Disneyland and the Coming Maker Singularity

Disneyland and the Coming Maker Singularity
MAKE Editorial Director Ken Denmead interviews Adam Savage on May 19 at Maker Faire Bay Area. (Gregory Hayes/MAKE)
MAKE Editorial Director Ken Denmead interviews Adam Savage on May 19 at Maker Faire Bay Area. (Gregory Hayes/MAKE)

I’ve been Editorial Director at MAKE for eight weeks now, and much of it still seems a bit like a dream. Of course, it started with the week of Maker Faire Bay Area, which is like a journey to another state of consciousness involving 16-hour days, fire-breathing dragons, and meeting mythical folks like Adam Savage (@donttrythis), Grant Imahara (@grantimahara), and Veronica Belmont (@veronica). After seven years of attending (usually running a booth as a sponsor), I’ve started to really be able to see the evolution of the show, and get a real sense of what the Maker Movement is all about.

It’s just people doing what they love; creating, designing, building, testing, re-building, perfecting, learning, showing-off, and living a constructive life.

In an earlier editorial piece I wrote a few weeks ago (Why the Maker Movement is Here to Stay), I noted that there have been folks doing this forever. That what makes the Maker Movement a distinct thing is the communication and sharing allowed by the Internet. That makers who were once isolated are now connected, and that the networking allowed by these connections amplifies the creative effect by orders of magnitude. It’s kind of like a Maker Singularity. Through all this sharing of information, all this building of new things, or re-creation of old things that we can do at home, in our workshops instead of in factories, we’re generating a massive, self-aware Maker Consciousness that will lead us into a new epoch of creativity and craftsmanship.

Or, you know, we’ll keep making automatic cat feeders. That’s cool, too.

Next week, my family and I are traveling down to sunny Anaheim to spend a week at the Disneyland Resort (I plan to split my time between the Uva Bar in Downtown Disney, the Cove Bar behind Ariel’s Grotto, the lounge at the Carthay Circle, and the Hearthstone Lounge in the Grand Californian – sense a theme here?), and with all this talk about makers before the Maker Movement, it reminded me of this wonderful video I saw of late:

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First of all, if you don’t know about the Disney History Institute, go check it out. So much neat history and imagery there. Second, this video made me think about Walt Disney as a maker. Disneyland was the first modern theme park. Before it, there were amusement parks, but those were a different beast. Walt created the idea of a park built around a theme, and today the Disney parks are the gold standard against which all others are measured.

But what’s really interesting to see in the video collection above and the notes that go with it is how much was unfinished, or tried and quickly discarded. There were no costumed characters in the first year (they borrowed costumes from the Ice Capades show for special occasions). They had cool motorboats. There were safety violations galore. There were rides next to piles of dirt! Disneyland was, at its start, very much a work in progress, being made and re-made as it went, on a shoestring. It was a maker’s paradise.

Here at Maker HQ, that kind of energy is all around. Right now, we are in the middle of so many programs and projects, it’d make your head spin. We launched Maker Camp this week, which is just amazing; kids from all over the world sharing in the joy of making. If you haven’t, you should join the Maker Camp Community, just to see the projects they are sharing. It will inspire you!

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We’re also hard at work on two volumes of the magazine slated to come out before the end of the year. V36 is going to be all about boards – you know, things like Arduino and Raspberry Pi. There are so many new ones out there, that it’s hard to keep up! So, we’re collecting all the up-to-date info available: especially all the cool specialty boards coming out of crowdfunding sites. So often, the people behind these are just awesome makers who had the need for a feature that wasn’t out there on the market already, or required serious modding to achieve, and so they designed their own board and offered it up for anyone else with the same needs. Definitely one tendril of the Maker Singularity at work!

[Here’s a little inside-baseball on assembling a magazine: one of our biggest challenges right now with respect to the Boards issue is coming up with a compelling cover image/design. How do you create a magazine cover about a small green and black piece of electronics so exciting, so compelling that it flies off the shelves? It’s a question that our Creative Director Jason Babler is struggling with. Feel free to post your ideas in the comments!]

The other magazine in progress is an update to our 3D printer guide. I can’t tell you too much about it (our Technical Editor Sean Ragan is keeping things under wraps until we have our big weekend testing blitz), but with all the new machines that have come out over the last year, and all the innovation going on in this space, we’re taking this one to 11. Just know that we take our job providing this important resource to makers very seriously.

We have our partnership with RadioShack helping us put out some amazing Weekend Projects. If you are an electronics enthusiast, you’ll really want to check them out (I was very proud to do the voiceover for the first one). It’s so neat to see RadioShack embracing this space again!

new-york-circle-logoAnd at the same time as all of this other stuff, planning is underway for World Maker Faire, in New York in September. I’m really excited to go to NY for my first WMF this year, because while I know there’s a lot of the same energy as Maker Faire Bay Area, there will be so many new things to see. And there’s a place where you can help out. Our Call for Makers is open right now. What does that mean? It means if you’re a maker, if you’re creating cool stuff, apply to us and you might get a free space to come show it off at the Faire! Here are the kinds of things we look for:

  • Student projects
  • Robotics
  • Arduino projects
  • Raspberry Pi
  • Space projects
  • Food makers
  • Conductive materials projects
  • Kit makers
  • Interactive art projects
  • 3D printers and CNC mills
  • Textile arts and crafts
  • Home energy monitoring
  • Rockets and RC toys
  • Sustainability
  • Green tech
  • Radios, vintage computers and game systems
  • Electronics
  • Electric vehicles
  • Biology/biotech and chemistry projects
  • Puppets
  • Kites
  • Bicycles
  • Shelter (tents, domes, etc.)
  • Music performances and participation
  • Unusual tools or machines
  • How to fix things or take them apart (vacuums, clocks, washing machines, etc.)

And that’s not even the tip of the iceberg. So, consider applying. I’m personally trying to get some geeky music acts into the mix. I’ve been podcasting about nerdore, chiptunes, and more with my buddy Z (@hipsterplease) for years now, and these folks who are making cool music, often hacking their own instruments and creating imaginative shows on a DIY basis are inspirations. And if you’re not local to the event, we even have a special Road to Maker Faire Challenge going on, that could help you get there.


You can count on hearing more from me here on the blog. My goal is to get some conversations going with all you great makers out there. We’re here to talk WITH you, not just at you, and we want to generate more of that two-way communication. As always, you can submit links and project ideas. I’m also running an experiment with a Make Magazine SubReddit, so folks can submit links and vote on them to tell us what everyone really wants us to write about. You can always nudge me on Twitter. And please, if there are subjects you’d like to hear more about, or you’d just like to say hello and tell me about what you’re working on, leave a note in the comments. We read every one!

p.s. In a strange, synchronistic manner, the press release for the trailer for this movie that I had not heard about just dropped in my email. The story of Walt Disney cajoling the rights to make a Mary Poppins movie from P.L. Travers, with Tom Hanks as Walt and Emma Thompson as Mrs. Travers. I can’t wait to see this!

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Ken is the Grand Nagus of GeekDad.com. He's a husband and father from the SF Bay Area, and has written three books filled with projects for geeky parents and kids to share.

View more articles by Ken Denmead