Maker Faire and the End of the Industrial Age

by francine Hardaway on May 20, 2013

Something profound is happening in American culture. Bored and disgusted with forty years of non-stop consuming, Americans have gone back to the future by way of the Maker movement. Bay Area Maker Faire outgrew its former location, and after this year will probably have outgrown the San Mateo County Event center as well. Rumor has it that 130,000 people went. i swear I saw them all.

Maker Faire swarmed with people both days, young families with kids, teen age geeks, and hippie grandmas like me who remember the last time there was a Maker movement: the ’60s, with their Whole Earth catalogues, geodesic domes, and recycled materials.

The weekend reminded me of some pursuits I dearly love: knitting, sewing, growing vegetables, and living in a one-of-a-kind house built from a geodesic dome kit. Damn, I even made my own clothes. I’ve never lost the ability to do any of those things–i just stopped doing them. They cycled out of style, although at the time I didn’t know it was a cycle.

Now the era of buying things, of outsourcing life, of sacrificing individuality to convenience, may be over. I will start making things again, only I will be 3D printing or building my own robot. Why? For the same reason I write. It’s a way to express myself. I probably won’t be selling what I make. I’ll be using it.

But other people will be selling things. Many other people.  Especially things made with 3-D printers. 3-D printing is the most empowering tool to come along since the personal computer. If you have a child and can afford one, get one. I have my eye on the PrintrBot, because it is upgradable. I imagine myself 3-D printing my own new parts for it.

Yet 3-D printing won’t really revolutionize manufacturing in the way radicals think. Everyone will not  be joining the maker movement.  Rather, it will be like social media: 20% of the people will produce 80% of the content. The rest will buy what the 20% produce.

However, 3-D printing will finally bring about mass customization, and that will disrupt mass markets the way digital media disrupted mass media. The people formerly known as the audience will be the people formerly known as the mass market. I may not want to make my own shoes, but I would love them to fit, and someone with a 3-D printer who is expert in shoes will scan my foot and make me a pair. No more shoes from brands– shoes that approximate a fit, but just imperfectly. And I may make him a robot. Or even a vegan dinner. It’s the sharing economy.

We are headed back where we came: to individualized products and a sharing community. Historians looking back on the 20th century will realize that like broadcasting, mass production was just a moment in time.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Sharon May 20, 2013 at 4:13 pm

I like this trend. What will I make? Something for me to ponder.

Les Elkind May 20, 2013 at 4:14 pm

Although 3-D printing still means small, useless, plastic tschotskes to many people I know, I see this gathering change as you do, and hope for the realization of its potential for “individualized products and a sharing community.” Thanks for this clear exposition of where this all can lead.

Francine May 20, 2013 at 8:15 pm

dog toys

Francine May 20, 2013 at 8:15 pm

We’re still early in the game.

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