Saturday, January 24, 2015

how those who teach, criticize, and caretake view musical chairs on the deck of the titanic...,


theatlantic |  I’m uncomfortable with any culture that encourages you take on an entire identity, rather than to express a facet of your own identity ("maker," rather than "someone who makes things"). But I have much deeper concerns.

An identity built around making things—of being “a maker”—pervades technology culture. There’s a widespread idea that “People who make things are simply different [read: better] than those who don’t.”

I understand where the motivation for this comes from. Creators, rightly, take pride in creation. In her book The Real World of Technology, the metallurgist Ursula Franklin contrasts prescriptive technologies, where many individuals produce components of the whole (think about Adam Smith’s pin factory), with holistic technologies, where the creator controls and understands the process from start to finish. As well as teaching my own engineering courses, I’m a studio instructor for a first-year engineering course, in which our students do design and fabrication, many of them for the first time. Making things is incredibly important, especially for groups that previously haven’t had access. When I was asked by the Boston-based Science Club for Girls to write a letter to my teenaged self (as a proxy for young girls everywhere), that’s exactly what I wrote about.

Making is not a rebel movement, scrappy individuals going up against the system. While the shift might be from the corporate to the individual (supported, mind, by a different set of companies selling a different set of things), it mostly re-inscribes familiar values, in slightly different form: that artifacts are important, and people are not.

It’s not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with making (although it’s not all that clear that the world needs more stuff). The problem is the idea that the alternative to making is usually not doing nothing—it’s almost always doing things for and with other people, from the barista to the Facebook community moderator to the social worker to the surgeon. Describing oneself as a maker—regardless of what one actually or mostly does—is a way of accruing to oneself the gendered, capitalist benefits of being a person who makes products.