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The Maker Movement

By Steve Goldsmith

The early days of our modern technology were full of bring-it-home and put-it-together opportunities. Many of us remember receiving catalogs full of great do-it-yourself projects from Heathkit. These included everything from electronic test equipment to television receivers, amateur radio equipment, and just about any other type of electronics you can imagine.

Somewhere along the road we lost the ability, and maybe the desire, to build things ourselves. Maybe it was when discrete components disappeared and were replaced by extremely dense integrated circuits that couldn’t be identified. Or maybe we just got blinded by just how much easier it is to use a computer now than it was in the early days, and by how many more colors computers have today than when computing was young.

In the 1980s, home computers began to change from something that you assembled yourself and wrote your own software for, to mass produced commodities with standardized operating systems and packaged software. Then consumerism took over – “Eat it all, Wear it out completely, Make it do or do without,” was replaced by “Buy it, Use it, Throw it out.”

Heathkit went out of business, and our educational system started “teaching technology,” but it focused on how to use computers and software and not how to create computers and software. Public schools cut arts, theater, and shop programs, stifling creativity and innovation, replacing them with standardization and testing.

When we stopped understanding and building the technology, we lost something. Humans have always had the desire to create. After decades of consumerism, a lack of creative outlets and the resulting pent up demand produced their own outlet. But the desire for do-it-yourself, build-it-yourself, creativity, and innovation found a home. And today, the Maker Movement is helping us find again the things we have lost.

A few years ago, the Arduino and other small single board computers began to appear. People all around the world have started discovering that they can easily create computer and electronics projects, learn programming, and make new things with their skills. This has revolutionized the way they interact with technology and enabled an entire new generation of hardware and software innovation. Now, we have an “internet of things,” new materials, digital clothing, and rapid prototyping with 3D printers. Now, the Maker Movement is changing the world.

Makers often rely on recycled or repurposed materials and minimize waste. Projects aim to improve the way we grow, transport, prepare, and cook our food. One example is called “precision agriculture.” The Maker Movement is finding it has a lot of common ground with the sustainability community.

“Makerspaces provide a vibrant, intellectually stimulating community where people can collaborate, learn and have access to tools that they might not otherwise be able use,” says Doug Webster, the founder of the Champlain Mini Maker Faire® and president of CMF, Inc., a non-profit working to grow a renewed culture of innovation. “They have gained tools like 3D printers, large sewing machines, laser cutters, CNC mills, woodworking, metalworking, welding, jewelry making and other prototyping and fabricating equipment. Oftentimes these tools are too expensive or too big for individuals to own, but Makerspaces provide training and access to these important tools, so that you can let your creativity loose.”

Webster has been helping to encourage the development of Makerspaces throughout the region, and recently has helped bring one to northern Vermont. Generator Vermont opened its doors at the end March in the basement of Burlington’s Memorial Auditorium. Nearly 1,000 people came for the grand opening to learn about the new space and tour the facilities.

Along the Upper Connecticut River Valley in New Hampshire and Vermont, CMF is working with the Upper Valley MakerSpace to build two Makerspaces. One is in downtown White River Junction, Vermont; another in downtown Claremont, New Hampshire. The Upper Valley MakerSpace will be a combination of artist studio, classroom, and business incubator focused on the act of making things. The effort has already attracted nearly 500 interested people, and the two spaces hope to open in the winter of 2014.

A big component of all of these Makerspaces is education. Envisioned regular classes include precision metal machining, electrical fabrication, welding, woodworking, sewing and fiber arts, sculpture, robotics, LED arts, lamp-working, jewelry, computer-aided design, 3D printing, and more. The curriculum is meant to encourage and support the Do-It-Yourself, mechanical, electrical, digital, computer, art, and craft communities.

Want to learn more about the Maker Movement or get involved? The Champlain Mini Maker Faire® will happen October 4th and 5th at Shelburne Farms (www.champlainminimakerfaire.org). And the big one, The World’s Maker Faire® in New York, is on September 20th and 21st and features more than 600 makers and over 50,000 attendees. (www.makerfaire.com). Check out a Maker Faire® and find out why they are the Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth and learn how you can get involved in the Maker Community.

Steve Goldsmith is President of TwinState MakerSpaces and is working to bring the Upper Valley MakerSpace and the Claremont MakerSpace to life.

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