Review: Made by Hand

Even with the holidays, me underlining like crazy, and taking breaks to happy-rant on the phone to a validating and patient audience, I finished Mark Frauenfelder’s Made by Hand in three days. I told you I was devouring this book.

I’ll try to be succinct, but I fear this review will turn into yet another happy rant because Frauenfelder is coming to my alma mater, Ohio State, in April, and he commented on my previous blog post about this book. Still, I shall rally, and attempt to focus.

Why I picked Made by Hand

The subtitle to Made by Hand is “Searching for meaning in a throwaway world.” This was the clincher to me wanting this book for my birthday. If you’ll remember, my masters thesis Conceptualizing the Maker was all about a subset of users who appropriate technological artifacts for their creative projects which in turn relate the technology to their self-identity. My thesis was simply a more academic look at searching for meaning in a technological, throwaway world.

Frauenfelder spoke to maker!Binaebi with this book. In his introduction he points out that “people are rediscovering the joy of DIY” (15). I grew up in a do-it-yourself (DIY) household. My family culture is if you don’t know how to do it, you learn how by looking it up yourself.

Do-it-Yourself Culture

Frauenfelder points out that DIY a learned behavior, and without this bit of information, makes DIY scary and intimidating.

My exposure to DIYers led me to the realization that do-it-yourself activities were an essential, if not central, part of achieving a richer and more meaningful life, a life of engagement with the world (16).

What Frauenfelder calls “alpha makers,” I call “makers.” These alpha makers take it upon themselves to learn how to do something new, documenting their mistakes and triumphs online so others can benefit. The great thing about being a maker is that makers are not afraid of mistakes and they see the “world as a hackable platform” (21).

This is very different from the traditional educational system in the USA, which Frauenfelder touches later in his book. As students, we are taught there is a right way and a wrong way. The wrong way is punished, rather than seen as an opportunity to explore the space of just why that was the wrong thing to do. I will always be grateful for my elementary school experience, where I was allowed to make mistakes.

Admittedly, I would burst into tears when I made a mistake anyway, but that’s beside the point. I was only seven.

DIYers share their wisdom

Making is a process, not an end. – Mister Jalopy

This book is full of gems of wisdom from all the makers Frauenfelder met during his two year quest to becoming a maker himself. It is true wisdom because these DIYers lived through the mistakes and determined paths that work.

Frauenfelder learns that DIYers “thrive on constantly challenging themselves to learn how to make things and fix things on their own” (58). We follow Frauenfelder’s journey as he attempts to convert his lawn into a garden, build a chicken coop for six chickens (named Ethel, Daisy, Rosie,…), build cigar box guitars, ferment yogurt, and keep bees.

I cheered as Frauenfelder wrote DIY is “rewarding because you are involving yourself in the creative processes” and the “purpose of DIY is learning to take back control of your life from outside parties,” which leads to “independence” (91).

  • The unexpected joy and ego boost when people see you as a DIYer, as someone who gets things done.
  • Emerson’s “Self-Reliance,” an essay that blew my mind in undergrad and brought tears to my eyes.
  • How DIYers will “go out of their way to help one another succeed.”

Taking a step back

Apologies. This post is a huge loving all over Made by Hand because he’s preaching to the  enthusiastic choir. The great thing about this book is how approachable Frauenfelder makes DIY to those who have an interest but still feel intimidated. It is intellectual, funny, reflective. He is open about his mistakes and his triumphs, and most importantly, the people he met.

DIY is about engaging the world and people around you. This book is a lovely way of encapsulating one man’s experience cannon-balling into DIY and invites others to jump in the pool.