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Page history last edited by Pia Bahile 10 years, 10 months ago

What is a Maker?


Out of sheer boredom, Texas resident Cathy Wu began making jewelry out of dried fruit. Now it's her hobby. In London, Ontario Brian Frank is educating himself in digital media and he's making a career out of it. John Hammel, who resides in the South Western, Ontario town of St. Jacob's, owns the last corn-broom making company in Canada. And, in homes all over the world, people are connecting to the internet to discover galaxies. What do they all have in common? They're all part of the same movement: Maker Culture. 


What is Maker Culture, you ask? 


It's people taking things -food, entertainment, technology, politics, and even science - into their own hands. This definition is a simple one, but it's exactly where 45 journalism students began their journey in early September. That's when Wayne MacPhail, the instructor of the online journalism courses at both Ryerson University and the University of Western Ontario (UWO), introduced us, his students, to the idea of Maker Culture. We discovered a lot lies beneath that simple definition.  


"At first I was just really confused," said Savithri Sastri, a UWO student in the Master's of Journalism program. "I guess I kind of thought that, you know people had always been making things," said Geoff Turner, one of Sastri's colleagues. He wasn't wrong. There have always been makers: web-hackers, hobbyists and ancient ancestors who created tools of survival. But the modern Maker Culture movement is more involved than that.  It's about sharing what you've made, how you've made it, and why. Often, for free.


"Another word for it is the enlightenment," said Cory Doctorow, author of the book Makers. "The advent of... public sharing of information and knowledge was the enlightenment. It was the great leap in human progress that ended the dark ages." It is this sense of sharing and community that binds the self-educator to the broom-smith, and the broom-smith to a food artist who makes necklaces made of dried kiwi. What MacPhail noticed, and challenged us to document, was an over-arching cultural shift - Maker Culture.




It wasn't until four weeks in that these students began to notice, not only were they documenting the movement, they were engaging in it. Sure, they were using twitter and other social media to extend their resources, but more than that, they began to view their own hobbies in a new light.  


Three months into the project, the concept of Maker Culture definitely broadened and gained extensive meaning as students delved further into their Maker Culture pieces.  Students took time to understand what Maker Culture is and how it is manifested through compelling interviews and intensive reporting skills. The collaboration between the two universities led to an exploration of Maker Culture that went beyond what was expected. As noted, almost all the students became makers but some groups immersed themselvs to the point that they furthered the movement.


The project became more vibrant when the food group hosted a latte art party. The event was a sight of sticky chocolate drizzles and cinnamon sugar and amazing latte art There was even a latte dedicated to climate change, which had swirling white cream that looked like a satellite image of a hurricane burrowing through the Atlantic. The latte artists invited to this event were discovered through social media networks such as Twitter.


The digital world is rapidly evolving and with it, the way people communicate is being altered as well How this is related to journalism? Well, the ability to share and communicate information is one component that is used to demonstrate the growing revolution of citizen journalism. Maker Culture students sharing their work about people who embrace the do-it-yourself ethic will allow others to learn about this movement and even further it.



It is clear that this Fall, the Maker Culture project took us to places far outside of the mainstream to a breadth and depth we never imagined when most of us walked into class in early September. What we once conceived of as background noise has become a series of stories that tell the tale of Maker Culture at the micro and macro levels of society. At the heart of all these stories is individuals who are committed to the assertion of self in the face of globalization, commercialization and centralization.


Let's start with food, our source of sustenance. The Food group at Ryerson University encountered individuals who view food as more than a relationship between agribusiness and the consumer.   To these makers, food is a means to create art, to share ideas, to protect the environment and even a way to stick it to the man. If the thought of using your chewing gum to make art  has never crossed your mind, be prepared to meet 39-year-old gum artist Jamie Marraccini. If you've ever thought about ditching the LCBO and brewing your own alcohol, make sure you read Christian Nathler's piece about a New Zealander who makes his own "kiwi" still.  These stories about gum art  and home-brewed alcohol are two of  several that will take you to a place far removed from last night's takeout.


Along with food, shelter and clothing are two things necessary to our survival that we often do not give more than a passing thought to.  The culture group interviewed men and women who work with kangaroo leather lace, seal skin, bowhead whales and hay among other things to create extraordinary garments and dwellings. Madelyn Chung investigated Betsy Greer's work on her website www.craftivism.com. Greer encapsulates the sentiments of all of makers the Culture group met on her website. “It's a way of looking at life where voicing opinions through creativity makes your voice stronger, your compassion deeper and your quest for justice more infinite,” Greer states.



