Monday, February 20, 2017

7. Blog post: class and reading reflections


Last week was a home run. I was so excited to use the letterpress, and I finally got to do it! The story of the AADL's letterpress equipment in particular was fascinating. While it's true that equipment alone doesn't make up the maker movement, it's certainly an interesting historical and anthropological element. The fact that type is still made with lead was really interesting, and I was both surprised and not that there are professional letterpress repairmen.

It was very cool to actually use the letterpress and the die cutter. I have a fascination with old printing techniques, in part because of their role in the spread of democracy. I've seen replica printing presses at Greenfield Village and Colonial Williamsburg, but haven't had a chance to use one. I hadn't realized how long it would take to typeset for the letterpress, so it was great to have Jody's pre-set type.

Actually using the letterpress was incredibly simple. Other than inking the type, it required only a few simple movements. I could also see how easy it was to get an embossed effect, and it was interesting to learn how embossing used to be a sign of poor craftsmanship. I hope to get a chance to set my own type in the near future, and I'm curious to look into other ways of craftsmanship that are misunderstood or desired in incorrect ways.


This week's readings were...interesting. I'm curious to see what the rest of the class makes of them. The common question I found myself asking was: what is the saturation point for making? How much room is there for makers in the economy, and at what point is the maker movement indistinguishable from plain old industry?

The Brookings Institute was, unsurprisingly, extremely libertarian. The makerspaces they described sound a lot like schools and libraries, but those are *gasp* sponsored by the government! And we can't have that. Governments corrupt the purity of the grassroots maker movement.
"As a common cause for maker spaces, community colleges, universities, and employers, the movement is helping deliver more relevant workforce development skills."
Probably - but is that really the point?

Dougherty's response didn't exactly disagree with Brookings. He clearly sees a bigger role for government, but doesn't really dispute any of their conclusions (like the heavy emphasis on marketability and capitalism). I had hoped for a stronger statement from him. Given Dougherty's emphasis on making and play, I was hoping he would disagree more with Brookings' stance. I certainly do at a personal level, but also at an academic and policy level.

Fallows' interviews place his articles along a similar commercial line. FirstBuild Lab is very much a capitalist enterprise, and part of the "rebuild American manufacturing" (Popular Science) narrative. The 45th president of the US has made that a cornerstone of his policies, and President Obama, while less focused on it, gave speeches about similar issues (like robots and manufacturing). Fallows doesn't take a particular stance, but his sources all lead to a particular conclusion: making is here to stay, and it will save the American economy.

Lindtner et al. (2014) have a more balanced approach. They connect some dots from the other pieces (availability of components, cheap means of production), but also note some of the contradictions. For instance, many of their interviewees are creating products for sale but see themselves as more than cogs in the system:
"They envisioned liberating individuals from the confines of capitalist modes of production that render citizens as mere consumers of technologies." (6)
For all the talk of making being the new industrial revolution, it remains to be seen how much making the economy can really support. On the one hand, manufacturing was historically either mass production or low volume, determined mostly by available resources and manufacturers' ability to get products to market while maintaining a reasonable margin. As Venkatakrishnan noted to Fallows, major manufacturers can support "low volume" production thanks to globalization, the Internet, etc. but it's unclear how much growth potential there really is. It reminds me a great deal of Doctorow's Makers, and I'll be interested to view the book through that lens.


  1. I agree that Dougherty's response to Muro & Hirshberg was weirdly short and unthoughtful, mostly just summarizing what they said and then talking about how China does things. I like the question you posed, that is it really the point of the Maker movement to be improving our job skills? This ties me back to Broghan's blogpost this week and how she was talking about the common core vs. the play to learn mentality - one prepares you for the workforce, one seems to prepare you more for life and true understanding.

  2. I really appreciate that you mention FirstBuildLab as still, fundamentally, a capitalist enterprise. The people who control the capital and who control the power are GE and Haier, which subverts the capitalist mode of I wonder if this--yes, very libertarian--emphasis on local manufacturing will just serve to disguise the real owners of the production apparatus.

  3. "what is the saturation point for making? How much room is there for makers in the economy, and at what point is the maker movement indistinguishable from plain old industry?" YESSSSSSS

    Really a pleasure to read.