Maker Waves

Does anyone besides me remember the “Edmund Scientific Catalog?” Its arrival in the mail was like a secular Christmas. My indulgent father would always spring for science-based treats like magnets, lenses and small electric motors.

They didn’t have a name for it at the time, but I lived in a “maker” home. Back then, our makerdom appeared as strung-together hi-fi audio systems, tart bottles of homemade wine and crusty home-baked sourdough bread. Backyard projects could take an entire summer (like that fish pond with a waterfall — you couldn’t just buy the parts at Home Depot). Dad even built a reflector telescope and hand-ground the mirror. Gazing at the recent Super Blood Moon Eclipse through a pair of binoculars made me wish we’d hung on to it.

For my parents’ (and my) generation, there was also the “Whole Earth Catalog,” packed with tools and resources for 20th century makers to access, many of them available for the cost of a postage stamp.

Nowadays, most of the journals of the maker home are not actual journals. They are the Instagram feeds and Pinterest pages that turn everyone into a participant, a reporter, a designer or inventor. But there are still (and, in all likelihood, will remain) great print publications too. Check out Make magazine for one good example.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot while editing this month’s feature: “Domestic DIY.” The Foord family, outlined in that piece, are remarkable, but only to a degree. They are making a living doing what we’re all being invited to do, which is to not let technological change roll over us but to climb aboard and take it for a spin.

Now you can order camera-laden, GPS-driven drones online (and get a great deal on one at Groupon) and soon enough 3D printers will occupy shelf space in most homes, but such gadgets are mere vanity unless you DO something with them.

It’s easy to be dismayed or bewildered by the changes being brought about by the digital revolution. Who hasn’t lamented the sight of a room full of young people within reach of one another but gazing at tiny screens?

It was my son who first enlightened me to the fallacy of this. “They are exploring telepathy, Dad,” he said. And in doing so, they are making, creating really, a whole new way or relating to their peers. I suspect the hardwired urge to reach out and touch one another will not disappear any time soon.

Just as the rumors of the demise of print were premature (magazines like ours are changing but doing just fine and e-books are faltering), so are the cries of cultural dissolution. Of course, what magazines do and how they do it is certainly in flux. Increasingly, we don’t just relate stories, we interact with our communities, create programs, host events and craft useful online resources that complement our print products.

Chances are, whatever you do, there’s a similar wave taking place, sweeping you into makerdom. So next time someone tells you the world is going to hell, you can tell them no. It’s just being remade.


Categories: Editor’s Note