Why I Am Not a Maker
January 24, 2015 7:42 AM   Subscribe

There’s a widespread idea that “People who make things are simply different [read: better] than those who don’t.” [...] It’s not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with making (although it’s not all that clear that the world needs more stuff). The problem is the idea that the alternative to making is usually not doing nothing—it’s almost always doing things for and with other people, from the barista to the Facebook community moderator to the social worker to the surgeon. Describing oneself as a maker—regardless of what one actually or mostly does—is a way of accruing to oneself the gendered, capitalist benefits of being a person who makes products.

The author is an associate professor of materials science at Olin College of Engineering.
posted by haltingproblemsolved (116 comments total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
 
Haha, haltingproblemsolved, I was just wondering if I should post this!

I would highly recommend Nancy Folbre for more reading on how and why caring and caretaking tasks are not valued in the economy versus what they actually contribute and are actually worth.
posted by emjaybee at 7:48 AM on January 24, 2015 [10 favorites]


I thought "maker" generally meant "someone who makes stuff for themselves or friends and family because they enjoy the process and would rather make than buy", not someone who makes and sells products.
posted by Foosnark at 7:50 AM on January 24, 2015 [52 favorites]


I believe she has some comments on that definition of "maker" Foosnark. Basically; it's been coopted by market forces and is now being broadly applied because it's fashionable. So much so that people pressure her to call herself one, and thus the article protesting that pressure and investigating that description.
posted by emjaybee at 7:55 AM on January 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


So basically "I was a maker before it was cool, but it is now cool therefore it sucks?"
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 7:56 AM on January 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


I think she's right that focusing on making things tends to devalue other kinds of work, and I think she's right that this reinforces fucked-up gender dynamics. But I think the fucked-up gender dynamics, not the distinction between making and not-making, are fundamental, and not-making jobs that are coded elite and male have a lot more status than making-type labor that is coded female. Surgeons aren't really makers, but they have lots of status. Same with lawyers or bankers. But a skilled seamstress isn't going to impress your average Silicon Valley dude.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:57 AM on January 24, 2015 [28 favorites]


I believe that Lloyd Dobler has addressed this best.
posted by Edward L at 8:02 AM on January 24, 2015 [16 favorites]


Hey, you can "make" a cool robot or a cool "relationship" or a cool solution to a social problem.

The making" meme has taken on a special status because you can show people the cool physical thing you made, or hacked; one can use it in physical space. It's more difficult to do that with service-oriented hacks. Substitute the work "maker" of "innovater" and voila!
posted by Vibrissae at 8:08 AM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


So basically "I was a maker before it was cool, but it is now cool therefore it sucks?"

I probably don't have a lot of moral high ground to complain about lazy drive-by snark, but that is some exceptionally lazy drive-by snark, and doesn't in any way accurately characterize the piece or engage with the issues it raises.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:09 AM on January 24, 2015 [43 favorites]


I thought "maker" was a term we used for children's library programs because surely no adult would want to use such an infantile term to describe themselves and what they do.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:09 AM on January 24, 2015 [12 favorites]


In Silicon Valley, this divide is often explicit: As Kate Losse has noted, coders get high salary, prestige, and stock options. The people who do community management—on which the success of many tech companies is based—get none of those.

Man, imagine if Twitter paid moderators as much as coders....
posted by Going To Maine at 8:13 AM on January 24, 2015 [10 favorites]


No, "maker" is having a moment. For instance, the Museum of Art and Design in New York, which used to be called the Museum of Contemporary Craft, called its first biennial NYC Makers. The idea there was to highlight people in New York who are making innovative, creative stuff, without differentiating between artisans, artists, designers, and other kinds of creative people.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:14 AM on January 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


I was coming to say what ArbitraryAndCapricious said, basically. I saw this posted somewhere else yesterday, with the same pullout, and it bugged me. It seems to me that we actually don't value makers in our society (in the US anyway) at all. And I consider myself a maker.

The people with the most status are the Strategists, Designers, Bankers, Surgeons and such.

People who take pride in creating things are looked at as hobbyists, hipsters with trust funds, non-thinking workers.
posted by maggiemaggie at 8:14 AM on January 24, 2015 [15 favorites]


This actually resonates with me a lot. The mention of non-programming roles like "community manager" being literally devalued (ie paid less) is a really good point. A lot of people in technical positions in tech seem to think what they do is special and hard to learn while other positions "anyone can do" (I'm personally of the opinion that basically anyone can program). At the same time the skills for those devalued positions - often maligned as "soft skills" - are ones we often allow programmers to not have. You can't expect a programmer to have people skills!

So to the degree maker culture encourages people to think that supportive activities aren't as worthwhile, I think the author is onto something. That said, groups like Double Union SF are trying to create "feminist hacker spaces" and I know some of the leaders and they definitely oppose the devaluation of non-tech skills.
posted by R343L at 8:16 AM on January 24, 2015 [9 favorites]


I'm a knitter and a painter - so I do make things but not, I suspect, the kind of things she feels are these privileged status things. I get a lot of pleasure from seeing people I love wearing warm things I have knit for them, so it is a form of caretaking for me.

I've been aware of the maker movement for a number of years, but as a woman on the crafting side of the spectrum, rather than the building electronics side, I've always felt apart from the makers. However, the maker movement has a great space in my city, that is open to anyone and I've worked there, and I've seen how valuable it has been for some of my friends' kids, to be in robotics clubs and so on.

But I'm guessing all this personal scale stuff isn't really what she's addressing. I work as a helper/service provider/educator of sorts and am of course somewhat devalued for that (not having a PhD also lends to being devalued in higher education) and actually I find my making much more rewarding than the helping and advising. I don't find the kind of service providing I do to be fulfilling in terms of creativity, or use of color, or actually using my hands, but I also agree with her that those jobs (historically female) shouldn't be devalued the way they are.
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:17 AM on January 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


I really liked her concluding paragraph:
A quote often attributed to Gloria Steinem says: “We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons... but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.” Maker culture, with its goal to get everyone access to the traditionally male domain of making, has focused on the first. But its success means that it further devalues the traditionally female domain of caregiving, by continuing to enforce the idea that only making things is valuable. Rather, I want to see us recognize the work of the educators, those that analyze and characterize and critique, everyone who fixes things, all the other people who do valuable work with and for others—above all, the caregivers—whose work isn’t about something you can put in a box and sell.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:18 AM on January 24, 2015 [26 favorites]


Why did we outsource all our manufacturing?
posted by maggiemaggie at 8:18 AM on January 24, 2015 [9 favorites]


(I'll note my focus on tech culture here: I think the author is also picking up on a sub-culture of maker culture that heavily overlaps with general high tech culture.)
posted by R343L at 8:18 AM on January 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Taking care of people is making something, even if it's not tangible or can be stored in a Mason jar with a handwritten label, and I think most ordinary, everyday people acknowledge that, even if the wool hatted set doesn't get it. Back in 2010, she was writing about herself as a creator, so I'd say she's revisiting an old theme.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:24 AM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


The problem is the idea that the alternative to making is usually not doing nothing—it’s almost always doing things for and with other people, from the barista to the Facebook community moderator to the social worker to the surgeon.

Is that sentence what she meant to write? Doesn't she mean 'The problem is that the alternative to making....'. Maybe my brain just isn't up to it.

It's true people instinctively value manufacturing over anything else, part of the reason for the widespread belief that economic growth self-evidently cannot continue indefinitely (because the world can only hold so much stuff). An economy not based firmly on beating large pieces of metal with a hammer is widely felt to be a cheat, spooky and insecure.
posted by Segundus at 8:26 AM on January 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think the definition of "maker" is not fixed and there's multiple versions, but the idea of "maker" in Chachra's article which she believes is prevalent doesn't ring true.
Making started out as way of reviving *devalued* physical creative skills (devalued due to the decline of manufacturing industry employment (e.g. many or most engineering students not ending up actually doing much engineering in their careers etc. ) as well as the loss of traditional arts and crafts etc.) as a hobbyist movement. In addition, the hobbyist expression is an emphatic contrast to the corporate/commercial day job. I think that's been blurred with software creativity (because of the crossover/interpollination of hacking (which doesn't mean only computers/electronics but usually does in practice...) and making spaces/cultures).
Sure there are gender issues to be critiqued there but I don't where Chachra's idea that making predominantly revolves around creating products for sale and commodification (!!!) comes from. Even when maker culture has been coopted by corporations' innovation discourses etc., it hasn't been about that.

