Makers: What’s Behind All The Hype?

One of Many MakersThere’s a lot of making out there today: messy, sticky, smudgy, artistic, electronic or robotic. Every city has a Maker Faire, Make magazine is in the checkout line at the grocery store, and schools around the U.S. are asking parents to help supply their new Makerspaces. Are you wondering what’s all the hype? When did art class jump the shark to become the next big thing in education? And why does my kid keep raiding the recycling bin?

Well, here’s how it happened. First let’s cover the hype.

Some people say that our domestic and craft skills were lost in the last decades of the twentieth century and early years of the twenty-first. During this time, home economics, shop class and sometimes even art class were phased out of schools. Simultaneously, more and more families became dual-income, without a stay-at-home parent to cook dinner, change the car’s oil, and do countless other chores and pastimes that people have busied themselves with since the dawn of time.

As a result, many members of Generation X, all the Millennials and a good number of Generation Z (or is it iGen?) came of age and were forced to survive on their own without knowing how to do some pretty basic things. Luckily, the rise of the Internet coincided with their realization that they actually wanted, maybe even needed, to know how to cook, sew, fix lawn mowers, build circuits, and so on.

Like a great conduit, the Internet linked together people who knew how to do these things with those who did not. In the 1980’s and 90’s Usenet, a worldwide discussion network, allowed everyone with Internet connected computers to exchange knowledge with each other. In time, the World Wide Web supplanted Usenet and expanded in popularity to become a household essential. Suddenly everyone was online and DIY culture exploded as the Information Age began.

This increase in information availability brought creative passions out of kitchens and garages and onto the desks of Internet surfers around the world. In 1995 AuctionWeb (later known as eBay) was founded, giving a host of arcane items worldwide availability. In 2005 Etsy began, providing a marketplace for people who did not own businesses to showcase and sell handmade goods.

In 2006 the first Make magazine was printed, which highlighted similar creations that often involved electronics and robotics. Originally published by O’Reilly and Associates, the company responsible for educating Generation X’s self-taught tech geeks, Make had a natural connection to computer programming and open source software. As a result, two important features of the magazine and the people who subscribed to it were already built in: community interaction and the exchange of ideas.

The first Maker Faire followed shortly after the magazine, and the Maker Movement coalesced into a thing with a name that had press, increased visibility and an income stream. Makerspaces also grew in popularity as the more democratic arm of the movement, essentially “community centers with tools.” There have always been people who tinker and build things, but the Internet and Make magazine grew that community by leaps and bounds.

As a result of all that sharing, better and cheaper Maker materials are more accessible for everyone. Plus, funding platforms like Kickstarter enable visionary Makers to chase their wildest dreams whether they have the resources to do so or not. According to Limor Fried, CEO of Adafruit Industries, a leading supplier of electronics kits and components, “Maker technology and projects make STEM and STEAM efforts easier and less expensive to get into schools…the maker community has come up with open-source technologies—tool chains, libraries, schematics, 3-D models, etc.—that make this possible.”

-Guest Blog Courtesy of Heather Knape, Writer and EDMO Parent