Emotion and Empathy Are Glue for Makers

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Emotion and Empathy Are Glue for Makers

In 2020, Dr. Andreea Gorbatai and two co-authors published a research paper in the journal Organization Science titled: “Making Space for Emotions: Empathy, Contagion, and Legitmacy’s Double-Edged Sword.” It’s about the maker movement and what holds it together. It turns out, it’s not skills and tools as much as it is emotions and empathy — they are the glue for community.

Dr. Andreea Gorbatai (@AndreeaGorbatai) is a professor in the management department at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. Growing up in Romania, she is a sociologist by training and she is particularly interested in studying “new forms of organizations and organizing.” Her “Making Space for Emotions” paper looks at how a new field of endeavor starts with a core community and then struggles to maintain its connections and coherence as it grows. As it becomes more popular or recognized, a process called legitimation, more people are exposed to it and the community grows but at the expense of losing some of its coherence. This is the double-edged sword that the paper refers to.

The workings of an old projector fascinates young makers at World Maker Faire in NYC (photo: Becca Henry)

Her own interest in the maker movement led her to use it as a case study. She wondered what role Maker Faire played in maintaining those connections in the community and inviting more people to understand makers and participate. She believes that having a shared emotional experience is what connects people to each other and the community. “What happens at Maker Faires that revitalizes the maker community and brings people together into a shared maker identity?” was one of her research questions. Her answer is that being a maker is less about credentials and accomplishments and more about how you feel about yourself, your projects and the stories that you share with others who realize, in turn, that they have stories of their own to share.

Young makers at World Maker Faire in NYC (photo: Becca Henry)

I had the opportunity recently to sit down with Dr. Andreea Gorbatai and talk about her research into the maker movement. I was also happy to have my first in-person meeting with someone outside my family, ever since COVID-19 changed how we see each other.

Dr. Andreea Gorbatai at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley


Emotion and Empathy Are Glue for Makers

Long story short, we ended up using the media coverage to quantify and show that the story that is being told about makers and who makers are becomes more coherent in the aftermath of Maker Faires.

Andreea: A lot of times we want to define things based on exclusion. So saying people are like this and not like that. This is who you are; this is who we are not. In makers by definition, being a maker is very inclusive label. So it was just like, am I a maker if I’m making a recipe, if I’m making my grandma’s recipe, but what if I modify it? But what if I like to repair my bike, and people want to put a boundary on that.  Inside Maker Faire people come out, as far as I found with a much broader definition or more inclusive understanding of – these people are makers because they are willing to experiment and learn on their own and they’re open to sharing and they have this enthusiasm.

It’s like infectious and they’re super excited. Like they have this light in their eyes. That’s it’s hard to be scientific about the light in their eyes, but it’s something that’s there.

Dale: That’s Dr. Andreea Gorbatai. In 2020, she, along with two co-authors published a research paper in the journal, Organization Science titled “Making Space for Emotions: Empathy, Contagion, and Legitimacy’s Double-edged Sword.” It’s about the maker movement and what holds it together. It turns out, it’s not skills and tools as much as it is emotions and empathy. They are the glue for community.

So being a maker is less about credentials and accomplishments and more about how you feel about yourself and the stories that you share.

Hello, I’m Dale Dougherty. Welcome to Make: Cast.

We’re here at the Haas School of Business in Berkeley, California in a seminar room that is under construction at the end of the semester. Still during COVID the buildings mostly closed, but I’m delighted to be here with Andrea Gorbatai, who is a professor here and has written a really interesting paper using makers and the maker movement as a kind of a case study for other things.  We’re going to explore that today. But first of all, welcome and give me some background on yourself.

Andreea: Thank you for having me here. It’s a pleasure to have a chance to sit down with Dale. I finally meet in person after this pandemic and such a treat to be a part of the maker community.