She also totally overlooks the large amount of teaching and community-building going on in the Maker Movement.
posted by Bwithh at 8:27 AM on January 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


I understand what the author is trying to say here. I feel the same way sometimes, as a tech-ish professional person who doesn't create but who is surrounded by friends and peers who do. I actually posted a comment regarding tilde.club on ello (LOL) when both were the New Hotness:
tl;dr: i was always a user, never a maker. this is no one's fault but mine but sometimes the celebration of Makers and Designers and Tech Creators in today's culture makes me feel like less of a human.
But I guess I try to write it off as my own jealousy/feelings of inadequacy because to spend much more brain space worrying about it doesn't help me.
posted by misskaz at 8:30 AM on January 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


The maker thing is weird. People are more impressed with a pile of poorly applied solder and ICs with an audio jack, built (badly) from a kit that took a couple hours to throw together, than they are with a soft synth that was made from scratch, with a unique processing algorithm that took weeks of work.
posted by idiopath at 8:30 AM on January 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


Is that sentence what she meant to write? Doesn't she mean 'The problem is that the alternative to making....'. Maybe my brain just isn't up to it.

Yeah, a confusing sentence - but even straightened out, I disagree with the premise.

*Making* in the maker movement isn't positioned as opposed to "doing nothing" but the drudgery of bureaucratic, automated etc. tech, manufacturing, and engineering work.
OK, sure, it ignores other kinds of economic activity in making that specific point, and maybe it can be criticized for that but she's setting up a straw man here
posted by Bwithh at 8:30 AM on January 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


The seemingly overnight omnipresence of this word makes me question its origins. To me it always sounded like PR term sold by analysts who found an uptick in the word "guillotine" on social media and worried "entrepreneur" wasn't velvet enough for the fist. Much like how "innovation," a word that long predates the Gates Foundation, changed connotations once it eerily consumed "creativity"
posted by gorbweaver at 8:32 AM on January 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think Debbie Chachra has over thought and completely missed the point about making stuff. Maybe someone makes stuff because they... enjoy it? Maybe they make something to meet a particular need of theirs? Maybe they see the challenge of making stuff as a puzzle to be solved.

And the thing about coders... Yes, they make lots and lots of money. Guess what? DEMAND CREATES SUPPLY. A company has a need for a programmer and they pay (very) well to attract a relatively rare set of talents to their organization. The same logic applies to other non-making professions as well. I'm guessing that Larry Ellison* hasn't made anything in decades, but he makes more money each year than the top programmers will make in a lifetime.

Comparing someone who can write 'Hello, World' to a programmer is like saying I know all there is to know about cars because I saw one once.

Debbie Chachra, go teach yourself something. Go learn something totally unrelated to what you do for a living, unrelated to what anyone else in your family does. Go learn something just for the joy of learning it. Go to codecademy.com and learn a programing language that you will never use again. My preference is Python, but whatever floats your boat.

Go learn it because life is short and learning is cool.

*No, I really don't want to get into an extended discussion on Larry's merits as an engineer, the morality of how his company behaves, or whether or not he consumes too much Oxygen.
posted by dfm500 at 8:35 AM on January 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


Everything fiber arts is devalued and dismissed as feminine (and basically a form of care taking) except for making specialized outdoor equipment and all things "tactical," which of course are masculine and serious.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:37 AM on January 24, 2015 [19 favorites]


R343L: anyone can program, but at least half of society is pressured to develop expertise in soft skills (pressure from parents, teachers, peers...) and it's easy to get away with saying "I can't program".
posted by idiopath at 8:37 AM on January 24, 2015


In Silicon Valley, this divide is often explicit: As Kate Losse has noted, coders get high salary, prestige, and stock options. The people who do community management—on which the success of many tech companies is based—get none of those.

Man, imagine if Twitter paid moderators as much as coders....


I've spent the last 6 years of my life studying so that I qualify for an entry level position as a software developer. The reason why coders get paid well isnt because they are manly men doing man stuff, but because it's fiendishly difficult and 90% of people fail out of the training programs because they are bad at it. If Twitter paid moderators as much as coders, there would be very very few moderators. The smartest and most acclaimed person in my school program is a tiny little blond chick who regularly kicks all they guys asses. Code doesnt have to be a gendered field.
posted by KeSetAffinityThread at 8:39 AM on January 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


The term "maker" to me connotes a hobbyist craftsperson. A "carpenter" is a person who makes their living doing carpentry; a "maker" may do all the same activities but does it for the satisfaction of making a cool one-off project.

Making things is not inherently more important than educating or child care or medicine or any of the other non-making professions. Making things is just fun and satisfying in a way that other activities aren't.

I work in the tech support industry. While it is satisfying to provide people with relief from their problems, the next day there's just as many people with just as many problems. You don't get that simple pleasure of pointing at a thing and say "I made this." You don't the satisfaction of having made a physical difference in the world around you.

I don't think the maker "movement" is about saying "you are less valuable as a person if you don't make things," which seems to be the message that the author is receiving.
posted by JDHarper at 8:41 AM on January 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


Idiopath: I wasn't suggesting everyone should program. I was trying to say programmers (I'm one of them) tend to over-estimate how hard their primary skills are and under-estimate skills others learn for their roles, as well, as you note, the half of the population that is "naturally" expected to be better at them (also in that half.)

(On preview: I reject the idea that most software is "fiendishly" difficult. A lot of software skills are very trainable for many of the application types that get written and re-written and like many other skills greatly improves with practice.)
posted by R343L at 8:42 AM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Chiming in on the "community manager" subtopic going on here. The idea that a job's pay should match its value to the company is absurd. If that were the case then clearly the cashiers at McDonalds should be paid as much as the corporate executives, because otherwise, how would the company get the money out of the customers....

People are paid based on how rare their skill is in the available talent pool. There are tons of people with the skills to be community managers, and relatively few who can engineer a website like twitter. Does it mean those skills are less worthwhile in a philosophical sense? No, it does not. Our wage system and financial system has nothing to do with that.
posted by sp160n at 8:45 AM on January 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


The maker thing is really just a modern renaissance of the depression era art of "Making Do"

When I was growing up, 4 kids and a wife living on an E4s salary while dad was off saving the world from the Viet Cong - my mom practiced the art of "Making do". She sewed our clothes, she grew vegetables and canned them, she'd get the manual for the car from the library and fix the damn thing herself.

These days, it'd be called "Making", but the ethic really was the same - she needed an itch scratched, and the market provided solutions were either too expensive, otherwise unavailable, or non-existent. So she made her own.

She taught me well. A few months ago I needed a wrench roll for my truck tool kit. Sure, I could go out and buy one - they're nice and probably worth the money. But, instead, 20 bucks and 30 minutes at JoAnn Fabrics and I had one made that afternoon.

I sort of celebrate the maker ethic for that reason. I don't look at a problem, like a ripped pair of jeans or whatever - and think "I need to buy a solution". Sometimes, that is the better option, but with some regularity, "Making" my own solution is the vastly superior choice. I really think that people crafting their own solutions is better than being constrained by market forces to pre-designed and pre-packaged solutions. Lots of people have no idea how to Make Do anymore - it used to be a necessary survival skill.

And I learned that - the art of Making Do - from my mother and my grandmothers. I have the luxury and privilege of it being a hobby or a choice instead of a necessary skill. But still - the ethic is the same - and anyway is good preparation for the event that it again becomes a necessity.

I think Dr. Chachra has been hanging out with the wrong sort of makers.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:47 AM on January 24, 2015 [26 favorites]


If 'maker' has become a way to describe people who are doing their jobs, that just strikes me like corporations saying bae.

If you look up Maker Manifesto, it's heavily focused on repair and maintenance issues, which are very user centered. And there are tech centered maker communities and all, but if you go look at instructables, which is a fairly big site that's been heavily identified as a maker community, they cover a very wide range of things people make, including food and clothing and other domestic type stuff. And if you look at the bigger contributors there, lots of them post projects in multiple genres, posting both cooking and electronics projects and things like that.

