can bring something next year.
And, of course, over the last month, my blog has gotten a thick patina of dust. I’ve not been doing much with it. I could make excuses, but they don’t even ring true to me. I want to do better. I’ll start with trying to resume some regular posting of my ongoing projects. I’ll endeavor to be more creative, and less of a consumer.
Hmmm. Maybe the Maker Faire really does work fine just the way it is.