It’s about making more than money: commercialization and the maker movement

When doing workshops in the community we use a variety of different tools and equipment, ranging from 3D printers, to littleBits, to MakeDos, to MaKey MaKeys. At these workshops we’re often asked a very natural question – “Where can I buy this?”

At the MakerBus we’re fortunate to have a lot of different, and generally exciting, tools to work with – many of which are new to the people who attend our workshops. And while it’s completely natural for people to want to purchase these tools for themselves, we often feel that by using different tools in our workshops, we are implicitly encouraging people to buy these tools.

For us the maker movement is founded on creativity and ingenuity. It’s about using your imagination to find creative solutions to problems. And for us, the maker movement is anti-commercial movement at its core. Sure you could go and buy a $65 macro lens for your smart phone, but you could just as easily build the same thing for less than $2.

We live in a world where we are constantly being told to consume, to buy new things, and to throw out things that don’t work. What makes the maker movement so exciting is that it actively resists these consumerist forces and encourages people to actively reuse the tools and technologies in their lives.

Two weeks ago when we attended Maker Faire Detroit we encouraged fair attendees to help us build a life-sized school bus using cardboard and reusable plastic fasteners called MakeDos. MakeDos are awesome and we use them in a number of our workshops because they allow people to rapidly build and iterate using cardboard.

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What surprised us about this community bus building was that more parents seemed interested in buying MakeDos from us than using them to build cool stuff. While children jumped in with reckless abandon and didn’t seem concerned with where to purchase MakeDos, this enthusiastic creativity seemed lost on many adults.

Even more distressing was the number of adults who seemed annoyed or frustrated by the fact that we wouldn’t sell MakeDos to them.

Now don’t get us wrong, it’s completely understandable that parents who saw their children building and creating using MakeDos would want to buy some of the product to continue the creativity at home, but it would also be amazing to take inspiration from our project to work on a new creative endeavour.

While MakeDos are awesome tools, they are also fairly expensive. Their cost makes us somewhat reluctant to recommend that people go out and buy them. We’re currently testing using inexpensive zip-ties as a DIY substitute for MakeDos. Stay tuned for a post about our experiments.

It was also somewhat distressing just how strong of a commercial influence there was at Maker Faire Detroit. To become a “Maker Faire” you must get the permission of MAKER Media (the publishers of MAKE Magazine). And while MAKER Media has been at the forefront of creating mainstream awareness of the maker movement, they are also at the forefront of commercializing it.

One of the busiest tents during Maker Faire Detroit was MAKER Media’s MakerShed tent – a tent that sold anything and everything maker related.

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And while the MakerBus uses many of the same tools and technologies  that were sold in that tent, it was distressing to see so many people lining up to buy things at an event that is supposed to be about creating things.

Now we don’t want the tone of this post to be overly negative. Maker Faire Detroit is an amazing event filled with creative people. And there’s nothing wrong about buying educational or maker technologies – we certainly buy these things all the time.

We suppose the question we’re left with is – can the maker movement grow while maintaining its grassroots, anti-commercial spirit? What is the best way to encourage creativity without encouraging consumerism?

If you have thoughts on these questions we’d love to hear them. Leave a comment and tell us what you think.

-The MakerBus Team

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