I don't doubt that there are specific 'maker communities' that are exclusive in the ways she's saying they are, but I really don't think it's fair to characterize the concept as a whole that way. The good maker communities are some of the best and most inclusive places on the internet.

I learned how to make marmalade from Evil Mad Scientist.
posted by ernielundquist at 8:53 AM on January 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Um... I make toast.
posted by sammyo at 8:59 AM on January 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think "maker" is having a moment because it's supposed to make the middle classes feel good about the fact that decent paying jobs are drying up but hey that's OK because if you're just creative and innovative enough you can make something and sell it.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 9:03 AM on January 24, 2015 [4 favorites]



Make Love Not Things.
 
posted by Herodios at 9:03 AM on January 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm currently involved (in watching, for now,) a local maker space form, the second I've seen form, the third I've been involved with. And that's not counting the art spaces I've lived and participated in... There is so much wrong with this article.

>I think Dr. Chachra has been hanging out with the wrong sort of makers.

Thanks for saving me a lot of typing.
posted by Catblack at 9:04 AM on January 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


The maker thing is really just a modern renaissance of the depression era art of "Making Do"

Except that making stuff is often a money sink. You buy a $50 arduino to make... A theramin? You pay more in yarn and time than it would cost to buy a scarf. Some of it involves upcycling and thus saving money but that's not true of the movement as a whole.
posted by tofu_crouton at 9:08 AM on January 24, 2015 [15 favorites]


"Everything fiber arts is devalued and dismissed as feminine (and basically a form of care taking) except for making specialized outdoor equipment and all things "tactical," which of course are masculine and serious."

Have you hung out with makers or read the magazines or been to makerfaires?There's a whole magazine called "Make: Craft" which grew out of the regular Make magazine.
posted by I-baLL at 9:14 AM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


You pay more in yarn and time

First of all, time is not money. You can't save it up and cash it in; you use it or lose it. Is time better invested in making something useful or in whiling it away? Is there a more productive use of time than, you know, productivity?
posted by Sys Rq at 9:20 AM on January 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


You pay more in yarn and time than it would cost to buy a scarf.

Its not the same scarf. You would pay more for a handmade custom scarf than you would to make it yourself.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:23 AM on January 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


There's a whole magazine called "Make: Craft" which grew out of the regular Make magazine.

That....kind of proves the point that "women's stuff" is split off and segregated from the main community.

But be that as it may - I've always raised an eyebrow at the whole use of the word "maker" to describe this kind of thing anyway, when the perfectly-serviceable "DIY" already existed. It was like, "we have found a Brand for this movement under which we can sell products", and that's why everything is called "maker" now.

Or actually - why try to brand it using either "maker" or "diy" or another word, and why not just do stuff? Yeah, it may be cheaper to buy a scarf than knit one anyway, but why not try making one just because? Or why not try making your own bathroom mat, or end table, or metal wall hanging, or ice cream, or bird feeder, or app, or circuit breaker, or poem, or whatever? Maybe some of what you make will look like shit, but maybe it won't, and it's actually kind of cool if your friend sees it and asks, "ooh, where'd you buy that?" and you get to say, "actually, I made it" and they're all impressed.

Does there have to be a reason or ethos behind making things anyway, other than "I just felt like it"? If you want to try it, go for it; and if you don't want to, then that's cool too, it's your life and you get to pick how to spend it. I mean, I encourage everyone to at least try some kind of thing, because you may stretch yourself and discover you're actually good at it and it's cool and everyone should get to find a range of different things they can do that they like getting good at. But if you do something for a while and it makes you bored and you stop, it's not like you've Failed At Making or whatever.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:32 AM on January 24, 2015 [13 favorites]


I understand the value of personally made goods. I'm just saying that making stuff is not necessarily a solution for people who are legitimately depression era poor. As reiterated on mefi time and again, poverty often doesn't leave you with time for basic activities like cooking, much less for "making" in the hobbyist sense of the maker's movement. I was commenting specifically on the depression era remark, not making a referendum on crafts.
posted by tofu_crouton at 9:33 AM on January 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


I worked for a long time building custom crates for museums and art galleries. We built nice stuff (exhibition crates with upholstered interiors and fancy bolt closures), but the work we did was largely invisible to our clients. I remember a boss telling me a "people don't notice craftsmanship, they notice paperwork."
posted by ducky l'orange at 9:33 AM on January 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Debbie Chachra, go teach yourself something.

Seriously? Did you somehow miss the part where the author's background contains a series of degrees in highly technical fields? This kind of thing is ridiculously condescending and generally unhelpful and I wish technical people would knock it off.

Anyway, "making". I've spent the better part of the last decade making my living from selling stuff to people in the maker scene (or what looks like it if you squint) and it has treated me really well. Most of my close friends are in some sense part of this thing, or at least concerned with it.

I'm reasonably comfortable saying that "the maker movement" or "maker culture" is a deliberate marketing scheme, and a pretty successful one. My current employer, my previous employer, and a lot of the people we compete/collaborate with have done pretty well out of it. On the other hand it's also something with a life of its own, something some people I appreciate willingly self-apply, and it overlaps with a staggering amount of grassroots-level effort.

I don't really think that Chachra has it quite right in this critique (making stuff as a fundamental value has been part of my life for as long as I can remember, and the people who really instilled that in me were mostly women in caretaker roles who made stuff), but she also doesn't have it quite wrong, and the whole memeplex could use a healthy dose of perspectives like this one.

"Maker" as a term may fade; it certainly has problems. DIY hackery of the sort that I facilitate to earn my bread isn't going anywhere, though, and people in the scene could benefit from some more reflection about the values they're being sold, especially now that the marketing departments of a lot of many-billion-dollar entities have noticed that appropriating and branding elements of their culture is a good way to make advertising and appear useful.
posted by brennen at 9:35 AM on January 24, 2015 [15 favorites]


I guess the definition of "maker" is changing?

My perception was that a "maker" was those handmade bird houses and sewing stuff and other gewgaws "made in the garage" you'd see on etsy, gift stores, and rural farmyards (painted wind thingies blowing along a fence row...).

So...it's expanding beyond that now to include...coders, wrenchers, machinists, or anyone who works with tools?
posted by CrowGoat at 9:36 AM on January 24, 2015


My take on the maker "movement" is re-valuing what's perceived as the lost tradition of making and maintaining (mostly) physical stuff for personal gratification and even, heaven forbid, profit. Is there really a finite supply of respect to go around such that a "maker" ethos takes away a slice of the respect pie from people who don't produce physical objects?

I think there's a perception that making stuff is a part of our lost history, crowded out when we emphasized information, serving and engineering over fabricating. Interestingly, I think to some extent, we may have been successful in raising "our sons more like our daughters” when we aimed our male work force out of the traditionally masculine dirt and grease trades and into "higher" shirt-and-tie occupations, where administration, design and discovery take place. (Even if it's not always a very good fit. ) The revival of those old trades, at least on a small scale, I think is where interest in the maker movement comes from.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:37 AM on January 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


I am a finder, from the tribe of Finders. We are a small but ancient tribe.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:37 AM on January 24, 2015 [16 favorites]


I am a finder, from the tribe of Finders. We are a small but ancient tribe.

If you've got a minute, I need to talk to you about my keys and my wallet.
posted by brennen at 9:38 AM on January 24, 2015 [14 favorites]


The problem here is that the term started, and still pretty much means, a person interested in certain kinds of hands-on tinkering who isn't a materials scientist or engineer.

I would not expect certain people to self-identify at all with "maker" just as I would not expect certain people to identify with "hacker".

I may hack, but I am rarely a hacker these days. Going pro changes that relationship.

As long as we focus on Maker as an inclusive and fun ludic pursuit, I'm ok with that.

As in all things human, sometimes reality becomes apparent. I'd like to think we can adjust our attitudes accordingly.
posted by clvrmnky at 9:39 AM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


supposed to make the middle classes feel good about the fact that decent paying jobs are drying up

I think it's far more a product of middle class anxiety about the fact that decent jobs are drying up. Making is a way to develop skills and empowerment that can be abstracted to a world for where the good jobs are gone and nobody is hiring. Having lived though industry downturns, I've had reason to be glad that I can fix my own car and tack some framing lumber together with drywall screws, and the day will doubtless come where I'll be glad that I can bake bread and do a bit of poor sewing.
posted by wotsac at 9:46 AM on January 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


I worked for a long time building custom crates for museums and art galleries. We built nice stuff (exhibition crates with upholstered interiors and fancy bolt closures), but the work we did was largely invisible to our clients. I remember a boss telling me a "people don't notice craftsmanship, they notice paperwork."
Interestingly, the NYC Makers exhibit at the Museum of Art and Design featured as one of its makers the company Boxart, which does exactly that: they build custom crates and transport art for museums and galleries. So the term "maker" can acknowledge that kind of skill and creativity, although I think the people who use the term often don't.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:48 AM on January 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


"Well, not those makers, these makers!"

