Breaking into Making: A Meditation

Fun & Games
Breaking into Making: A Meditation

At what point did you know you were a “maker?” Making springs from an insatiable need to learn about, dissect, and modify. For some this impulse came early, for others, it didn’t arise until later. Maybe you were the kid who could always fix a broken bike, or you dug into your family’s first PC at a young age and didn’t stop until, years later, you had graduated to making complex gadgets using physical computing.

Or maybe you were that kid who always took apart his or her toys. It wasn’t your intention to break them, but rather, a need to put them back together. You wanted Egon to commingle with He-Man. You wanted them to have adventures in both Castle Grayskull and the Ghostbusters’ firehouse. Off would come all of the appendages, a desperate attempt at integration/improvement that only sometimes worked, though how awesome it was when you discovered that certain parts did cross their plastic respective universes, when the bargain brand figurine’s arms fit perfectly on another torso.

For some, it was always natural to know this about yourself, your maker’s heart. For others, it hit you later on. The desire to make lay dormant, only to manifest itself at a certain time, peeking through as pure creation from the skill sets that school or society had kindled within you. When you played in a band, you figured out how to make the amp work, or solder the busted input on a guitar right before the gig. From those moments of necessity, you discovered the joy of making, the satisfactions of DIY, and you decided you wanted to enjoy that feeling more often.

The great thing about the maker movement is that it facilitates that awakening in people, brings out the nascent maker in us all. In the past few years, many of us have been experiencing a sort of rebirth – a sharpening of those faded lines that trace our early roots as a maker. And now you’re not chastised for it, but rather praised! Content creation and modification brought itself to light on the internet, but the popularization of creation and modification in and of itself was a necessary element of that. Once you were given platforms with which to share your ideas, those ideas burst into even better and larger shapes, a refined sense of tinkering and play.

And now, hardware hacking is the adult equivalent of taking apart your toys, and programming an Arduino is akin to that childhood desire for systematization – only now, instead of making your very own text adventurer on a PC, the adventure has come to controlling the real world. Virtually any type of technology can easily be integrated with another type, whether electronic or physical.

How lucky we are to live in the time that we do. We all either broke into making, or went from breaking into making. Which was it for you, and how did it happen?

24 thoughts on “Breaking into Making: A Meditation

  1. Anonymous says:

    Aww, I miss Meredith.

  2. Brutal Honesty says:

    the first thing I dismantled was my toy piano, age 6. I actually managed to get most of it back together. Of course the strings weren’t tight enough to play it, not to mention the left over bits. But the remake did resemble the original which was huge leap forward for me at the time. Up to that point my remakes ended up looking like a pile of scrap. Now I modify pretty much everything I own. I have learned the valuable insight of KISS, keep it simple stupid.

  3. Gary Oshust says:

    I disassembled my crib at 3 with the tool kit somebody had gotten me for Christmas because I didn’t need it now that I had a big boy bed.

  4. Anonymous says:

    the first thing I remember was disassembling a RC F1 racer and making it a D cell battery operated car by using 4 paper clips. I connected the 2 clips for + and – for going forward and crossed them for reverse. I couldn’t believe I made a switch out of just some paper clips, a piece of wood and some nails. 

    1. Michael Colombo says:

      Sounds like you were a born maker! My first “hack” was shoving two keys into the light sockets and tripping the breaker with an electric blue spark when I was about 5. I figure it was all uphill after that :)

  5. tonyvr says:

    My first sentence (according to Mom) was “It goes!”.  I was a maker out of the box.

  6. Anonymous says:

    When I came out as a Maker to my parents, they just put their hands on my shoulders and said: “We already knew, just don’t electrocute yourself, we still love you”.  Affirmed by my family’s support in this cruel consumerist world, I now stand proudly and unashamed to be a Maker.  

    More seriously, all the kids my age had electronic toys that made parent-insaneifying amounts of noise.  I was the only kid who installed a mute switch on my “big trak” for my mom.  It even looked stock.  Hmm…  time to find that thing and mod it…

  7. Halfvast Conspirator says:

    I very clearly remember when I was 3 or 4, I had a Lincoln Log set I was just learning to play with.  For some reason my parents’ friends were babysitting me for a day, and the guy came home for lunch and built a little cabin with them for me.  I very clearly remember being amazed at that, as I had not yet worked out how to actually put them together to build something.  So I left it there to study, which I did for the afternoon.  He came home at some point and was surprised to see it still there, and asked me if it was OK, why did I not take it apart.  I don’t think I could really explain what I was thinking, but when my parents came to get me I was very unhappy we had to take it apart.

    Anyway, some short time later it just “clicked” and I was building my own cabins with the LLs.  Now I have a timber frame addition I am building on the house….hmmmm.

    But that is my first memory actually “making” something.  After that it was anything I found in the garage, the alley, the street, the junkpiles, etc.  And even today my wife would say the garage and the junkpiles are the same thing…

  8. Anonymous says:

    I echo the sentiment and find empathy with the article.  I was young, given legos, and free time.   Then I learned to walk, was given tools, and it all got very messy very quickly.

