Consumer vs Maker

Shameful admission: I have three Google Reader accounts that I check regularly.

  • My everyday account has 100+ subscriptions covering UX, DIY, foodie topics, etc… and I play the inbox zero game with it obsessively.
  • My writing persona account has 72 subscriptions that only have to do with the writing, reading, and publishing worlds. I play inbox zero there, too.
  • My family account is where I keep my web comic subscriptions, of which I have a reasonable 20 subscriptions. I play inbox zero there as well, but it’s easier because web comics take time and they don’t update on the same days.

I haven’t included Facebook, email, and Twitter. I’ve gone overboard. Lost my balance. I’m a glutton. An information junkie. But it wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time, when I didn’t have a smart phone, a laptop, easy access to the internet…

That is, when I was ten…

I’d also like to note this was before puberty struck…

I was a happy kid. Joyful. Ebullient. I spent my evenings reading classical fiction by Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, LM Montgomery, and the like. I went through the entire shelf of how-to books at my library learning all the different ways one can make a doll by hand. In middle school, my parents, sister, and I built a desk out of the old kitchen table. Each Saturday night I camped out at that desk with my painting supplies and would create  while listening to A Prairie Home Companion. I was a maker. I had results that showed how I spent my time.

At some point in undergrad, I became a consumer. I didn’t have time to create things, not like I was used to. I created little computer programs, wrote papers, built balsa wood bridges, and connected electrical circuits. I became obsessed with my Google Reader, and it only got worse in grad school.

Thing is, I am not in grad school anymore. I have more free time now than I’ve had in seven years, yet I cling to my habits of those seven years. I am creating; glance at my Flickr and you’ll see I’m making things again. Yet I still feel unbalanced.

Which means I can do one of three things:

  1. Cut back on the amount I consume,
  2. Up my level of making, or
  3. Own the fact that I’m a consumer and leave it at that.

Honestly, number three makes me throw up in my mouth a little, so I’m going to try a combination of numbers one and two. Wish me luck.

Made by Hand by Mark Frauenfelder

“When I spend an entire day online…. I’m just flailing around in a flurry of binary data… a feeling of vague uneasiness grows inside of me. But when I spend at least part of the day using my hands to make or fix something physical… I feel like I actually did something.”

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.

Made by Hand

I just wanted to let you know that I have been devouring Mark Frauenfelder’s Made by Hand. I received it for my birthday in August and just got around to reading it… I am underlining something almost every other page. This is the industry version of my capstone and I’m ecstatic to be reading it.

In fact, last night I dreamed I was building a steampunk chicken coop with Frauenfelder. This is not nearly as odd as you might think.

I’ll post a real review once I finish the book, but wow. This book has fired me up in a way I’ve been missing (quite desperately, actually) since graduating from my masters program.