Why the Maker Movement Matters

Take the alpha geek obsession with arts and crafts, add the crunchy con sensibility of Shop Class as Soulcraft, and throw in a radically changed economic environment that empowers small-scale entrepreneurs and allows the commodification of startups and you’ve got … a near-utopia, if you’ll have it. As the great Tim O’Reilly explains,

what today is “do it yourself” is tomorrow’s big business. The hacker building homebrew robots shows us something about the future of robotics. The crafter incorporating technology into traditional crafts shows us something about how computing is becoming pervasive. The folks playing with laser cutters and 3D printers are telling us something about the future of manufacturing. The folks hooking up sensors to tie physical buildings to their analogues in Second Life are telling us that the future may not be in virtual reality but a new kind of augmented reality.

What worries me is that we’re seeing this explosion of creativity at the upper end of society, yet thanks to the rhetoric of “economic security” we are insulating people from the risks and rewards of full participation in the entrepreneurial economy. Not everyone will become an entrepreneur, no matter how “commodified” the startup process becomes. The economic disruptions we’re seeing are sharply increasing returns to, for example, quantitative skills, at least for now. But by “protecting” incumbents, whether it’s mom-and-pops or public schools, we’re helping to calcify economic relationships that aren’t actually working for the bottom 20 percent.

What matters isn’t security so much as resiliency. David Brooks had some very kind words for my forthcoming book with Ross in his column today, but the part of the column that excited me most was the idea of a “resiliency agenda.” How do you help individuals and families and communities bounce back? Do you use government training programs, or do you give people the tools they need to find their own way? This should sound very glib and silly and vague to you, but rest assured I wil write more about it soon.

This extends to questions surrounding national security. Do we hermetically seal our borders and prepare for the last threat? Or do we try to be sure that we’ll be smart and effective in anticipating and defeating new threats?

What does this have to do with arts and crafts? My guess is that a culture that tinkers is also a culture that is more likely to ask questions, to bend rather than break. Styles of consumption matter. Also, I think I just like arts and crafts. And, er, people who are into arts and crafts.