This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, A Curious Path: Creativity in an Age of Abundance. The specific chapter is about the state of innovation these days.
Thankfully, the DIY mentality is in full swing. People all over the world are creating interesting stuff for the sake of improvement. Strangely, the added complexity and robustness of technology that once seemed to put innovation out of the grasps of individuals, is fueling this resurgence. Software and the devices that run it are now so comprehensive and powerful that anyone can use them. In a strange twist of fate, technology has also become affordable. In fact, some if is so cheap it’s virtually free. Instead of high-tech being the exclusive purview of super-geniuses in elite labs, it is now more accessible than ever to the ordinary person. The cost of a single transistor these days is so miniscule that you can’t really say it has a cost. As of 2002, you could purchase 260,000,000 transistors for a dollar. When you read this book, their cost will be exponentially less. That’s a lot of horsepower for next to nothing. Imaging this; a Sony Playstation 4 (at 1.84 teraflops) selling for around $400 has more computing power than a $50 million supercomputer from the early 90s. Adjusted for inflation, that’s 200,000 x cheaper for better technology. Plus, kids don’t have to train at NASA to use it. And remember, all the 3D software discussed earlier in this chapter is totally free.
Aided by advances in technology, the spirit of independence that once drove colonists to better their world is now driving curious individuals to innovate in such a way that they are a thriving economic force. This surge of creative activity is coming from all sorts of people including: inventors, crafts persons, geeks and designers. It’s an encouraging shift from a culture of consumers to a culture of creators. Everyone seems to have a little bit of the bug to contribute these days. The beauty (and hazard) of our time is that contributions are almost effortless. Often times, they are the voices of people longing to be an active part of our rapidly changing society. Creative endeavors can materialize as simply as someone posting on Pinterest, starting a blog, or sharing through social media. The idea that we live in a time where anyone can contribute is fascinating.
Collectively, these creators are called “Makers,” and they have their own movement. At the core of the Maker Movement is the use of technology to make physical things, bits to atoms. All the free and accessible softward; various printing, milling and cutting devices; and mostly the internet have created a network of creative people working together to better their world. Dale Dougherty of O’Reilly Media coined the term “Maker Movement” and can be seen as the driving force behind it. In 2005, he started Make magazine, and a year later gave the movement their own Maker Faire, Their nexus is makezine.com. The site’s like an online shop class on steroids. There you can find a how-to on most anything from chopping onions to building a laser tripwire alarm.
Maker Faires are events lasting a day or two where people young and old gather to be curious. As state on their website, the fair is…
Part science fair, part county fair, and part something entirely new. Maker Faire is an all-ages gathering of tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, authors, artists, students, and commercial exhibitors. All of these “makers” come to Maker Faire to show what they have made and to share what they have learned.
Advertised as the “Greatest Show and Tell on Earth,” institutions, and individuals flock to these events to conduct how-tos for building robots, knitting, cooking weird food, and to generally be excited about being a maker. The Maker Faire has grown quickly since it’s inauguration in 2006 in the Bay Area. After only six years, 165,000 attended their two flagship fairs in San Francisco and New York. The enthusiasm for being a maker sprouted over 60 other community driven versions of the faire including “Mini” maker Faires. These celebrations of ingenuity are quickly building a community of tinkerers, you and old.
Take the Beatty’s—Genevieve, 11, Camille, 13 and their dad. They are typical of the atypical nature of attendees at these events. At the 2013 New York Maker Faire, the family proudly displayed the four-foot tall robot they built themselves. To most people, that’s a big deal. But not to them, in the past two years, they’ve built over thirty others. Unlike regular science fairs, the kids are actually doing the work. As Genevieve explains, “Most of the one that we built roll, like they have wheels, and some crawl and a few fly. It is just fun to work with my dad and my sister,” she said. “I do all the inside, the electronics and soldering and stuff like that.” Dad, Robert says Camille started by disassembling appliances to see how they worked. Eventually, the girls felt like making a robot—so they did. Now, they just YouTube whatever they want to make and make it. Robert says the trick is to have the girls do all the work. That keeps them interested.
Maker Faires aren’t just for kids. These are serious places for innovation and invention. Some of the latest breakthroughs in technology get displayed there. If sponsorship is any demonstration of interest among businesses, these are very important events. Disney, Microsoft, Ford and a ton of others line up to support the community. All kinds of tech companies, including Makerbot, regularly have booths at the Maker Faires. It’s becoming more obvious that young makers are the innovators and entrepreneurs of the future.
Anderson, Chris, “The Maker Movement: Tangible Goods Emerge from Ones and Zeroes.” Wired.com
Lal Shimpi, Anand. “The Xbox One: Hardware Analysis & Comparison to PlayStation 4.” Anand Tech.com 2013
Stager, Gary. “Maker Movement Taps into Deep and Rich Tradition.” Huffington Post. July12, 2013
Phillips, Adam. “New York Maker Faire’ Lures Scientists, Artists.” Voice of America, voanews.com, 2013