Morozov on the Maker Movement


Just two months after Evgeny Morozov‘s New Yorker analysis of the maker movement came out, Kickstarter announced it reached 1 billion in money pledged. There's some irony there. 

Morozov argues that the maker movement has succumb to the fate of the hacker movement, that it’s been incorporated into the larger tech world and is being marketed and sold as some world changing force that it’s not. 

The maker era might not be upon us yet, but the maker movement has arrived. Just who are these people? Like the Arts and Crafts movement—a mélange of back-to-the-land simplifiers, socialists, anarchists, and tweedy art connoisseurs—the makers are a diverse bunch. They include 3-D-printing enthusiasts who like making their own toys, instruments, and weapons; tinkerers and mechanics who like to customize household objects by outfitting them with sensors and Internet connectivity; and appreciators of craft who prefer to design their own objects and then have them manufactured on demand.

Each of these subgroups has its own history. What turns them into a movement is the intellectual infrastructure that allows makers to reflect on what it means to be a maker. Makers interested in honing their skills can take classes in well-equipped “makerspaces,” where they can also design and manufacture their wares. Makers have their own widely read publication—the magazine Make—a cheerleader for “technology on your time.” Then there are Maker Faires—exhibitions dedicated to the celebration of the D.I.Y. mind-set which were pioneered by Make and have quickly spread across the country and far beyond, including a Maker Faire Africa. And, as befits a contemporary movement, the makers want respect: a Maker’s Bill of Rights has been drafted. Kelly isn’t jesting when he identifies the rise of makers with a third industrial revolution: many promoters of the maker movement believe that personal manufacturing will undermine the clout of large corporations. It might even liberate labor in a way that the Arts and Crafts radicals hadn’t anticipated, with office workers abandoning their jobs in pursuit of meaningful self-employment amid sensors and 3-D printers. Meanwhile, the prospect of being able to print guns, drug paraphernalia, and other regulated objects appeals to libertarians.

I don’t disagree with Morozov’s description, especially when he later unpacks some of the things the maker movement’s primary salesmen have said. 

But, so many of the makers I’ve met don’t really seem to consider any of the big intellectual ideas that Morozov takes on. They are just entrepreneurs, people making things so they can work for themselves. Or they make things because they enjoy it. Making is just what they do, passionately or otherwise. 

“The main thing it takes to be a maker,” Morozov writes, “is a credit card.” This maybe true, especially for a lot of DIY types. But the main thing it takes to be anything in our society (an eater, a drinker, a traveler, a movie goer) is a credit card. That someone is making money off of the maker movement isn’t a surprise.

Morozov doesn’t really address what I would call the two halves of the maker movement, the DIY at home types and the professional entrepreneur ones, and how they differ. Regardless Morozov is compelling, and skepticism and a dose of cynicism are always appreciated in these parts. Read the full post here