Monday, March 6, 2017

8. Blog post: class and reading reflections


Not for the first time, I lament my lack of effective note-taking in class discussions. It's easy to be caught up in the moment, but unless class recaps are written immediately following class they become vague and nebulous things.

I appreciated the chance to focus on our comrades' blog posts, and to engage with them. I found a lot that resonated with me; Nicco in particular hit a chord. There is a ceiling to the peculiar consumerism of the maker movement, and while we haven't really hit it yet, we will. It's a movement that may, as Dougherty hints, put thousands of workers out of a job, and so there needs to be a plan for when those that remain when the ceiling becomes a very real, imminent problem. I'll reflect more on this, and Dougherty's thoughts in particular, below in the Readings section.

That provokes the question: how can one build a movement independent (at least to some extent) of market forces? How can a movement sustain itself even if the market reaches a saturation point for low-volume "discretionary" goods (credit to Nicco for the excellent term)? What should the maker movement really be striving for on the whole?


The conclusion to Free to Make retraces some familiar ground while at the same time challenging some of Dougherty's own blind spots in a way that is both refreshing and somewhat surprising at this late stage. Not realizing that there were actually three chapters remaining, I ended up reading all of them instead of just the last two, but I think I got something out of it.

I found the idea of a "Making Is Caring" chapter simultaneously interesting and problematic. On the one hand, making as a tool for communities to empower themselves is (to me) the highest aspiration of the maker movement. Dougherty offered some great stories about people designing tools to meet their own needs (and some of the pitfalls encountered when marginalized people aren't involved in designing their own solutions). That contrast matters, because it's very easy to be a well-meaning but misguided person who acts condescendingly, and emphasizing the importance of listening is a great step.

At the same time, there's something problematic about lumping making in HBCUs, disabled communities, and regions afflicted by natural disasters into one chapter. Of course, a whole book could be devoted to each sub-topic, and I'm not arguing that Dougherty should have done so here. But there are clearly makers in these communities - couldn't they have been represented more evenly earlier in the book? Because so many of these makers are also part of marginalized communities, in some ways this separation perpetuates that marginalization.

In addition to my notes on "Making Is Caring", I think "Making Is Working" raises more questions than it answers. Some of the same themes arise for me here as they did in response to Nicco's writing earlier. Dougherty talks about a new future for Detroit (mostly created by people who moved there from other places, but who do legitimately invest in the community) but it's unclear if there's a clear plan for such a future. I don't think city management is really in Dougherty's wheelhouse and he'd be the first to admit it, but it's worth asking a few questions:
  1. Who will kickstart maker-scale manufacturing in Detroit?
  2. Who has the skills already, or who will be trained? And who will pay for the training?
  3. What kind of industries can makers support in Detroit? Are they long-term, or will they be fad-oriented?
Early in "Making Is Working" Dougherty discusses Plethora, the on-demand manufacturing startup that wants to make anything at all very quickly. It's a fascinating idea, but Dougherty points out that, if successful, Plethora could put thousands of machinists out of work. These machinists are generally employed at small businesses working locally, and probably should already be considered makers. He seems concerned by this possibility, but doesn't carry it forward.

As we leave Dougherty, I remain impressed with Free to Make. It's a good book, and a very interesting overview of the maker movement from the perspective of a co-founder. I think there are some important questions to be answered about the movement's future that Dougherty has begun to ask but not answer. I look forward to the classroom analysis of these final chapters.

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