The Maker Revolution: At a home near you PDF Print E-mail
Written by Suki Wessling   


A strange thing has been happening around the country in a time when families are getting sucked deeper into consumerism. While most kids play games on their iPad or Wii, watch movies, and buy goods promoted in their games and shows, other kids are Making.


What are those kids Making? And why the capital M?


Right about the time when it became possible to shop for groceries and bath towels, see your friend on another continent, and access a lifetime of information in a few minutes—all without leaving your home—an opposing movement poked its head out of the cacophony. Though many families had already been nurturing a Maker ethic, the movement arrived in most people’s line of sight as a magazine (Make, established in 2005) and “a family-friendly festival of invention, creativity and resourcefulness” (The Maker Faire, established in 2006).


Families were suddenly turning off their screens, or simply creating screens of their own. They were tinkering in the garage, updating dying home arts like weaving and sewing with modern technology, and creating art out of the cast-off remnants of our high tech consumer culture.


Makers see this movement not only as an alternative to entertainment, but as a statement about how we live our lives.


“Consumerism is not sustainable from a world point of view or a personal point of view,” says local mom Tese Mascari, who is raising her kids to be Makers. “There’s very little meaning in things that you consume—you buy them because you think they’re cool or your friend has them.”


In Mascari’s family, Making takes many forms.


“My husband is an engineer and I am an artist, so I guess we have the Maker marriage going on,” Mascari jokes. They built a studio in their garage where they can create their projects. With their kids recently they’ve made a camp stove (and then cooked plum sauce on it) and biodegradable plastic out of tapioca starch, glycerin, and vinegar.


“It is the most charming part of the Maker movement that you can’t distinguish between what constitutes Making, what defines you as a Maker,” says civil engineer Doug Schwarm, who makes things with his teenage son. “Makers are self-defined: you make of it what you want.”


Chris Yonge is co-founder of a Santa Cruz business, MakersFactory, that attempts not only to benefit from the popularity of the Maker ethic but also to help our local community become a mecca for Make-minded entrepreneurs.


“We are losing freedoms—in our ability to choose, interact with, and control the objects that surround us,” Yonge explains. “To make one's own clock from laser cut pieces is not just to gain a timepiece but also to understand its mechanism, the materials from which it is made, the machines and technologies used to make it, and to expand one's reach and confidence as a person.”


MakersFactory, located in a small space in the former Sentinel building which now houses green-focused businesses like Cruzio, offers customers the opportunity to use technology to make things that previously would have required years of training—or would have been impossible. Their 3d printers can “print” objects in plastic, concrete, or aluminum. Customers include artists who create their work digitally, architects who want 3d prototypes, and people who are simply fascinated with the technology.


And much to their surprise, children have become an important part of their customer base.


“We had kids coming to our adult classes and they were smarter than the adults,” Yonge’s partner Dave Britton says. “The best way of learning technology is by making something. You see what’s possible.”


So MakersFactory started up their new MakersCAMP series—weekend classes for kids aged 8 to 13. In these classes, kids learn to use the tools, like the laser cutter, to make parts. Then they build—in one camp they make robots based on the Youtube phenomenon Strandbeests.


MakersCAMP takes kids from the passive experience of consumer to the interactive experience of creator.


“We need to touch and interact with things—tool making is one of our unique abilities as a species,” Yonge explains. “We evolved to make and use tools, and there is a yearning to do so.”


So what’s a parent to do if you aren’t a Maker yourself but you want to get started? Tese Mascari can rattle off tons of easy hands-on activities, including finger knitting, papier mâché, and making beads with Femo or clay. She also recommends letting your kids have a go at someone else’s trash.


“We trash-picked some chairs, my kids painted them, and I put new seats on them,” she says. “These were previously hideous chairs—now they’re my favorites.”

Doug Schwarm’s family enjoys another aspect of the Maker lifestyle.


“What we make are electronics projects: BLFNAR – blinking lights for no apparent reason!” Schwarm explains. “It’s a great fun thing to do that really doesn’t have any point or purpose. Our making is time well spent together and is amusing, but has never really solved a specific problem.”


Chris Yonge points out that the tools needed to create complex projects have gone from impossibly expensive to affordable or free in less than a generation.


“Open source software has become so widespread, so comprehensive, and so reliable that people can download and use programs that would have cost thousands of dollars even a few years ago,” Yonge explains. “At the same time hardware such as the Arduino board and simple 3D printers such as the Makerbot open up tremendous options for people to actually make things that work without needing a college education or a fully equipped shop.”


Doug Schwarm relates a conversation he had with his son as a way to sum up the value of the Maker ethic. Schwarm’s son is part of a team taking part in the Monterey Bay Regional ROV underwater robotics competition. After a recent test of their handmade robot, father and son talked about the value of making a robot when these days you can buy fancy gizmos of any kind.


“Those lessons where you realize it yourself and you share it with your parent—that’s deep learning,” Schwarm says. “More parents should turn off the TV and get out the soldering iron.”



Attend the Maker Faire, May 19 & 20: makerfaire.com

Visit the MakersFactory: makersfactory.com

See Strandbeests in action: strandbeest.com

Visit Tese’s blog to see projects they’ve done: tesesplace.blogspot.com



Suki Wessling is a local writer and the mother of two Makers. For personal observations on Making, search for “Maker Faire” on blog.SukiWessling.com.

Last Updated on Monday, 04 June 2012 11:32
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