Monday, January 23, 2017

3. Blog post: class and reading reflections


I really enjoyed last week's warmup (toy takeapart). It was fun to pair up with someone I hadn't worked with before, and I had a great time digging into the Furby. They truly are great candidates for disassembly. There was something a little creepy about disassembling something with a face, but knolling all the pieces was extremely satisfying. I found myself wanting to start experimenting with a mostly intact one by hooking up to its brain and hacking it, but also not being sure where to start.

The Chevrolet film about American makers was equally interesting. I thought we had a really excellent discussion following it, particularly around the nationalism and labor aspects of the film. They're something I'm excited to follow throughout the rest of the semester, and it's a lens I'd like to reuse.


I found this week's readings to be pretty interesting. I seem to be taking on a pretty critical (as in negative) stance on a lot of the readings, and while I still found room for criticism, the readings from this week reminded me overwhelmingly of the joy and benefits to making and play.

First, criticisms (mostly for Dougherty and Hatch, Squishy Circuits was a pure joy). I noticed that failure is an oft-mentioned theme in maker circles, but most of the readings so far rarely, if ever, mention failure. Most of the stories shared in Free to Make, for instance, have rough patches but are ultimately tales of triumph. With such a focus on Kickstarter tales, it's hard for me to forget some of the projects I've backed that took years to fulfill orders, or projects similar to Printrbot that never made it to production and ended in legal fisticuffs.

A lot of makers and entrepreneurs are fond of saying that you should "fail early, fail often", but few stories of failure are shared as anything other than intermediate steps on the road to glory. While it is important to help cast failure as something that can be overcome, it is equally important to honestly evaluate the challenges involved in a field that can be very risky. As shown by Drumm and Printrbot, there can be very real economic and social costs to failure (temporary or otherwise). Hatch is just as guilty here as Dougherty.

Additionally, a lot of Dougherty's writing, like Hatch's, feels like a sales pitch. As a reader, I feel like I'm being told that I too can buy into this remunerative community. That erodes the real sense of community that I might otherwise feel, actually, since it can seem like everyone's just trying to make a buck (this is from a user perspective, rather than an academic one). The online hacking communities I'm a part of ( have been around for ages and built their user base from the ground up through hard work, and that feels different than the sense I sometimes get from Dougherty.

And now for praise. As much as I've just critiqued Dougherty's approach, I think there's real value to it. Movements are built on excitement, and Dougherty is exceptionally good at channeling excitement. His success with Make: and Maker Faire really speak to that.

Many of Dougherty's examples showcase passion. Passion can be a fickle beast, but before achieving economic success each of his makers first achieved personal fulfillment. And it's important to remember that making really can be a lifechanging tool for self-empowerment, even if it can feel co-opted or commercialized and times. Dougherty did a pretty good job (though it could be better) at seeking out some diverse perspectives so the examples aren't just white salaried men supplementing their better-than-living wage.

I think the Squishy Circuits piece fits really well here. The presentation and rationale were spot-on for children and adults, and made making both playful and educational. It demystifies some of the basics of electronics in modern life, which can be helpful in so many ways even if it doesn't lead to the next big thing on Kickstarter.

One other moment that really stood out to me from Dougherty was when he wrote about Bunnie Huang's tour through the Shenzhen markets. It reminded me of a series I watched earlier this year from Wired about Shenzhen, mostly starring Bunnie Huang but also including Hax (which you may recall from the Nomiku sous vide device). If you haven't seen the series before, I highly recommend making time to watch it. It has some really great insights.

Finally, I made a couple notes while reading about Dougherty's use and discussion of what constitutes a project. I'm curious to see if it resurfaces later - I felt like it was important for context about the makerspaces he discussed, but could have been developed further. I found it intriguing (how do makers think about projects? how do they relate to projects in the corporate sense? how do makers present projects to each other?) but not yet fully formed.

Overall, another excellent week of reading. For all my critiques, Dougherty really reminds me of what I love about making, and Squishy Circuits reminded me to start a new project on applying those principles.

1 comment:

  1. The never-ceasing intersection between industry (not in the "we're working" or "industriousness" meaning of the word but the corporate definition) and making is so interesting for a movement that is equally proud of being out of the mainstream, yes? Striving to be both insiders and outsiders???