MakeThere was a time when most everyone I knew had some sort hobby or past-time in which they made things, often simply for the sake of making. From this they derived enjoyment and personal meaning. The meaning was not kept to themselves, either: I remember being invited to watch a cactus that flowers most spectacularly but only once per year bloom as evening set in at the house of a hobbyist horticulturist. I spent evenings with good friends in old barns or in the comfort of their living room making music, listening to others play instruments alone or together, sharing stories they had written. I watched a friend sail out on a boat he built with his own hands in his own back yard, taking other friends out on day excursions on the waves. I've also watched that kind of involved life fade out from being the norm to being the exception.
Over the course of 2011, I had a strikingly consistent conversation with various individuals on this topic of making. In particular, the discussion would end up pondering why so few people in industrialized societies engage in the process of making. We would usually end up mulling over the role of modern patterns of consumption in this trend, what we have perhaps lost and how we might bring making back into the mainstream.
Sometimes the conversation would bloom out of a discussion of consumer centric social structures; sometimes we got onto the topic by way of possible economic alternatives to "we must find everyone a wage based job"; and other times I simply brought up the topic on its own. From those interactions, I took away three primary points of personal interest.
First, whether one self-identifies as conservative or liberal (economically, socially, politically or some combination thereof), people are generally aware that we make less and consume more, that the ratio between those behaviors has changed significantly towards the latter and that this is somehow not a great turn for our societies.
For many consumption has become the primary mechanism of involvement. There is nothing wrong with consumption itself (if we do not consume air, water and food, we will in short order cease to be), but it also probably isn't enough on its own. A working balance between participation by making and involvement by consumption has been lost.
Second, there is a distinct sense that many societies have begun to forget what it means to make. I had to remind one fellow, an academic that has found a very cool niche in the NGO world, that he did actually make something in the course of his daily work, even if it is not a physical good. He caught himself in surprise at the realization that, yes, he did make something ... and often.
Others expressed concern that fewer and fewer people knew how to really make much of anything. Instead, the skills being commonly acquired seem to be more geared towards acts of consumption, or for practices that don't really create anything.
Third, regardless of the trends towards consumption and away from making, there remains a high degree of value placed on the act of making and on those who do so. Aside from the obvious observation that we hold those who are great makers (which may be different from people who make great things) aloft in our societies, there is a definite inner connection to the act of making alive in people. We have not (yet?) gotten to the point where we have forgotten there is great value in the act of making things.
Despite all that general agreement, no one I talked to had any really solid ideas on how to bring making back into the core of our collective experience.
At the same time ... The Maker Faires are beacons of hope; the open source world continues to be a hive of activity; Wikipedia and OpenStreeMap bloom; kids still love lego; and I still bump into people doing crazy and wonderful things "just because". However, it seems evident that prioritizing behaviors, activities and objects that encourage and support making over simple consumption is still very much needed.
This avenue of thought has caused me to reflect quite a bit on what it is I am doing, what I am making and how I am encouraging and enabling others to engage with life creatively as well. Few things are as inspiring to me as watching something being made; few things fill me with more hope than someone with a warm heart and busy hands.
Yet if I truly believe that a world of people who engage in making is a better place to be, how am I contributing towards the realization of that reality? Eventually the obvious truth filtered slowly through my mind and hit me over the head with its simple truth:
I want the things which I help make to become opportunities for others in their turn to participate with their own voice, their own movement and their own passion.