 I’m originally from Romania. I came to the US for college. The way I describe my own career progress is going from mathematics to economics to social sciences. So going from the technical side of things, into being more and more interested in people. Here at Haas, I’m a professor in the Department of Management of Organizations. And my training is as a sociologist but I’ve become deeply involved as a phenomenon of the maker movement and Maker Faires because both the appeal that it has for me as someone who identifies as a maker, someone who likes making things and exploring and learning on my own and as a community that brings people together for both sort of economic and social purposes in not only in the United States, but more broadly around the world.

Dale: You went from really technical subjects to people oriented things. Did you have an experience or a revelation or something that caused you to say I’m moving away from economics and mathematics to social sciences?

Andreea: I would say what happened is being in mathematics in Romania, I learned mathematics very well. I was very good at it. I was going to the math Olympics and I’d never quite connected how mathematics, like in its most extreme abstract forms applied to the real world. So then I switched to economics whereby it was easy. You have different functional forms, you can figure out what’s the equilibrium point. How do you solve for various values? So there was a direct application of mathematics to solving things that had to do with the real world, with the economy, with people.

And from there, like gaining an increasing understanding of how important it is, how we bring people together, how we bring people together in organizations, how we bring people together in communities in order to do things and how important it is. Not just the technical side of getting stuff done, but the people side. So that’s how I ended up in a management department and being very interested in particular in new forms of organizations and organizing. So my research interests span looking at crowdfunding, looking at Wikipedia, looking at the maker movement and how these contribute to generating well-being and meaning and growth and innovation.

Dale: So even though you’re at a business school, you’ve actually been studying organizations that really are different than the traditional corporate structure, right? Wikipedia, for example.

Andreea: Yeah. Yeah. So I’ve had a very strong interest in understanding how these various initiatives are contributing to society.

And it’s Dale and I were talking about the challenges of doing that, especially for me coming from a quantitative perspective. It’s not as easy to quantify what makers bring to the world as much as you can quantify profits and like the stock market exchange and the valuation of companies by various venture capital firms.

So it’s very hard to tell what does this add to our knowledge? What does this add to our well-being? What does this add to society? But as we’ve seen, for example Dale and I were chatting about the Open Source Medical Supply initiative that has helped produce almost, I think, 50 million PPE throughout the world as a network of makers that self-organized, coordinated this production. It has contributed to, to dealing with real life problems that we were confronting.

Dale: As a researcher, you have a set of research interests, yours are in sort of organizational behavior and development. And what were you looking at? What was the fit between the research and then the case study or the example?

Andreea: In the case of makers, my interest, I would say, started with being at Harvard. I was doing my PhD and I lived very close to the Artisan Asylum space, which was just being set up in 2011 when I was there.

I was studying Wikipedia at the time. I was studying how people self-organized to produce knowledge online and how they create the norms of working together. So I wanted to go into a physical space such as  Artisan’s Asylum and understand how people generate innovation and how people put together their ideas or collaborate or co-exist in a space when they have very different skills, very different backgrounds. So this was my initial foray into the maker movement. And from there on becoming more involved in makerspaces, interviewing people in various makerspaces on East Coast and West Coast. As a result of this involvement I have attended Maker Faires.  I realized there was something qualitatively different that was happening at Maker Faires. So this kind of what gave birth to this project that basically looks at what is the secret sauce? What happens at Maker Faires that revitalizes the maker community and brings people together into a shared maker identity? And that’s how this project ended up happening.

Dale: In your paper, you were looking at when a new field emerges or, like makers initially, it has some coherence because there’s a small group of people that identify that and in effect role model it but as it begins to expand, it can be a challenge to keep that together.

So it either loses or is diluted.  I think the point of your paper was looking at how Maker Faire, helped to in a sense, keep that identity strong. I think you say something that it gave a common story to a lot of different people doing different things, who might not have seen themselves as makers or fit into this community. But once they started telling their story that way, they understood that they fit.

