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In a comment on one of David Lang’s Zero to Maker columns, reader Nathan Dunham wrote:

Really enjoying reading this series. I wonder: what do you think the differences are between the “buy a grill” and “weld a grill” people, in general? I guess more broadly I mean the difference between people who “get” making and those who don’t, regardless of their actual ability to make things.

Do you think the interest in making is just part of who you are, or do you think it’s something that can be encouraged?

I think it’s a great question and something that would be fun to discuss. How much of being a “maker” is a certain interest/aptitude that some people just have and others don’t; how much of making can be taught? Of course, on some level, everyone is a “maker,” but only a relatively small number of people are devoted to making/DIY as a sort of lifestyle choice. Is that just an issue of exposure to the “joy of making?” Once you DIY, you don’t care to buy?

Obviously, it’s not binary like this, but what do you all think? Is making bred in the bone? Discuss.

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Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelancer writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture, including the first book about the web (Mosaic Quick Tour) and the Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots. He is currently working on a best-of collection of his writing, called Borg Like Me.


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Comments

  1. Ryan Turner says:

    The key, which you mentioned, is that the truth is certainly not binary.

    That being said, I am a strong believer that passion cannot be learned (with the possible exception of children).

    Something that continues to surprise me to this day is how many people really just don’t care.  I’ve always found machines and robots of all kinds (Discovery channels “How its made”) to be absolutely fascinating.

    But I can show people laser cutters, cnc mills (hell I’ll even let people use them), autonomous model planes…  And for most it is forgotten in moments.  In what universe is this stuff not awesome?

    Perhaps less than 5% of any given engineering class has actually built anything on their own time.  Just writing that sentence has left me thoroughly confused…  It seems like a lot of people just don’t care and never will.

    I suppose the same can be said of anything though.

  2. “All children are born artists, the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up” – Pablo Picasso

    Same holds true for “making” or any creative endeavor. I believe human beings have an innate drive to create. It takes various forms – art, sculpture, architecture, music, literature, etc. Some people are better at certain types of making than others, and sometimes it takes a person a lifetime to find what they’re really good at. But I do believe that making/creating is an innate impulse, that is often stunted in too many people because they were told when they were growing up that they weren’t good enough or that they won’t make any money doing it. 

  3. Daniel Harrigan says:

    While I’m sure at some level certain people are more genetically predisposed to making, it can most definitely be taught and encouraged. The biggest problem that seems to dissuade people from making (at least in modern western culture) is the collective mentality that we ought to consume rather than create. Why create solutions when you can purchase them? In public American education especially, shop classes and the arts are always extraneous programs and rarely part of the core curricula. If people were given more hands-on work and shown they can create whatever they imagine, makers might not be the minority.

  4. David Lang says:

    I’m really glad this question came up. As I’ve been going through this process a lot of meta-thoughts have been popping up. 

    The first lesson I’ve learned is that making is a process and not just an end product. If you buy a grill, that’s what you get… a grill. When you make your own grill you get the grill (maybe not as polished but certainly more authentic) and you get experience and you get a story. It’s hard to put a price on that value, but it’s real.

    The second lesson I’ve learned is that DIY isn’t an appropriate term or way of looking at this movement/trend/idea because the true power and true joy is in doing-it-together. That’s what I think is so special about Maker Faire and TechShop and Make:SF, the cognitive diversity of the different people in the room (or in the comment stream) combine to make things better… together. I spent the afternoon at TechShop talking with members, dream coaches, and the CEO about OpenROV and Zero to Maker. Each conversation made me more interested and excited about what I was learning and creating.

    Am I ever going to be a good welder? No. But there’s a good chance I’ll be a competent one and I definitely know who to talk to if I need some advice. Am I going to be the best Arduino programmer? Probably not even a decent one, but I know who and where to go to for help when I get stuck.

    I agree with Ryan that the biggest (and saddest) issue is the lack of engagement. A lot of people don’t care and I think it’s because they think they can’t contribute. The rug is starting to get pulled out from under the world where things are made for us, and I think it’s for the better. It’s more fun, more fulfilling and more interesting. As we continue to transition, I think it’s important to send a message to the not-carers: you don’t have to make-it-yourself, we can make-it-together.

  5. Eric Kotara says:

    Definitely not binary, like you said.  I think we all have potential, we just have to have our tap opened.  For some I am sure they are born with both potential and drive, but for others we need to be shown that the world around us is modifiable.  

    One of my oldest memories is of spending time in my grandfathers workshop on his farm.  I can remember gazing up at the wall above me and looking at this wide variety of wrenches, screwdrivers, and other tools that had been torched and bent to custom angles for work on his John Deer.  Tools adapted to only work on one bolt in some cases.  If customizing a tool could prevent him from having to take off good parts to get to the bad, then that time savings over his farming career was a good business decision. 

    I count that as a good beginning to my maker path and indeed I ended up spending countless hours in that workshop and my father’s own shop throughout my youth (we restored classic cars) 

    This pattern stretches back many generations.  My great grandfather had much the same type of workshop just down the road.  I sometimes wonder how different this lineage would be had those workshops never existed; had my family not done things with their hands.  Could the absence of one link in the chain break it?  Or just redirect it?  Hard to say….

  6. Some of it (maybe most of it) is nature — some people are naturally disposed to seeing things a certain way, or approaching a problem a certain way.  Like some people are good at music, some not.  The other part is having the “nurture” to allow it to flourish in an encouraging environment, whether having a piano in the house, or a workbench with tools and random odd parts.