Reading this thread is driving me crazy. There are many (some overlapping, some disjoint) communities using the same name. I get it! It's confusing. But in this case author has a very specific community in mind and then fails to identify it, leaving it to the reader to try to suss out who she's talking about. I think she's probably correct regarding the specific community of "makers" that she's talking about, but she's inviting a negative response from a large number of other communities using the same word.

I identify as part of the anarcho-pedant community, which often gets a bad rap
posted by phooky at 9:57 AM on January 24, 2015 [9 favorites]


This is about Makers. It's not a philosophy or a cultural movement, Makers is a brand name that was pushed by Mark Frauenfelder and Boing Boing and was spun off into a new product, his Make magazine. I understand the criticism of "wimmen stuff" being a segregated product line. The only reason there is a Make:Craft magazine is because it's the pet project of his partner Carla.

I don't know if any of you know their history. About ten years ago, they sold everything they owned (except their MacBooks) and moved to Rarotonga. They had this idea of an idyllic lifestyle, living without the advanced technological infrastructure of modern life. They could make what they needed, like radios made from cocoanuts like on Gilligan's Island. So from now on, whenever you think of Makers, I want you to summon up this image in your mind. I was not surprised when they only lasted a few months and moved right back to LA. But they still maintain a strong belief in living independently of technology (as long as they can keep their MacBooks).

So despite the prominent sales pitch for new technologies, it should be obvious that Makers is an anti-technological movement. Mark and Carla are crypto-Luddites. This is not a philosophical movement of individuals taking control of technology away from corporate interests, like Gandhi insisting people weave their own homespun instead of wearing British mass produced fabrics. This is a couple of people who know how to dupe techno-uptopians into buying their brand of anti-technology, to join their cult of "pioneers" that believe they can create anything they need, solely from their own efforts, without a technological-industrial society that includes everything from miners digging up metals, to chip fabricators to make microprocessors to run their 3D printers.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:59 AM on January 24, 2015 [22 favorites]


I thought "make" referred to individuals making stuff at a small scale.
And when companies do it...its "manufactured".

Oh well...I better think about it while eating Mrs. fields homemade cookies.

Oh wait...
posted by hal_c_on at 10:04 AM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


After the apocalypse, when mankind is huddled around a small campfire. There will be folks saying things like "I am a carpenter, I can build us shelter." Others will say, "I am a biologist, I can help us improve crop yield." Still others will say, "I am a hunter. I know how to gather food." Everyone will agree that these are needed skills. These people will become the pillars of the community.

Then, when they get to me. I will get to say, "I make charts."


It is likely at this time, that I will be voted to be eaten first.
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:13 AM on January 24, 2015 [14 favorites]


Somewhere close to 30 years ago, I made a conscious decision to focus what spare time I had on productive hobbies. Learn to cook, learn to build things, and pretty much make anything I could at least once.

I was not at the time aware of anything like a 'maker movement' as such, but to me, it made perfect sense that instead of focusing on hobbies that consistently cost me money, I'd try some that either saved money or improved my quality of life. I am so glad I made that decision and kept at it, and for that reason, I am a huge supporter of the 'maker movement.'

Not everything you do ends up being cheaper or better, but people spend money doing a lot sillier things than making $50 theremins. How much enjoyment do you get out of $50 spent on that vs. the same amount at a bar or something? And what do you end up with?

And while not all of them are super-practical, a lot of them are. I don't do hardcore electronics projects usually, but I do maintain and modify things, and put things together from parts. My computer is I guess about ten years old now, and cost me about $300 to piece together--it's fuzzy because I upgrade and modify things a lot, so it's hard to draw a line at what makes up a 'new' computer. I know lots of people who easily spend ten times what I do on computers and computer-ey gadgets, and they usually have much in the way of increased capabilities for that.

The 'maker movement' is responsible for raising a whole lot of awareness about planned obsolescence and disposability and other issues that affect all of us. Some of their biggest issues are with things like sealed battery compartments and proprietary screwheads that prevent users from doing simple, consumer level maintenance.

I am not saying that everyone should always make everything they use or anything. Not by a long stretch. None of these things--not electronics, knitting, cooking, furniture building, car repair--are likely to be worth it for someone who doesn't enjoy the act of making stuff. There are lots of DIY projects I choose not to do myself most of the time because they're not enjoyable enough, but I don't think people are stupid or otherwise bad if they do enjoy changing their oil or fermenting their own ginger ale or whatever. (My ginger ale exploded pretty violently, and I'm still too scared to try it again.)

If people are being assholes about it, call them out for being assholes, not for enjoying different hobbies than you do. Isn't that kind of what people are accusing them of?
posted by ernielundquist at 10:15 AM on January 24, 2015 [12 favorites]


I make people offers they can't refuse. Does that count?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:15 AM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


The extent that "maker" has been conflated with entrepreneur make me think that any comparison is also a stereotype. The reality is that a lot of makers are also jobbers, because a high number of makers cannot earn a viable living from making alone without a high degree of material outlay, usually to open a physical store.

This article seems to posit an enterprise education phenomenon I find deeply troubling: Role-as-resource rationalisation, where a vocational student is persuaded to try their hand at running a business due to a lack of apprenticeships or regular jobs. If building a clientele were taught, it would be different. In traditionally female vocational training, beautician for example, the tables are turned. They are able to move into work faster with the opportunity of building a clientele and social mobility assured using role-as-resource much more successfully than men who undertake traditionally male vocation.

The reality creates a system where low wage roles predominate for longer for the majority of actors, male and female. It is strange that this author, a consultant, dissociates with maker-hood.

I have a theory that many educators, particularly in business education, want to discount in degrees both explicit and implicit the role of entrepreneurship in work they morally consider distasteful. I look at Bourdieu's theory of class distinction and his subsequent work on a theory of the art market as a parallel to this article.

Dr. Chachra makes the 'classic' mistake of defining caregivers as a non-vocational activity. In the case of a child or an adult caring for a relative, there is proper vocational training on offer that is displayed alongside often intimate compassion. I worry for the argument that we must make a distinction between any kind of entrepreneurship because one may find profiting from this activity in an entrepreneurial way to be morally distasteful. That degrades those who have had to inherit or had no choice. On a mobility level, Dr. Chachra is right, the is very little except local or relativist social capital in many caring roles. That is changing and to ignore it is at one's own peril. More carers are being paid now to care for relatives than ever before, meaning the professional sector is not far behind for many participants.
posted by parmanparman at 10:17 AM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's a whole magazine called "Make: Craft" which grew out of the regular Make magazine.
posted by I-baLL

There used to be a magazine called Craft. The last issue was published five years ago! I have 8 of the 10 issues and I keep them but i wish it was actually a better magazine (if I want a good magazine for my craft I read Threads.)
posted by vespabelle at 10:18 AM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Look around a city. Almost all the artifacts that we value as a society were made by or at the order of men. But behind every one is an invisible infrastructure of labor—primarily caregiving, in its various aspects—that is mostly performed by women.

Um, what? There are no female architects, clothes designers, auto makers, graphic designers? Women don't make stuff except babies, is that really what the author is saying?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:32 AM on January 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Looks like Craft merged its content directly into Make magazine. (I haven't picked up print versions of the magazines in a while.)

It still exists within the pages of Make magazine apparently (as per Wikipedia

http://makezine.com/craftzine/ is ongoing.
posted by I-baLL at 10:34 AM on January 24, 2015


This is a couple of people who know how to dupe techno-uptopians into buying their brand of anti-technology

This statement, like the piece linked to, is just insane. Pick up and read a copy at the local bookstore or whatever. It's about as far away from Ludditism as a publication could get. Seriously: Bizarro world.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 10:38 AM on January 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Luddites were not all-purpose technophobes or anything, though, and neither are most people classified as neo-Luddites. It's more just a more humanist approach to technology, which could pretty accurately describe the "Maker" philosophy as much as there is one, or Make:, or Fraunfelder himself.