Andreea: I couldn’t have said it better. I couldn’t have said it better. So yeah, the the way the literature has thought about the problem of legitimation of new fields. So for example, when personal computers were invented or, like the cell phones, the question is for people participating in the industry or in the field, and also for consumers, for people investing in that industry, the question starts being like, What is this an example of? So there are incentives for people to band together and have a very coherent story.

This is the way we’re creating food. That’s healthy, it’s organic. For example, this is the way we’re creating, microbreweries that are small batch and they’re locally made and all these attributes that they have. So you have to create a story that is coherent in order to take a stand and say, this is what is the service or the product we’re providing?

And this brings producers together, but as a field gains legitimacy and more prominence, for example, so you can think of organic food where a lot of the industrial farming has entered. You can think of microbreweries and how they’ve been acquired by larger breweries, some of them. You could think of green energy. The green energy field was initially, people locally having initiatives and then receiving subsidies and just becoming a more industrialized type of endeavor. As the industries or fields are expanding and gaining more prominence and attracting more funding, they also attract individuals who are different, some of them might be more interested in making money. Others might be tangentially related to this industry about they want to participate because of the subsidies or because of the novelty of the phenomenon. So that leads to the story losing coherence.

So it becomes about other things than the essential core initiative that people have had. The literature in organizational theory and organizational behavior has referred to this as a “double-edged sword” of legitimacy whereby you want to be legitimate, but as you’re attracting more attention, you’re also attracting more different ideas and ideals.

So what I have found is that Maker Faires function as this wonderful mechanism of bringing people together to revitalize that and increase the coherence of the story that’s being told. We are all makers and discovering the shared values that people have.

Dale: The word that, maybe is unusual, in at least a business presentation sometimes, or research, is emotion.  You use the word emotion to identify almost what I say is the common feeling that people had being at Maker Faire.

And prior to Maker Faire, I would’ve called it enthusiasm. People had this feeling about their work and they shared it and it came out as they talked about it, someone sharing their enthusiasm with you. But I think it was emotion, as opposed to maybe ideology or other constructs tied people together to that core, I thought that was really interesting.

Andreea: For me being at Maker Faires brought together two specific strings, one of them being academic and one of them being personal. The academic string would be that there has been interest in what’s referred to as “field configuring events”.

And they’re basically events that bring together people from, share a common interest in like reducing global warming or figuring out world peace. And they bring them together in at the table to figure out a way forward together. And literature has very much focused on the role of information sharing in those things.

How do we get agreements? How would we have a checkbox? How would we get a standard? So like standards setting as a role of these gatherings. And then on the personal side, I would say very often in in research, we joke about how like all of our research is a me-search, right?

It’s something that we are grappling with. Very often, we sometimes in sociology, we have a joke that like sociologists tend to be very socially awkward. I don’t know if more so than other academics, but there is a sense of we are trying to understand how people work together and like how people create social networks and how people share, gossip or secrets or confidences.

It’s a lot of me-search. And for me, I think coming from mathematics, coming from a very technical background, and to be honest from Eastern Europe, which is like not a very — like your emotions are like more inside — seeing such a joyous and enthusiastic experience and seeing how people, seeing the light, like glowing in people’s eyes, like the light bulb go on. And people being very excited. People who are shy and awkward and like maybe not comfortable with finding their place, being passionate about something and like lighting up when they tell you about oh, like this particular geometry is like really important for designs of wind turbines and bicycles and this and that, or being like passionate about the design of hula hoops. And if you have the weight distributed in different ways and they do experiments and they try different materials and seeing that kind of like infectious passion for learning and experimenting is something that, that really intrigued me because it hadn’t been looked at in the literature. Does it matter that we feel so strongly about things and it turns out, it does.

Dale: The area that I see the immediate application is perhaps to business, but in education.  Kids are excited about a project they’re doing; it’s really different than when they’re being told to do something even for purposes of a grade.

