I always took pride in making things. Yet, a comment stopped me in my tracks a few years back: “Why do you play ‘poor’?” For me, the pleasures and sense of achievement in creating something were completely unrelated to poverty. Funnily, another comment stated that I must be pretty well off to be able to afford wasting time making things. I am neither. But I guess that having read about the social history of Ireland, it sheds some light on the origin of these mindsets.
Of course, looking back in time, home-made clothes were made with pride.
They were also the very visible sign that fashion was unaffordable. The drive for consumption and instant self-gratification made buying dubiously adorned fashion better than toiling over a well-cut outfit. Okay, signs of the time! But with “buying” also came a twisted disconnection from others: everybody eyeing each other jealously, feeling alone and vulnerable amid busy emptiness.
Yet, making is connecting. If anything, it forces us to become aware of our limitations and motivates us to ask others for further self-development. Asking, when it is for the purpose of genuine learning, fosters goodwill, friendliness, empathy and ultimately trust. These are the signs of a healthy society. Without it, society does not decline, it crumbles. Mutual development has a focus and becomes an exchange, it is an upward spiral. Not quite the same as gossip.
So I was very interested to see that a maker movement was gathering path in the US, ‘the’ society of consumption par excellence. The maker movement is quite broad. It often embraces technology and revels in the creation of new devices as well as tinkering with existing ones. Open-source software, DIY electronics (Arduino anybody?), robotics, 3D printing are parts of this movement. We have Fab Lab here, very much in the same line of thinking. Traditional activities such as metalworking, woodworking, and traditional arts and crafts are revitalised blending know-how that was traditionally clearly segregated.
In this movement, practical skills are no longer a sign of academic failure. It is a means to a more empowered living. Fun and self-fulfillment as well as political engagement motivate informal, networked, peer-led, and shared learning. Networked technologies such as websites, forums and social media tools are forming the basis for knowledge repositories, mediating community interaction and knowledge sharing. An interesting development, at a time when more and more youngsters seem to disengage from formal educational settings.
I came across the Maker movement when I was teaching about outsourcing. It came up as a reaction from communities seeing their livelihood repeatedly destroyed as jobs moved to cheaper locations. The penny eventually dropped that with globalisation, these communities would always be more expensive than either another community or a machine. Combined with “sustainability” concerns, is the maker movement a symptom of the disconnection felt within ourselves and with the environment? A distinct focus on health (food, natural cosmetics, and medicine), sustainable development (housing, alternative energy), environmentalism and local culture seem to support this conclusion…
Hurray! Finally, a movement that refuses the sense of entitlement that comes from pretending to be rich! At last, a recognition of the responsibilities and engagement that is characteristic of hands-on living. It is a more positive vision than throw-away products, transient job contracts, gated housing and uniform shopping centres. I am not saying it is easy or romantic, I am saying it is more responsible and ultimately offers a re-connection to a positive future. It gives a chance to our kids. It is undoubtedly difficult. But in many ways, having forgotten how to make a wheel, and what it is for, we now need to re-invent it. At any rate, is the alternative to accept that sustainable living is unsustainable? Emmm…
On that note, along with the maker movement, I was fascinated to read some time ago (I cannot find the reference, however) that there is a growing trend of young girls who do not aspire to have a career like their mother. A job is enough. Feminism seems to have hollowed out homes and there seems to be a growing aspiration to recreate “Home Sweet Home”.
The vast majority of Etsy sellers are apparently mumpreneurs (in 2015, 86% of sellers are women with a median age of 39), mum first, entrepreneur second. A difficult balance but it has its appeal. Making a home is not about being chained to the sink, albeit it can feel like it at times. It is about bonding around a home-cooked meal, sharing chores and having a presence that makes (or strive to make) everything alright. To make a home, unlike outside, genders and generations must cooperate rather than compete (sorry I only ended up tangled in grammar to be politically correct, but you know what I mean). That’s what making is about.
I think making is connecting, and somehow, in many small ways, I think many of us are instinctively re-embracing the ‘old’ways but with a wiser mind and modern tools.
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