Makers are making the future

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Makers are making the future

Maker culture is spreading like wildfire. Maker Faires, as they are dubbed, are being held in more and more cities. Every year, more than 180 fairs are held around the world. In the United States, President Barack Obama hosted the first White House Maker Faire last year and designated June 18 the National Day of Making. The age of makers seems to have arrived.

The development of 3-D printing ignited the maker movement. It is hard to imagine how the manufacturing revolution of 3-D printers will change society. What will it mean to be able to print whatever you need at home - from houses to cars? What will the world be like when a product is made shortly after a digital file is received?

Not long after Amazon said it would be pursuing the delivery of products by drones, individuals began to make and fly drones. On any weekend, you can run into drone competitions in parks. You hear unfamiliar names like Arduino and Raspberry Pi more often, and more and more grown-ups make and play with DIY robots.

The Maker Movement, which began in the San Francisco Bay area in 2005, is at the center of a new cultural trend only ten years old thanks to 3-D printers and more accessible hardware. Anyone can buy motherboards and sensors at low prices, access open source freeware and tutorials online and learn at community maker spaces. Now, anyone can become a maker.

I visited one of those spaces. Techshop in San Francisco is famous for being a hardware-related tech incubator. Individuals learn the skills that used to be only practiced at precision machinery plants. Delicate shapes are made by cutting metal boards with water jet devices. At the electronics workshop on the upper level, people draw IC circuits and create chips immediately, just as electronics companies like Samsung do.

On the wall are two phones, one in red and one in green. Use the red one to speak to a Patent Office official. The green one connects you to the Department of Commerce staff. They provide real time consultations on patents and trademarks. A friend who accompanied me pointed to a bulletin board filled with “help wanted” notices. Those are the biggest draw of Techshop. It is not technology nor government policy, but the community of makers that drives innovation.

Our tour guide was a former lawyer from New York. He seemed to have found the meaning of life from making something with his own two hands. The maker space is crammed with people who feel more satisfied and rewarded from creating something rather than making money. To them, making is learning and it is now their way of life.

Perhaps the culture of mass production and mass consumption is coming to an end. The age of attracting consumers with cheap products made in China is passing. When products are abundant, individuals wish to have something more meaningful. They want consumption with context by personally making something or participating in the process. Maker culture is at the core of the age of the “prosumer,” to coin a term.

I headed to the San Mateo Maker Faire, the stronghold of maker culture. It felt like paying a pilgrimage to Mecca. The faire was crowded with “pilgrims” like myself. Anything an individual can make with technological advancement is presented here - from robots to drones, to the Internet of Things, to bio-environmental technology. Just as species exponentially increased in the Cambrian period, new technologies and human ideas are being launched like fireworks.

There were children at the festival. Whether their parents brought them or they brought their parents was almost moot. So many children were playing with new toys and learning about new things. They were growing up, experiencing new technology first hand. What will the world be like when kids who go to technology parks for amusement grow up?

The backyard was the place for diehard makers. They showed off fire-blazing robots, hot air balloons with steam engines, interesting vehicles and even a solar system that revolves and rotates like the real one. Their works are the fruits of both endeavor and humor. In other words, the makers are enjoying themselves.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

*The author is the director of the Art Center Nabi.

by Roh Soh-yeong

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