Quirky has been clever in melding the old-school notion of being an “inventor” with the new-school notion of being a “maker.” But somewhere in the course of entering the pop culture zeitgeist, the warm and fuzzy self-empowered “maker” idea got turned into an engine for output and profit.
To begin, Quirky pre-dates the popularity of the term “maker,” doesn’t it? That being said, this tension about making — is it just for fun or can people make a living doing it — is a critical one if we want to cast a wide net for makers. If there is something “wrong” with people taking an entrepreneurial approach to making, and the only way making counts is for personal edification, then making cannot serve as a road to entrepreneurship for those from less fortunate socioeconomic classes. And that strikes me as rather unfair. (Now might be a good time for me to point out that this article was published as part of a series sponsored by BMW.)
No idea is too superfluous. Many of the items the company sells are gadgets like “Pivot Power,” designed expressly for plugging in other gadgets.
Well, maybe, but what makes Pivot Power a compelling invention is that its outlets are hinged, not confined in a row. With so many oversized chargers, a standard bricklike surge protector can only accommodate a few blocky plugs, which doesn’t help if you have limited outlets. Pivot Power changed things by providing the ability to move and flex each of its outlets so you can accommodate all sorts of plugs. Seems kinda like an improvement to me.
… Not so long ago it felt like we were beginning to recognize that as a society, our patterns of production and consumption were not sustainable. Messages like The Story of Stuff went viral, refocusing our collective eyes on our culture’s stunning material wastefulness. But that period was short … the drive to produce more has only accelerated.
Fair enough statement, but is making somehow connected to wastefulness? If I make quilts out of scraps, isn’t that resourcefulness, not wastefulness? Is making a cake wastefulness? Or do those activities not fit into the implicitly narrow definition of making in the author’s mind?
… ideas around designing and making have shifted and sectors of the maker movement have veered from basement workshop projects to the production of i-accessories and other trinkets that make Kickstarter fanboys drool …
Well, this makes a pretty radical assumption: that the only things we’re making are trinkets and iPhone cases. Sounds a bit narrow.
I won’t point the finger at one company or one discipline but I am struck by the absence of sustainable discourse in the maker movement.
Fair enough. There needs to be more discussion around critical making, about making for a purpose, though even as I type that, I feel the need to point out that I often see making serve a therapeutic role, and that’s a valid reason for making. But when we start this sustainable discourse, let’s talk about diversity in the maker movement, at which making activities “count” in mainstream maker media, the author’s use of the term “fanboy,” etc.
Daily, we read swooning odes to the 3-D printer … Every tchotchke is celebrated as if it were as significant as the wheel or the printing press.
If there is this level of celebration, is it not being done by the author’s colleagues in the media?
…There seems to be a misconception about what 3D printing does and does not enable. Does it allow us to delight a four-year-old by pulling a mini Darth Vader toy seemingly out of thin air?It does.
This strikes me as an interesting issue regarding copyright and intellectual property. I’d love to hear more about this aspect, but the article abruptly shifts into a new angle.
But the object doesn’t materialize from nothing. A 3D printer consumes about 50 to 100 times more electrical energy than injection molding to make an item of the same weight. On top of that, the emissions from desktop 3D printers are similar to burning a cigarette or cooking on a gas or electric stove. And the material of choice for all this new stuff we’re clamoring to make is overwhelmingly plastic. In a sense, it’s a reverse environmental offset, counteracting recent legislation to reduce plastic use through grocery bag bans and packaging redesigns. While more people tote reuasable cloth bags to the supermarket, plastic is piling up in other domains, from TechShop to Target.
The environmental impact of 3D printers haunts me, too. The odor that comes off as the plastic melts is noticeable. The plastic issue is a big thing we’re a bit afraid to encounter. But how would the author reply to the 3D printers Staples is implementing abroad, which use paper instead? Would being able to recycle or reuse materials in a 3D printer change her position?
Do we need more products? Not really. But we need better ones. So why aren’t we designing them?
Wait … doesn’t the Quirky Pivot Power solve a problem for us? Yet it’s identified as a culprit in the opening lines of the article.
This is not to say that there aren’t good things happening in the maker space … like The Tinkering School, which encourages kids to make stuff for the sake of making it (they then disassemble what they’ve created and reuse the materials). We need these avenues for supporting craft and DIY, developing an alternative to consumerism rather than a direct line to it.
There’s a role for designers and makers (and yes, even entrepreneurs) of stuff – a really important one – but there’s a responsibility in acquiring and applying the skills required to make things, and it is worth recognizing that just because you can design something doesn’t mean you should.
Who gets to decide whether someone can or should? Isn’t there a significant difference between printing out a Darth Vadar figurine using someone else’s .stl file that you downloaded from the web and designing your own item to help your classmate customize her wheelchair knobs? Maybe a more accurate thing to say is, “Just because you have a 3D printer doesn’t mean you should print guns and copyrighted figures on it,” or, “Burning plastic is bad for the environment, so ask yourself what you’re getting out of a print job in exchange for that small waste of toxicity.” Or just plain ethical making.
It’s disappointing that an article that raises so many important points — especially about environmentalism — doesn’t delve more deeply into its arguments and evidence.