It’s Not About the Circuits. It’s About the Making.

I’ve had several really positive interactions this week and last about some of the work we’re starting in my school district around make/hack/play.  But in two conversations last week, I was struck that the folks asking me questions had equated “Making” (I’m using the capital “M” when I talk about Making the movement.  Maybe I shouldn’t be.) with “building electronic circuits.”  That’s a bad connection, and I wish folks would move past it.

Sure, the Maker movement can point to the excitement around DIY projects like this or this or this, and I’ve been playing around with some of these little kits for building my own robots and circuits and small machines, but to say that the one is the same as the other is to miss the larger point (This, by the way, isn’t a mistake that visible spokespeople of the Maker movement are making, I’d say.  They get this.).

Of course, people, myself included, are pretty good as missing larger points.  Our brains like simple A=B connections.  They’re simpler and easier and faster than larger and longer points.  I know that I’m guilty, far too often, of being in a hurry to grasp a big idea and to speed things along I latch on to an analogy or an example that isn’t quite the whole thing, but is close enough to get me to the end of the conversation or the conflict or the beginning of the next thing.

If you put a thousand people in the same room, and start talking about “education technology,” a large group of them will know that you’re talking about computers in the classroom.  And another group will be certain that you’re talking mobile devices.  And a third will nod their collective heads, excited that you’ve grasped the importance of Big Data or content delivery.  “Ed Tech” is shorthand.  And real quick here, in the middle of a moment (It may not be the middle of the moment.  It may be past it.  But it feels like it’s still malleable to me, at least.) where the idea of Making and Makers and/or hackers is still really fresh and exciting and up for grabs, if even a little bit, let’s make sure we’re not going to fall into another trap of shorthanding some useful phrase into an empty nothingness of overgeneralization.

Gently and kindly, I’d like to say to you that Making isn’t just about circuits and transistors.  Or about robots and tank treads.  Or drones or LEDs embedded in belt buckles and clothing.  Making is more primal than that, and far too important to leave to the geeks with soldering irons.

The knitters are Makers.  As are the cooks.  The writers, the poets, and the children with construction paper, scissors and glue.  The kid making dresses and slacks in his basement is a Maker.  So is the young lady weaving flowers into bracelets and wreaths.

If you’re building something from the stuff you’ve got on hand, then you count.  You’re Making.  That’s a good thing.  And I want to help build cultures of Making and Makers that recognize that the thing made is less important than the habit of the Making.

It’s not the electronics that are essential for the 21st Century, though they are important.  It’s the idea that the world exists to be made better and fiddled with that matters.  And too often, at school, work, or in general in the world, the notion that stuff needs making and that people, even you, and maybe especially you, should get to making it is pushed aside and left for someone else.

So, sure, let’s get excited when the kids want to grab some parts and make a BattleBot.  But let’s get just as pumped when a different group of kids get the idea that there’s a play that needs writing.  And let’s lift them up, too.


(Cross-posted from my other blog.)