    I would love to be good at music, but I realize I have little aptitude for it, or “sticktoitiveness” to learn.  But I have a natural interest and ability to take things apart, put things together, fix things, etc.  Always have since I was a little kid, need no encouragement to do it.  It just happened, at first with blocks as a toddler, and Lincoln Logs when I was a bit older, then with discarded bicycles, old lawnmower engines, wood scraps from the carpenter neighbor, etc.

    1. My dad was an electronics engineer, and occasionally would bring home bad parts, or circuit boards or something, and made Heathkit stuff.  It all seemed a bit beyond me, and just putting something together that someone else figured out was not too gratifying.  But now with cheap electronic stuff like Arduinos, and ubiquitous discarded stuff, and the webertubenets to allow learning and sharing (the “nurturing” environment) it is really becoming much more accessible in many different ways.

  7. Steven Critchfield says:

    From a nature perspective, both my mother and father were makers before I was born. Looking back through the ancestry, I don’t think either side of the family strayed from being makers. So I have that going for me. From the nurture side, My mother has told me there was times I sat in a baby carrier on the floor with my toys while dad had a motorcycle engine to one side of me tinkering, and mom on the other side with sewing or knitting. No shocker that I do all my own mechanic work and have no trouble whipping out the sewing machine, knitting machine, or even just doing it all by hand.

    Getting to my own memories, dad worked on cars and later equipment to diagnose cars. We always had tools and stuff to use them on. Mom did her best to make sure our budget covered what we needed, so she also did a lot of creative things. Both had the mentality if something was broke, all you could do is break it more, or fix it. So they always would tear something down to see if it was fixable.

    Growing up, I frankenstiened many bikes, and such. I had toys in various stages of tear down. Later when we had a computer, our software had to be typed in from a magazine. This left me very much empowered with how things where put together. This has progressed into my adulthood. I write software for a living. I build for fun and stories. I built a foundry and can cast aluminum. I have welders and torches in the garage. I have built steel sculptures for family and friends. I have taught welding to friends and family.

    I definitely subscribe to the social aspect of making. Maybe that is the part that the internet is helping drive the current movement. I can socialize my building and learning without needing to be physically with other people. I get a larger source and audience to help, but don’t have to maintain it. It allows me to come and go as the rest of my life allows me time.

    As in I now have to go to a work related meeting. So Gotta shut this down now.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I think it is primarily nature.  This summer I built a skin on frame canoe.  I had in mind that my 9yo son would take an interest in the process while my 6yo daughter would be less interested in the process.  As it turned out, The Boy had no interest whatsoever in the building, but is now thrilled to have a boat we can fish from.  The Princess, on the other hand, learned how to select a screwdriver bit, use the drill to drive screws and how to work the bar clamps.  She was completely unimpressed with the canoeing experience and even dozed off during the maiden voyage of the “Molly Brown” but was very proud of the red paint she helped apply.

    These kids have both seen me take on a variety of building, making and repair projects,  DIY is not at all uncommon in our house.  My wife has even commented that I get cranky if I have no ideas or resources for too long, but that hasn’t influenced my son at all.  I doubt I will be able to nurture the DIY spirit in him because the natural interest isn’t there to form the foundation, but it is strong with the young one.

  9. Anonymous says:

    We beat this one to death in Anthropology, so here’s the short answer: Both. 

    Part of the human condition, and perhaps it’s greatest strength, is the adaptability of our mutable cultural makeup. 

    The various elements of intellect, dexterity, physical ability are influenced by genetics, but also by practice and in any particular person are quite plastic.  Physical predispositions are easily swamped by cultural inclinations, unless we’re talking about an extreme pathological case (i.e. psychopaths). 

    As for “nurture”, of course parental influence (the core of one’s cultural matrix usually) has it’s affect as well.  If you don’t have the mental tools to question or critically think, then DIY is going to be a difficult path. 

    You can still find your own way to it, however, but you might not have the same emotional comfort or inclination for it.  This is where the generalities break down, as each individual has the power to render them all moot with their own decisions and determinations.  (Thankfully). 

  10. Anonymous says:

    We beat this one to death in Anthropology, so here’s the short answer: Both. 

    Part of the human condition, and perhaps it’s greatest strength, is the adaptability of our mutable cultural makeup. 

    The various elements of intellect, dexterity, physical ability are influenced by genetics, but also by practice and in any particular person are quite plastic.  Physical predispositions are easily swamped by cultural inclinations, unless we’re talking about an extreme pathological case (i.e. psychopaths). 

    As for “nurture”, of course parental influence (the core of one’s cultural matrix usually) has it’s affect as well.  If you don’t have the mental tools to question or critically think, then DIY is going to be a difficult path. 

    You can still find your own way to it, however, but you might not have the same emotional comfort or inclination for it.  This is where the generalities break down, as each individual has the power to render them all moot with their own decisions and determinations.  (Thankfully). 

  11. Matthew Seto says:

    It’s a disease.  I’m not sure I want to be a maker anymore but I can’t stop.  I am constantly trying to hold myself back everytime I see something cool and I want to build it.  I have had to become very militant about finishing things that I start.  Then people come over to my place and they see something cool and say, “where’d you get that?”  Oh, I made it.  “Oh, well, where’s you get this thing?”  Uh, I made it.  “Really, how bout this over here?”  Yeah, made that too.  It starts to get ridiculous.  I need help.

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