In fact, some of the more prominent people I'd think of as neo-Luddites, as with the original Luddites, are those who are best versed in emerging technologies, and who see the problematic aspects of adopting them wholesale. Most are just selective about which technologies they adopt, which requires them to be at least somewhat knowledgeable.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:53 AM on January 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


In many languages, the word for 'make' and 'do' is the same. Just throwing that out there.
posted by empath at 10:58 AM on January 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


This statement, like the piece linked to, is just insane.

charlie don't surf's statement, as per his standard approach when descending into these threads to let us know How It Is With Technology, is super reductive and dismissive of other perspectives and the lived experience of all sorts of people, but yeah, what ernielundquist said.

The linked piece may be off base in a number of ways and missing some pieces, but it's not insane.
posted by brennen at 10:59 AM on January 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


I read an article somewhere where the author describes coming out of a big sporting venue and meeting a couple of guys sitting out waiting for someone. "Maker, or taker?" was what they said to him. That's pretty much all the discussion that's required here.

Note that I can't search for this article because all that turns up are screeds about how to discriminate makers from takers.
posted by sneebler at 11:06 AM on January 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Pick up and read a copy at the local bookstore or whatever.

I have. Pick up and read the subtext at the local bookstore or whatever. That's why I called them crypto-Luddites. They think they are techno-utopians but their perspective is warped by their limited vision. This is movement initiated by two graphic designers, not technologists or philosophers (despite their own beliefs that they are). Yes, as the article says, they do believe they are superior to mere humans. That's why they moved to Rarotonga with their MacBooks, so they could live like gods, and phone their diaries back to the LA Weekly, where the world would hang on their every word.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:08 AM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


This article's premise seems faulty to me. Are "makers" like carpenters and welders really valued more highly than non-makers like bankers and lawyers and surgeons? Doubt it. I can come up with plenty of critiques of the Maker concept, and I agree that traditionally feminine roles are devalued. But claiming that the Maker concept merely plays into some age old situation where manual labor is valued more than non-physical labor seems dubious. And I don't think it's the case that historically men are the ones who make things and women are the ones who do other stuff.
posted by salvia at 11:17 AM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Proud taker here. Also, if the coders that posted in this thread are representative of the profession as a whole, no fucking thank you to hanging out with that crew no matter how much money it is or how short life is or how sweet it is to learn things.
posted by josher71 at 11:19 AM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Um, what? There are no female architects, clothes designers, auto makers, graphic designers? Women don't make stuff except babies, is that really what the author is saying?

Hi. I'm a female composer. I guess I'm a "Maker" except I don't, generally, make anything saleable (or that most people would pay money for). I "make" highly abstract atonal music, as a career, not a hobby.

I inhabit a world where, indeed, the entire creative and historical landscape has been created almost entirely by men. While many women are now recognized as leaders in the field, there's no female equivalent of Bach as a go-to for teaching the foundations of Western harmony. Nor will there ever be, unless we somehow go back in time and discover Bach was really a woman or a ghostwriter for Anna Magdalena or something. But women are everywhere teaching music theory and history, passing on the basic knowledge using textbooks that may mention women composers, but include few to no examples of their music.

And those composers, Mozart and Bach and whoever, were actively supported by their families, with wives not only raising their children but acting as their managers and copyists. Widows of famous twentieth-century composers manage their husbands' estates, promote their works and administer performance rights. I ask myself, if I died suddenly, would my husband make an effort to keep people playing my music? I doubt it's ever crossed his mind. It's never even crossed my own mind to ask.

About fifty percent of music majors in the US are women, but only about 20% of composition students are women. Here's a link describing how the more a subject is perceived as requiring "raw intellectual talent" the less likely women are to make a successful career in that subject. Music composition is notably far to the right and low on the chart. Heck, Philosophy is doing a better job welcoming women into the discipline, by that measure.

Anyway, I guess my point is that there's making and Making and I have no idea about the crafting community and its culture, except that my mom takes pottery classes these days. She makes a lot of stuff. I asked what she was going to do with all her pottery and she got huffy and asked, "I don't know, what do you do with the music you write?" I should have said "List it on my CV and send it out endlessly to calls for scores, in the faint hope that it will be performed more than once in my lifetime and somehow make me look better as an academic job candidate" but I didn't think of that until much later.

In conclusion, the creator/procreator dichotomy is real, and usually it's right around when men start making things that the makers become Makers in a capitalist-moralizing sort of way. There was a Margaret Atwood (I think) story where all the women cook all the time, and then they convince men to share in the work of cooking, and then the men take over and talk a lot about how ridiculous it is to think of women working with knives and hot ovens and so forth. I had a point other than that but I've lost track of it now.
posted by daisystomper at 11:20 AM on January 24, 2015 [44 favorites]


But claiming that the Maker concept merely plays into some age old situation where manual labor is valued more than non-physical labor seems dubious. And I don't think it's the case that historically men are the ones who make things and women are the ones who do other stuff.
Ok, so I don't think that the distinction is between manual labor and other kinds of labor. I've spent this morning cleaning my oven, and I promise you, that's manual labor. Oven cleaner gives me a migraine, so I've done the whole thing with baking soda and vinegar and elbow grease, and now I'm sweating and my back aches. "Women's work" is often physically demanding. It often takes skill and creativity. The difference is that it's not considered productive and it's devalued. I would argue that it takes as much skill and creativity to be a good teacher as to be a good coder, but Mr. Sanctimonious "I've studied for six years for that coding job and I deserve all the money" is certainly never going to consider some high school math teacher his equal, because that's women's work and therefore by definition not productive and also not very hard or valuable. It's hard for me to sort out where the idea of making fits in to all of this, but I do think there's something to the idea that it's telling that making code is considered being a Maker, but making educated citizens isn't.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:36 AM on January 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


A quote often attributed to Gloria Steinem says: “We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons... but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.” Maker culture, with its goal to get everyone access to the traditionally male domain of making, has focused on the first.

I'm a little baffled by describing making as a male domain when there are so many aspects of traditional feminine domains that are about making/craft. I guess the author and others would say this isn't about that but about the capital-M Maker markemovement which seems to focus on recent tech (meaning electronics and software and other marketable things)... but in the areas where I'm able to watch that at work in people's lives I'm also seeing a lot of men more interested in knitting, sewing, and cooking.

Even if that weren't the case -- even we're just talking about young men making thereminduinos -- it seems to me that any kind of craft, any kind of step where men/boys are taught that creation is valued as much as control or dominance is something that has a significant impact and helps revalue "feminine" crafts.

The larger argument that caregiving isn't sufficiently valued by society still seems sound (and I might even argue that caregiving *can't* be sufficiently valued by a society that primarily measures worth and status using markets). But targeting the making of things seems like such a weird choice.
posted by weston at 11:45 AM on January 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


My exposure to the Maker movement is entirely via fellow technology workers who clearly longed for a hobby or means of self expression that was less ephemeral and, frankly, ethereal than technology. This has basically nothing to do with TFA but I can see how those Makers could be grouped with a branding and marketing term.

However, yes, programming - that is, making code that does something - isn't all that hard. Doing that over time as everything else changes around it and competently managing those changes, including inevitable differences in skill and knowledge of a variety of contributors all of whom produce often indistinguishable work product (until it's too late) is the set of skills I find differentiate people who can write code to accomplish a task from those for whom that part is a fraction of the work, the majority being almost entirely intangible and frustratingly prone to outpacing what is humanly and technically possible.

None of the above is about superiority, but it does seem to be a rarer skillet in people and technologists. Those who can do it sometimes find themselves driven to live in what is ultimately an unsatisfyingly malleable world where great works of mind and innovation suddenly stop mattering for reasons not within their control. Making physical things that solve individual problems on a different time scale, or simply exist at the end of a creative process and require no computing substrate to enjoy, can seem like a refuge.

You've all had projects canceled or ideas go unused until someone else does them but better and without involving you. The cadence of programming means that happens hundreds of times a day to any individual developer, and while programmers and neckbeards and nerd stereotypes may not do much to earn forgiveness, consider the yawning void of dissatisfaction that comes with all that cash and cultural cachet.