One of the defining characteristics of the burgeoning Maker Culture movement is the use of technology and specifically the internet by most makers to share and propagate their creations and ideas. Some of the first people to do this are hackers, who appeared 150 years ago. These pioneers were teenaged boys who acted as the first telephone switchboard operators before they got replaced by young women for causing mischief by hacking the system.  From the Mozilla Foundation to Drumbeat to the creation of Apple Inc, the Hackers group looked beyond the stereotype of the geek behind the computer screen committing cyber crimes to unearth stories about groups of individuals cooperating to reinterpret available software to make it better, faster and more interesting. 


Science has long been a realm that has belonged to, well, scientists. The Science group discovered that today, citizen scientists are making personal advancements while advancing the field of science. The gamut runs from a Dutch teacher discovering galaxies in his spare time to the husband of an ailing wife doing genetic research on his personal computer. The significance of citizen science is likely to be enormous. "The more access more scientists can have to analyzing data, the closer to truth we’re likely to get,"  said Dr. Micheal Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic magazine.



Makers across the globe are affecting change in institutions like education, media and politics, institutions that are synonymous with groupthink, conformity and stagnancy.


An EduPunk is someone who keenly understands that the Information Age in which we live combined with Web 2.0  is causing a profound shift in how the mind can be cultivated. These contemporary Renaissance men and women  are learning to learn outside of the staid and circumscribed traditional educational system through the use of wikis, open-source textbooks and the like. The Education group at UWO spoke to some of the leading proponents of the EduPunk movement who expressed their thoughts on how the movement started, why the movement is necessary and the challenges of being an Edupunk. Follow the Education group's journey to find out why they boldly declare that, "We may be the last generation to attend traditional schools."


In a 1969 essay, feminist Carol Hasnisch coined the now famous phrase,  "The personal is political." The Politics group at UWO went on a quest to see whether this phrase is true, examining grassroots political action at the local level as well as the international level. From the Toronto Cyclists Union to the ChangeCamp political movement to the Toronto Bolivia Solidarity activist group, makers all over the world are using technology to rattle the status quo, redefine what it means to be a citizen and change the world. One particularly interesting story covered by the politics group is the tale of Bolivia, where in 2005, Evo Morales became the first indigineous Bolivian to rule the country in almot five centuries. The group found out that the Western media doesn't cover Bolivia because they cannot villanize Morales. 


This brings up the issue of the mass media. Newspapers, magazines, record companies and even television content providers are finding it extremely difficult, and in some cases impossible, to survive in this economic and technological climate. Let's look at journalism. Journalism is a profession that has always been kept in orderly conduct. But nowadays, people’s perception of what “real” journalism is has drastically altered . The creation of new technology  and software  plays a major role in this shift. Today, with the advent of social media networks, users are able to communicate in a diffuse way that shuns hierarchies and promotes constant conversation. No longer are people confined to magazines to get the updates on their favourite celebrity. You can sign into Twitter and from there, it’s paradise. Whether it’s to follow Oprah Winfrey or get in touch with people of similar interests, everything is one or two clicks away. This generation is experiencing what previous ones could never dream of. And this goes way beyond journalism. The media group investigated the ways in which makers are taking literature, music, zines and brainpower and creating quirky, interesting and collaborative media, with wide-randing effects. “Having a generation that knows how the media sells them things, attracts their votes, changes their minds is going to be a vital part of 21st century democracy,” said Brett Gaylor, who directed a documentary on music mash-ups called RiP! A Remix Manifesto.


The Maker Culture movement will have effects and ramifications beyond our poltical system. In fact, Maker Culture will do much to change and form human existence in the neare and far future.



When Alexander Honkala, the head of All Hands Now, was asked by Mark Melnychuk  why he is a maker, he responded, “The answer is I want it to exist in the world, that’s it.” Melnychuk is a member of the Issues and What’s Next group, who will be exploring the implications of being a maker in a world where we will be able to bypass the corporation, circumvent laws and prolong life. How will we navigate and understand our world when we are able to print vital organs from a 3D printer? 



Join us in the coming weeks as we delve into the past, present and future exploits of those who choose to exist in the world as makers of change and makers of community.








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