25 May 2015

Makerspaces

Street Shopkeeper on Wikimedia Commons. By SAM Nasim from Dhanmondi, Dhaka, Bangladesh

The year is 2020. The third global crash of 2017 has really shattered the Australian economy.

I walked into what used to be one of many 'big box" retail outlets strung out along Canterbury Road in Bayswater's industrial precinct...

I had an idea for a bag, and needed the materials, tools and know-how to make it. With the help of the Internet and some people I met online, I've come semi prepared with some money (in local currency), a list of materials and a bit of a sketch for a design.

Walking in the front door I'm confronted with a welcoming group of people selling sausage sandwiches, made from the pig they recently butchered in the community farm next door. The onions were grown there too, and the cheese, the bread, all cooked on the charcoal made at the old timber supply yard up the road. It tasted good.

I got talking to a couple of people at the BBQ, told them what I was there for, and they introduced me to a woman who taught sewing and pattern making on Saturdays. Jo showed me the area where materials were stored, some of them new, many of them reclaimed. She showed me a range of patterns that other's had made and left for reuse and adaptation. Finally she walked me through the machine and work area where about five other people were working on their projects, and a schedule of training sessions ran daily. I felt ready to start my bag.

Makerspaces

In the words of the New Media Consortium's 2015 Horizon Report Higher Education wiki:
...Makerspaces, [are] workshops that offer tools and the learning experiences needed to help people carry out their ideas. Makerspaces are intended to appeal to people of all ages, and are founded an openness to experiment, iterate, and create. The driving force behind Maker spaces is rooted in the Maker movement, a following comprised of artists, tech enthusiasts, engineers, builders, tinkerers, and anyone else who has a passion for making things. The formation of the movement stems from the success of the Maker Faire, a gathering that launched in 2006, and has since propagated itself into numerous community-driven events all over the world.
Back in 2015 the Maker movement, as it was known, was about ten years old.

If you have no idea what Makerspaces are, spend a few minutes with these links:

To avoid the ahistoric tendencies of a 21st century keyword (#hashtag), let me propose a range of lateral connections to the concept, stretching well beyond the acceptable limits.

Hacking, Hackerspace and LifeHack

Hacking has had a bad rap. Generally associated with antisocial, even criminal behavior through computing it is of course, much more than that. It may be helpful to consider the differences between hacking and cracking, and to associate hacking to pursuits well beyond just computing. Both hacking and cracking range in principle, from hobbyists just having a tinker, to those with political and economic agendas. I think it is the hacker's respect for a Do It Yourself ethos and a value for a collective and sometimes cooperative effort, that a connection to the Maker Movement can be found.




OpenSource everything toward a Free Culture

These principles connect us up to the free and open source movement. Free and Open Source is most commonly use to describe a type of software and an approach to its development. But it has expanded out into non software domains such as design and manufacturing. Open Source development is arguably the source of inspiration behind many things in Webist culture, the premise is that through free access as well as open use and reuse, a powerful source of creative energy can be established.

Unconferencing/open conference

Using these ideas of free access, participatory design and development, and open distribution, unconferences are gatherings of like minded people seeking to get to know each other's work outside the constraints of a formal conference structure. A typical format involves a loose and open organising group announces the event and helps to facilitate its organisation. At the event attendees nominate and vote on an agenda of sessions and workshops; and socialising and unstructured networking are given high priority throughout the event. Unconference events are usually documented by the participants through a collaborative online editing space connected to social media. Examples of unconferences include:

Networked Learning and economies

Ivan Illich's critique of the impact that schooling, institutionalisation and professionalism have on an otherwise convivial society might also be connected to Makerspace ideology. His influential books, Deschooling Society and Tools for Conviviality point out the disabling effect that modern institutional structures have on culture and society, arguing for a more connected, networked and post -industrial society as an alternative. Illich's hypothesis influenced the work of Christopher Alexander et al in their equally influential book, A Pattern Language: Towns Buildings and Construction.



Communitarianism

It could be interesting to consider the Maker Movement and it's affiliations within the political frame of communitarianism. Aside from that little thought bubble, there are obvious connections to community initiatives like:

Webism

Hopefully you can see some pattern or sense in these connections I've roughly drawn. Admittedly, this may be the only place you you see them publicly described as such.

If you've been around awhile, you may at least recognise a common political thread, world-view and ideology running through them. A couple of years ago, someone attempted to coin a new ism for these and other movements, to bring them more into view and lift them to a similar status as other social movements like Feminism or even Marxism. n+1 magazine used the term Webism and used pre-revolutionary Russia to introduce it:
The leading poet of the pre-revolutionary symbolist school, Blok and his pale handsome face had been freighted in the years before 1917 with all the hopes and dreams of the Russian intelligentsia. In early 1918, when that intelligentsia was still making fun of the crudeness, the foolishness, the presumption of the Bolsheviks—the way contemporary intellectuals once made fun of Wikipedia—Blok published an essay urging them to cut it out. “Listen to the Revolution,” he counseled, “with your bodies, your hearts, your minds.”

Three years later, Blok was dead, and Vladimir Mayakovsky, the tribune of the Revolution, wrote his obituary. “Blok approached our great Revolution honestly and with awe,” Mayakovsky wrote. But it was too much for him: “I remember, in the first days of the Revolution, I passed a thin, hunched-over figure in uniform warming itself by a fire near the Winter Palace. The figure called out to me. It was Blok. We walked together. . . . I said, ‘How do you like it?’ ‘It’s good,’ said Blok, and then added: ‘They burned down my library.’”
A sobering association that! Goes well with Adam Curtis' cautions for contemporary ideologies. His most recent documentary, All Watched Over By machines of Loving Grace.



And, if you're still with me on this sort of long view wild connections and critique, you might enjoy going back to the source of Webism in the counter culture of the 60s, with a better doco, The Net: The Unabomber, LSD and the Internet.




So, that's my take on Makerspaces. I wanted to describe an idyllic scene in the not too distant future, and connect it up with a range of close and not-so-close affiliations, even a little revolutionary appeal. My hope is I've introduced a mycology of histories and futures that may or may not have a convincing connection to Makerspaces, and most certainly won't be made by others. In an applied sense, perhaps you're now wondering what sorts of connections all these have to learning, education and the digital... I hope you'll offer an idea or two.

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