Guess I'm saying I understand those Makers, but not as differentiated from care givers; the Makers I know do it so they can take a break from constant negotiation with the abyss.
posted by abulafa at 11:51 AM on January 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Funny timing, just this morning I came across a link to this amazing papercraft, and wound up checking out some papercraft tools on Make Craft because, damn, that is freaking cool, in a completely genderless way.

As far as I can see, the gender problem of the "Maker" movement comes from Silicon Valley's MRA/bro engineer culture, which is so ridiculously toxic that just the relatively casual association between the two is enough to leave a stain. It's sort of like having your brand embraced by white supremacists.

I'm not good enough at making things to call myself a "maker" but I am a software engineer, and I don't think running away from that label is a solution at all -- I think it's much more helpful (and satisfying) to loudly say, whenever it comes up, "I'm a software engineer, and I wish all you pathetic troglodytes trying to making it a gendered thing would please just shut your fucking holes."
posted by bjrubble at 12:27 PM on January 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Ugh. Words are so clumsy, especially when we have to re-use the same word for multiple different meanings.
posted by amtho at 12:50 PM on January 24, 2015


wait, someone thinks coders are makers?
posted by idiopath at 12:58 PM on January 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


Wait, I forgot to RTFA?

(after reading)

I where the issues of the article are coming from, for a large part. But I think coders are being counted as makers because coding is coded male (so to speak). And coders are encouraged to be arrogant about our skills because it's cheaper to feed someone's ego than it is to pay them what they are worth on the job market. And coding is something that a rare few people have the patience and masochism for.

I heard a great aphorism today:
Give someone an app, and they suffer for a day; teach them to code, and they will suffer for the rest of their lives.
posted by idiopath at 1:21 PM on January 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


I am a maker. A homemaker.
posted by Poldo at 1:21 PM on January 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


I find the 'Maker' thing gives us a prayer of building a sustainable culture that maintains some sort of standard of living. Our 'maker' jobs got outsourced as our standard of living grew too expensive in terms of money and unsustainable in terms of the resources the money bought, especially when we bought things and considered them disposable, instead of durable and repairable over time. It's like I wish I could buy a car body and replace the guts for my lifetime. Or a mobile phone, or a computer, and do the same thing - limit the consumption to smaller things that use up less material.

And while I understand the author's 'Walk through a museum" paragraph, I think that even though a lot of the historical making done by women was at the order of warring men, women made things and operated things they probably fixed as well, and that rich history of women making things shouldn't be dismissed or forgotten. They helped the US win wars, and they still help the country make things. Think of Oak Ridge, think of Willow Run, think of California.

This paragraph could have been written better:
It’s not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with making (although it’s not all that clear that the world needs more stuff). The problem is the idea that the alternative to making is usually not doing nothing—it’s almost always doing things for and with other people, from the barista to the Facebook community moderator to the social worker to the surgeon. Describing oneself as a maker—regardless of what one actually or mostly does—is a way of accruing to oneself the gendered, capitalist benefits of being a person who makes products.
I thought the problem was the idea that the alternative to making is doing nothing, completely ignoring the soft skills and work required to keep civilization sane (this includes entertainment work as everyone needs to escape occasionally). Hopefully I got the takeaway she was intending in that paragraph.

I also think it's a bit of an error to call making a gendered act given the notes above. WHAT is made is more heavily gendered if making as an act is to be gendered at all.

Despite these critiques, I think the article makes a strong argument for more focus on developing the soft skills necessary to build better communities and chip away at gender inequality. Going forward, however, everyone needs to internalize that, much like physical skills and brain centered skills, proficiency in soft skills is going to be highly variable person to person, which is fine and manageable, and as she notes they're often ignored with preference for skills in programming, engineering, etc. Our infrastructure now and in the future will need a lot of work. If it were to collapse or steadily degrade over time, we'll be testing the capacity of soft skills to smooth the transition to some other way of living. So we need these people, these makers, these fixers, etc., if not to sustain that which might be unsustainable, to make the change to something more sustainable easier to deal with.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 2:05 PM on January 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


I agreed with the beginning of this article, but then it totally lost me twice.

First, she refers to programmers as "makers" -- and inasmuch as there is a maker movement (really it's tiny, and peaked 4 years ago) it doesn't include coders. If they ask "what do you make?" and you say "web pages" or "accounting software extensions" you don't get any respect at all. In fact if you say you make "paintings" or "piano concertos" they look at you funny. And as someone already said, people who write absolutely brilliant music software plug-ins get no respect while those who stick together a few parts or strategically break an old turntable or radio get lauded as musical heroes.

The maker movement is just the DIY movement with a new name. In fact it's not even that, because it excludes a lot of traditional DIY.

(And if it does include coders, surely it must include writers, and thus she is a maker after all.)

Second, this sentence.

It’s not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with making (although it’s not all that clear that the world needs more stuff).

OF COURSE THE WORLD NEEDS MORE STUFF! It needs water purifiers that cost pennies and it needs cheap shelters to save people from the cold and it needs artificial limbs that work and it needs cars that don't pollute and it needs an endless supply of beautiful art and music for people to enjoy.

And I don't care whether the people who make these things call themselves "makers" or not.
posted by mmoncur at 2:52 PM on January 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


How I read the article:
Q. Who is a maker?

A. People who fit certain aesthetic* criteria. Something that made Deb Chachra think about this is how people want to call her a maker sometimes. They do not have a strong case for that assertion though. This is how you can tell it has to do with aesthetics.

* OK, there may be a better word. Point is, people are categorizing in ways that make them feel like happy with how the result appears, rather than how it actually is. The aesthetic here is a worldview that includes positions on class and gender and politics, etc.

The idea of congratulating people for being "Makers" seems to annoy her. There is a gendered and classed history of who is considered a maker and who can afford to do what makers do. Taken in whole, it means that the aesthetic criteria for being a maker is associated with an implicit devaluation of being female or investing in work that cannot be subjected to "innovation" in the same WAY that objects can.
I think it's an interesting and provoking note. Rereading made me think a few things:

First, when I had an argument with someone who thought a teacher could not be called a genius because the work of teachers would not support the claim. Thus a genius physicist would always be greater than the teacher that inspired said genius. As I recall, it was the point that I started mentioning (more typically male) professors that they started clamming up.

Second, how I and so many other people are on the receiving end of software innovation that values the software "object" far above the humans involved. Things like scheduling software that chops up time perfectly in order to deny benefits and overtime... but is almost literally torture to the people who have to wake up at ever shifting hours.

Third, only a few days ago I was remarking that young me predicted many of the moral crises that physical technology is producing today. And that it astonished and disappointed me that social technology wasn't approaching the speed of physical technology. This gives me just a little more insight into that.

P.S. she has a newsletter. TFA is transposed from it.
posted by tychotesla at 2:58 PM on January 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Disclaimer: I'm a friend of the author.

I guess I'm surprised there's confusion over which Makers she's referring to, but perhaps that's because I run in a lot of the same tech circles she does. She points out the events and conferences where "what do you Make?" as a way of identifying people. I worked for a company that made robots for a specific industry but the investors and management wanted to know how we could "attract the makers!" with the product, to, unpaid, create the new capabilities and find the markets the company wasn't clever enough to come up with on their own. I absolutely see a specific subculture that is fetishised by individuals within and without that Deb is talking about here. Yes, the question "what do you make" isn't meant to be answered with "spreadsheets" or "web pages," or anything else you do in your day job that could otbwrwise objectively be cool; truly techy etc people make more stuff in their free time! You want to be part of the "real" tech industry? Surely you don't just make whatever it is your day job produces! To me it is not a question of a hobby; it's a culture assuming that your free time is spent not on family or personal relaxation*, but on unpaid productive work to show off your skills in an effort to increase your standing in your industry, and there is a class of tech elite that both assumes and exploits that. A lot like the whole "I won't even interview people who aren't active on GitHub" thing we discussed here a while ago. It's linked to an assumption of privilege of the time, energy, and money to do something you wouldn't otherwise, and champions the most "hardcore", making what could be a hobby into something competitive. And for better or for worse, this tends to be gendered.

