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We're All Makers

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I worry that modern Americans have lost both manual skills and the curiosity to explore how things work. I probably worry too much, but look how computers have progressed: from a text command prompt, to all kinds of rich GUis, to smartphones and PDAs, culminating in the iPad. The iPad doesn't even use a keyboard, all you do is grunt and point.

That's an exaggeration to be sure, because better tools are always good things. Still, there are two words in common usage that grate like fingernails on a blackboard: consume and consumer, and the especially odious consuming content. Fifteen years ago grumpy old geekbeards were muttering dark warnings about turning computers into televisions, and here we are. All of these fabulous advances, these wonderful high-tech power tools that make it possible for individuals to create things that used to be just for well-funded professionals, are being relentlessly pushed into functioning as fancier TVs.

Fortunately, nobody is making us fall under the spell of fancier, shinier, ever-more-closed toys, and we still have a wealth of great choices open to us. Like Linux and Free/Open Source Software, for starters. All you need is a PC, an Internet connection, some time, and the creative possibilities are legion.

A Linux Today reader introduced me to a wonderful series running on The Tyee, MakerCulture: Taking Things into Our Own Hands. This especially resonated with me:

"If you weren't making things 100 years ago, you'd be dead. Your home, your food, your clothes and even your toys were all made by you or someone you knew. Somewhere along the way, humans seem to have forgotten that we were makers, and instead became consumers.

"Now, when some people build, sew and bake they are making a conscious choice to return to our maker roots. This movement is MakerCulture. Today, makers challenge the mainstream and make instead of buy."

I love that. I don't want to be a conduit in a passive, closed loop, with money going out and consumable content coming in. How boring and pointless.

O'Reilly Media's MakeZine is all about do-it-yourself projects of every kind, like making your own snow guns, a mad-scientist coffee machine, cigar box guitar, rockets, and all kinds of things.

That is how I define fun toys. Not sitting down in front of a super-high tech TV to "consume content."


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