    But I have to ask, why do I have to be branded?  
    Here on MAKE, the content, the community, and the ideas are the perfect synthesis of technology and basic human nature to grow beyond our means. 

    I offer a caveat to the above, excepting the consistent and ham handed attempts to sell me basic electronics kits and other useless crap.

    But why do we need a one word brand?  Why must I be a MAKER?  Why can we not just be people who do things, or in short, people.  

    The aggressive process to create a community of branded people, standing under a banner and given a name reduces the very humanity of the process of creation.  To be part of this club, means to be a MAKER.  This is the very foundation of a social structure that ends with greed, oppression and exclusion.

    It is why I cancelled my subscription.  I still read the blog, less so as it drifts heavily towards retail and farther from a place where interesting and thoughtful projects are showcased. 

    Your recent “reluctant maker” columns actually fill me with great distaste.  Yes, I suppose that we must offer a great opening of the arms to embrace all those who wish to learn.  Yes, community is about inclusion, love and sharing. 

    I am sure this person is a great guy, has a big heart and really wants to grow his self through learning how to build, create or make…but….  It is a commercial for TechShop and for those of us who have spent any amount of time learning skills, a testament that the process is going to be long, boring and filled with lots of “learning”.  A process which if done right has a greater amount of reflection on the mistakes than on the successes. 

    Yet the message is clear.  Do *anything* and you get to be a MAKER.  Take materials, time and apply some process and you are in the club.

    I have a hard time with clubs that sign me up without my permission.

    I truly applaud you for the uncharted ground that you are on.  No other time in history have we been able to so easily document and disseminate the work of a few to the world as a whole.  I ask that you seriously consider how we the readers, customers, and users of tools see your approach.  Yet I still am glad you are here.  

    In all seriousness, I do not expect you to change.  My cynicism about the corporate nature of your organization leads me to believe that if anything you will drive further down this path of brand, brand loyalty and consumerization.  

    I base this on the choices you have already made, which I find darkly humorous.  MAKE: The platform for the individual to showcase ideas often relating to the DIY movement.  Yet the platform is busy trying to build and industry and become a content and material provider for said industry.   

    This idea is half finished.  I know am poking a stick in the eye of the local hero, on the hometown turf.  I am not trying to start a flame war, and if anyone wishes to discuss, I’d be happy to take it offline.

    Now I am going to go build something.  Or is that make something?

    1. Dan Sanderson says:

      “Why can we not just be people who do things…?”  Because most people don’t make anything, and live in an economy and culture that discourage making.  We have to call it something to promote the difference.
      I empathize with your distaste for products about making, and I agree that part of the idea is meant to be anti-product.  But craft requires education, education is something that can be encouraged with products, and we shouldn’t dismiss the opportunity to do so out of idealism.  Breaking apart electronic toys is a good start, but at some point most people need educational materials to access knowledge about electronics.

    2. Michael Colombo says:

      I admire your candor and thoughtful approach to your reply. Yes, it’s true, MAKE is in the business of inspiring folks to take a diy approach to their ideas, and we sell products and kits to facilitate that. As the author of this article, it was never my intention to “brand” anyone as a maker. For me and many others it’s a title I wear proudly, and I never needed a corporation to bestow that title upon me. That being said, this site is a repository for all manner of knowledge that’s useful to makers of myriad types and skill levels. 

      I keep thinking of a friend of mine, who, appropos of nothing, decided he wanted to build a digital scoreboard for when he plays “Washers” ( with his friends. He bought an Arduino starter kit and is already well on his way. Nobody pushed him to do so, but all of a sudden we find ourselves in a time where we can create, make, build, construct, and/or assemble such a project with a degree of ease not before possible.

      Now, does this mean he’s a “maker?” I don’t know. He has to decide for himself whether this is a correct self-descriptive term. But I certainly don’t see any person or entity trying to foist this moniker upon him. 

  9. Daniel Kim says:

    I’ll be 51 in January. Every kid in my neighborhood knew how to hone popsicle sticks into blades, to be made into ‘switchblades’ by sandwiching them between two other sticks with rubber bands. We all seemed to spend time cutting apart batteries to recover the carbon rod in the middle, although I can’t remember why. We also hacksawed the big magnets from discarded speakers, because magnets are always good to have. Many of us used them to collect iron filings that seemed to be incorporated in the sand in our school sandboxes.

    It was something everyone I knew seemed to do; part of the local kids’ culture.

    As a teenager, I liked to keep an aquarium, but never had the money to buy the more expensive filtration hardware. I made their equivalent using scraps of pipe, bits of plastic from food containers and hot glue. This got me in the habit of looking at stuff on store shelves and trying to imagine what off-label function they might have. Even packaging material was a good resource. I’d look at a bit of plastic and test it to see if it was flexible or brittle, melty or burny.  It’s always good to know that a particular soup can is just big enough to make a tight piston when put into a soda can.

    I still do this. I just modified an office chair into a rolling Skype station so I can host online video tours of my department to high school kids.

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In addition to being an online editor for MAKE Magazine, Michael Colombo works in fabrication, electronics, sound design, music production and performance (Yes. All that.) In the past he has also been a childrens' educator and entertainer, and holds a Masters degree from NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program.

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