(*not to suggest making things can't be a family activity, or relaxing, but in many circles there seems to be a requirement that you do it)

On one hand, I am continually impressed with the art and creativity that come out of a lot of makerspaces and individual people who blend multiple interests in tech, art, crafts, etc in this way. On the other hand, it starts to feel like a No True Scotsman dialogue when I'm at an event and say "I'm an engineer" and somehow the fact that I'm a robotics system engineer ("only" a technical management role) and I love my work, yet I spend my free time with my family, dog, traveling, and volunteering to help kids learn to build robots (not building them myself) drops my credibility as "techy woman" to almost nil as the conversation progresses. It's frustrating as hell. So yeah, for me this resonates a lot, without condemning the friends I have who are in to a broad spectrum of DIY and don't make a bro-y dick measuring contest out of it.
posted by olinerd at 3:14 PM on January 24, 2015 [24 favorites]


I read an article somewhere where the author describes coming out of a big sporting venue and meeting a couple of guys sitting out waiting for someone. "Maker, or taker?" was what they said to him. That's pretty much all the discussion that's required here.

Actually, I would require a little more discussion on that point to understand what you're talking about.

Do you mean that Ayn Rand/Paul Ryan argument about makers vs. takers? Because I'm pretty sure that's not what the article or most people commenting here are talking about at all.

If you think there's some substantive overlap or correlation there, it's not clear to me.
posted by ernielundquist at 3:22 PM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Interesting true fact: in classical antiquity, the equivalent of "maker" meant "poet." It's been weird knowing that and seeing the term take on a new kind of cultural life in recent years. No time to engage more with the article right now, but it's good food for thought.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:51 PM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


They're trying to snag obsessives like me who can be duped into investing huge amounts of their personal time in labors of love because love is a lot easier on the balance sheets than cash, olinerd, and don't be too jealous because what they want is to able to exploit those unusually high levels of self-motivation. The extra social cachet is just a snow job to make the crappy deals self-identifying "makers" get seem more palatable to them. Prestige almost always comes at a bargain for those offering it from what I've seen.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:59 PM on January 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Why did we outsource all our manufacturing?

To make more money.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:05 PM on January 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


I always got the impression that "maker" was usually as self applied moniker and almost always kind of had an snobbish connotation. Saying "I'm a baker" or "I build robots" is too specific and doesn't have that same cache.
posted by Ferreous at 4:24 PM on January 24, 2015


charlie don't surf your point is well-taken but perhaps you could have linked to Hawkeye and Trapper's still.
posted by bukvich at 4:30 PM on January 24, 2015


So, is "maker" the new "curator"? I say it's spinach and I say to hell with it.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:33 PM on January 24, 2015


Great points, olinerd. Thank you!
posted by JoeXIII007 at 4:35 PM on January 24, 2015


There's a particular mindset to coding, which is the ability to continue to hammer away at something, making small, steady improvements, mostly working alone, that some people enjoy doing, and some people don't. I can understand why people compare it to making things, because it's more similar to sculpture or music making, for example, than it is to working in a service industry. I've done both service industry jobs and coding, and I by far enjoy coding more.

Watch deadmau5 plugging away at this song on his live stream. It's just hours and hours of him repetitively listening to the same thing, tweaking and adjusting, tweaking and adjusting. That's basically what coding is.

I think people mistake the ability of people to do this for intelligence, but it's not intelligence at all, it's just immunity to a particular kind of boredom.
posted by empath at 4:40 PM on January 24, 2015 [9 favorites]


I always got the impression that "maker" was usually as self applied moniker and almost always kind of had an snobbish connotation.

(Yeah, I've never met anyone who actually calls themselves "makers," but my first email address was maker@juno.com because I was studying to become a poet at the time. I do make things, though. I hope that's allowed and doesn't make me a bad person. I almost never make any money doing it, though I'm working on trying to change that.)
posted by saulgoodman at 4:43 PM on January 24, 2015


Well, I'm still waiting for "internet troll" to become a trendy identity claim.
posted by batfish at 4:53 PM on January 24, 2015


The Makers Space is the first result when I google for "Seattle Makers" and it shows some of the cultural impact and drift of the word. This is part of why I'm surprised by all the people here surprised that coders are included.

It's nice that the videos are full of women ("Happenings" page), btw.
posted by tychotesla at 5:42 PM on January 24, 2015


Give someone an app, and they suffer for a day; teach them to code, and they will suffer for the rest of their lives.

Wherever that's from, I'm commandeering it.
posted by Foosnark at 6:04 PM on January 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


hours and hours of him repetitively listening to the same thing, tweaking and adjusting, tweaking and adjusting. That's basically what coding is.

I think people mistake the ability of people to do this for intelligence, but it's not intelligence at all, it's just immunity to a particular kind of boredom.


It's funny; I both make electronic music and code. I find the former a lot of fun and the latter... mostly boring. Sometimes it's got the combination of interesting and frustrating and repetitive that solving puzzles has. Other times it's just dull.

But nobody's paying me to make music.
posted by Foosnark at 6:07 PM on January 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Okay, now that dinner's done and the kids are in bed, here's my slightly more considered take: Caregiving is definitely undervalued. But the reason there's such prestige around "making" these days is the same reason con men flatter their marks (a lot of business models now depend on getting someone somewhere to do work on their own time for very little or no compensation, so the cool around making is in many cases a form of social compensation in lieu of material remuneration), and I think the author underestimates just how many things women have historically been considered makers of, too--pottery, clothes, blankets, etc.--really any art or craft that wasn't strictly industrial in nature. I don't think the maker thing is necessarily just coded sexism, but I do notice there's a tendency now to downplay the value of producing cultural products that don't have immediate industrial or other obvious economic value. Etsy gets made fun of while Hacker Spaces (which I've only read about here, living in the armpit of Florida myself) are teh cool.

The more I think about it, the less persuasive I find the central argument, but it's still got some ideas worth thinking about. Interesting that this issue, too, has all sorts of "you think you're better than me" feeling associated with it. We really worry about that a lot these days, as this reminds me again.

empath: Even Einstein (the poster boy cliché of what genius is) claimed the only real difference between him and other people intellectually was that he stayed with problems longer.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:28 PM on January 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Well, I'm still waiting for "internet troll" to become a trendy identity claim.

I guess there is a similarity there, in that both terms are fuzzy enough that there are about as many definitions of them as there are people with opinions about it.
posted by ernielundquist at 6:30 PM on January 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


The reason why coders get paid well isnt because they are manly men doing man stuff, but because it's fiendishly difficult and 90% of people fail out of the training programs because they are bad at it.

I'm a classical musician. If this was why coders got paid well, I would be rolling in dough instead of auditioning competitively to work for free.
posted by KathrynT at 7:29 PM on January 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


Having a skill that is a pre-requisite for the existence of an extremely profitable business is the missing ingredient.
posted by idiopath at 7:59 PM on January 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Really? Because good administrative professionals are also a pre-requisite for the existence of an extremely profitable business too -- and the skills that make an excellent administrative professional are at least as rare as those that make an excellent coder. And yet mediocre coders make more than excellent administrative professionals.
posted by KathrynT at 8:16 PM on January 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


As a contractor forced to do my own administrative work, hating every moment of it, and doing it very poorly, I've no illusions about that sort of thing, and have no explanation for the pay discrepancy.
posted by idiopath at 10:04 PM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


The reason why coders get paid well isnt because they are manly men doing man stuff, but because it's fiendishly difficult and 90% of people fail out of the training programs because they are bad at it.

I'm a classical musician. If this was why coders got paid well, I would be rolling in dough instead of auditioning competitively to work for free.

Coders get paid well because of the incredible reliability of the machines they control.

A CPU might have a billion parts, and those billion parts go through a machine cycle a billion times a second. And the damned thing does this for years on end, without error. It's astounding, and I still can't really wrap my head around it.

Being able to set up a machine that will reliably do the same thing without error for years on end is what is worth so much money. It's not that all these programming languages and frameworks and algorithms are so difficult (though they are difficult; just not more than other difficult activities).
posted by kadonoishi at 1:09 AM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


In many languages, the word for 'make' and 'do' is the same. Just throwing that out there.

I'm interested or not in what you 'make' or 'do' in exactly the same way that I might be interested in what this 'sayer' 'says.'
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:23 AM on January 25, 2015


Reliability is key because what you want, in ordinary capitalism, is a system that will make you money without you having to do any work. What you want in the physical reality of an economy is a physical system that will turn out something valuable without requiring too much in inputs. There's a correspondence, with computers, of the capitalist imperative and the physical requirements of a productive economy: a computer, once you set it up, will sit there and perform its function without any further human labor and with only a little electricity for a physical input. This is ideal both as a capitalist asset and as a productive physical system.
posted by kadonoishi at 2:06 AM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I dislike the term "maker" mostly because it seems an artificial identity invented out of whole cloth and then packaged and marketed by O'Reilly.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:34 PM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


"I'm a classical musician. If this was why coders got paid well, I would be rolling in dough instead of auditioning competitively to work for free."

So, what you're saying is that the supply is far greater than the demand?
posted by I-baLL at 6:08 PM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah difficulty of work is a red herring - I'm ranked in the top 1 percent of skill in a very technically complex competitive computer game, but I would never earn a cent from it.

On the other hand my day job is pretty easy and offers a good way to pay the bills.
posted by xdvesper at 7:04 PM on January 25, 2015


So, what you're saying is that the supply is far greater than the demand?

What I'm saying is that "the work is very difficult" does not correlate tightly with "the work is highly paid."
posted by KathrynT at 7:24 PM on January 25, 2015


> I'm personally of the opinion that basically anyone can program.

I share this opinion. Anyone can program something if they want to. Not everyone can program well, though; and if you spend enough time fixing others' (often easily-avoided) mistakes, then we'll be lock-step.
posted by ostranenie at 7:35 PM on January 25, 2015


Music and programming probably have similar learning difficulties, and both have very high skill caps, but the fact is that there is only so much demand for musicians in the world and a lot more demand for programmers. And genuinely creative work drives people internally in a way that programming for hire doesn't. Weirdly, you often have to pay musicians more to make bad music (for commercials, for example)

That said, there are still plenty of situations where programmers will fall over themselves to work on projects earning way less than they could elsewhere (videogames being a prime example).
posted by empath at 8:03 PM on January 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


While I agree completely with one of the central premises, that things considered women's work are systematically devalued, I think that's a pernicious trend of our society in general and not unusually true of the maker world. As someone on the fringes of maker-hood, this article's characterizations had more half-truth than truth about the world I've seen and read a lot like a concerted effort to put the most negative possible spin on everything.

Yes, there are some people who weirdly value Maker as some sort of lifestyle choice... and the same is true of nearly every endeavor. Some people will turn something they do into something they are. Certainly, Writer is one conspicuous example thereof.

I don't see that it ultimately values things of themselves but the process that got there. What's interesting about projects is the creative vision or work that's reflected in it (and it's easy to find loving build reports online of every step of that process.)

Speaking as a coder who's marginal with physical handiwork, I don't see that making celebrates coding or even talks much about pure code projects... it's not what I've seen in Make magazine or at Maker Faires. (They're relatives, yes, and much of both fall under the rubric of hacking.)

Sure, it's true that there are businesses who have rushed in to capitalize on people making things or even co-opt. (One friend of mine co-founded a hackerspace and vociferously rejects the term "maker" because it's so associated with O'Reilly and he doesn't like what O'Reilly's tied the name up with.) Can anyone name any hobby, craft, or artistic endeavor whose practitioners haven't been targeted by people wanting to sell them things?

I can't claim to be able to make a generalization about the embracing or rejection of "women's work" but I would note that if you google hackerspace in conjunction with sewing or knitting, you'll find a host of anecdotal evidence for the making world considering those making.

disclosure: I didn't make it all the way through the article, having been too thoroughly annoyed by too many assertions. I think it was a sloppy effort to tar "makers" with all of the worst aspects of the tech industry at large, and I think the very many valid criticisms there are to be made there would better be made directly; maker-dom was a feckless choice of stalking horse for the endeavor.
posted by Zed at 10:06 AM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yes, there are some people who weirdly value Maker as some sort of lifestyle choice... and the same is true of nearly every endeavor. Some people will turn something they do into something they are. Certainly, Writer is one conspicuous example thereof.

I also think it's kind of weird, and I would not identify myself as a 'maker,' but I think I can understand it and I don't think it's unreasonable.

As a very general observation, a lot of the time, populist arguments turn into criticisms of people caring about the things they care about. Effectively, it becomes, "You think that your interests and expertise are important."

But of course people think that. I challenge you to find me a person who doesn't have some personal investment in something, some area of expertise that they value a great deal, and that is often an important part of their identity.

When someone sets themselves apart like that, they're saying that this is something they value. They're saying that they are proud of the time and effort they've put into learning skills and acquiring knowledge in a specific area.

So criticizing people as snobs and elitists for valuing things that are important to them is just kind of weird to me. Of course people value their own expertise. I will cop to it. I think that my skills and knowledge in the areas I care about are superior to that of those who haven't put the time and effort into them that I have. I don't think they make me a better person overall, though, and I recognize that we all have our areas of specialty and that in most areas, my skills are inferior to others'. There are tons of things I'm terrible at.

A lot of people do think that their interests and hobbies make them better than other people, but the problem with that isn't their interests and hobbies. The problem is that they're assholes.

And I do think there is a specific philosophy or mindset to the generalized 'maker' category. It's not so much a specific or narrow skillset as a sort of attitude of general competence and often, of a dislike for certain types of consumerism. The type of 'makers' I am most familiar with often value domestic skills, including feminized ones, much more than the average person. Because if you fall into that 'generalized maker' sort of category rather than a more specialized one like working with robotics, you have probably tried your hand at those devalued skills and have a better grasp of their real value. There are tons of people you can find in maker communities who have and value DIY skills across the spectrum, from electronics tinkering to knitting. Some of the most fun projects are those that integrate different types of skills, like Lilypad projects and the like.

The definition, obviously, varies a lot, but if someone is identifying as a 'maker,' it's probably a useful thing to ask them what they mean by that, because it's telling you something important about them. And you only have to look at this thread to see that it's not universally clear exactly what that is.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:13 PM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


I noticed the "maker" reference in a blog and thought, clever commentary. When I saw the magazine Maker, oh 'hobbyist' would obviously be uncool terminology in the age of 140 letter discussions. But sometime when I noticed some folks wearing "maker" as a badge of honor after installing an os on a breadboard Raspberry Pi ....

There was a time one could buy parts and build a radio at Radio Shack. Or a computer almost. Then with the blessing/curse of Henry Ford it became ridiculous to build consumer electronics. As treacly as terminology "Internet of Things" is annoying we may be on the verge of a new range of components that will allow building new cool, wacky, useful, stuff. It'll be more integration than soldering raw components but sensors, small actuators (robot bones) all "talking" over bluetooth or some protocol just may trigger a new age of smart hobbies. Doesn't matter if a different word than 'hobby' is used but there are amazing things coming!
posted by sammyo at 11:34 AM on January 27, 2015


I'm personally of the opinion that basically anyone can program.

I think this is both trivially true for sufficiently constrained values of "program" and "anyone", and just not that informative for actually-useful values of same.

The paired notions that a) programmers are elitist jerks and b) programming is easy anyway kind of partially map to reality. Programmer culture and social mores are kind of terrible in a number of ways. Programming skills are much more attainable than people have often been led to believe, and if cultural ugliness wasn't obscuring this fact, it'd do all sorts of good. It's a domain that we should be striving to render legible to more people, and one I firmly believe can be conveyed to a vastly more diverse population than we're managing right now.

Those things said, programming is genuinely hard in all kinds of ways and for all kinds of reasons. It's hard enough that even most of the people who do it full time are pretty bad at it in ways that only become obvious with experience. The "anyone can program" meme is rhetorically useful in a bunch of places, but it isn't observably true. Lots of people cannot, in fact, program things much beyond hello world, and probably would not be able to program usefully under any amount of realistic instruction/training/facilitating/whatever. To treat this as a value judgment about human beings is a moral dead end, but ignoring it because it's inconvenient or because the difficulty of programming is an unfortunate prop for people to be jerks about things is not much better. It's hard to address the real difficulties of a thing if you're ideologically committed to the assertion that they don't exist.

I also kind of think this winds up being a derail, but it's one of those things that creep into discussions like this one because there are a lot of programmers around here, and there is a lot of overlap between nerd domains.
posted by brennen at 3:47 PM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


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