Part of the joy of Maker Faire is that these are things that people have decided they care about. They’ve made the choice to do that, and I think in some ways that the event was about getting more people to think they could make that choice, they could do stuff. It didn’t matter. Whether it was great or just small and awesome in its own.

Andreea: I think in light of the global pandemic saying contagious or infectious, it sounds bad right now, but like in the early stages of writing the paper, I think that was one of the most salient event phenomena that we observed is that you would have people participating. And like part of the genius of how Maker Faires are set up is that you have people who are very different in their particular type of projects in the same hall, in the same space discovering each other’s shared passion for things. So talking about the chemistry of making bath bombs versus the chemistry of making sculptures and making things that are kinetic and making things that are drones and  discovering both like the depths of each other’s passion and perhaps overlaps or intersections of their particular skills.And then having the participants, some of whom are our children or, people who don’t think of themselves as makers, come to this realization of mixing like chocolate with different spices. Like maybe I’m a maker too. Maybe I could learn a way to use this particular shape to pour it into a sculpture or make a thing that is like my own.

And I can have, I can feel empowered. I can have pride about it. I can feel like excited about being a maker and being part of this shared identity, being part of the story. Dale and I were chatting about a more meta aspect of, people looking for meaning where you have jobs and you have a family, or you have roommates, but people want to have meaning in their lives. And it could be jobs. It could be hobbies, it could be things that you’re excited about, but it adds a different dimension to who we are.

Dale: Tell me about your research methods. Like when you decided that maker was something you wanted to study, how did you pursue that? How did you go about figuring out what was there? Because it’s like you said, it’s not as formal a structure of saying there’s startups or there’s an industry segment. How did you go about that?

Andreea: Yeah. So that was a long iterative process. Very often what happens in my research field is that people will have a database like Crunchbase or LinkedIn or Glassdoor or some sort of database that lists all the items that are the same. All the start-ups, all the VCs, all the patents; you take the patent database and see who references who, and this is how an idea spreads through different organizations or there are ideas that are being recombined in particular ways. And you can trace them through these electronic materials.

The challenge with makers was that I didn’t have this. I wanted to tell a story about the maker movement and Maker Faires and I didn’t have this particular archive of this particular electronic resource to draw upon. So in the initial stages, what I did is that I was looking at the media coverage of the maker movement and seeing how the media was making sense. The media as an audience, if you will, was trying to make sense of what are makers doing, who are makers, what are Maker Faires for and trying to quantify that. And in the very first steps I encountered two difficulties, one of them was in particular, it was hard to tell, what is the story that the media is telling exactly because it’s influenced by who’s on the beat for covering this particular phenomenon, how far you are from the location of the Faire, from like a major newspaper or how large is the Maker Faire, but also trying to quantify the emotion in the text. So trying my good-old quantitative methods didn’t quite work out because I was trying to quantify the sentiment and I was using a dictionary or sentiment analysis as recurring neural networks or some sort of other like black box algorithm, trying to quantify: is this article more emotional than the other article? And I realized that I wasn’t that much interested in whether the media coverage or the experience was more emotional in like intensity of positive emotion, as much as it was a particular type of emotion. It was people feeling inspired and empowered and enthusiastic.

When you do something that’s surprising, people are feeling awe, people are surprised. So capturing that particular emotion in the media coverage of the text turned out to be rather difficult. With one of my former students, Cyrus Dioun, who’s now a professor at UC Denver, we ended up going out to Maker Faires and asking people: Who is a maker or what are you doing here? How was your experience? What do you get out of this? So trying to get the individual experience and what they are doing.

I think that’s a particular challenge I’ve had as a quantitative researcher, advising students who are interested in quantitative research is that very often right now we have access to large data sets. You have millions of data points where you can look at patterns. And very often the way I would describe these data sets is that they are broad, but very thin. You don’t know why people are doing things.

You don’t know the process of which the data is generated. Sometimes you don’t know what’s missing from the data. So it made a big difference to be at the Maker Faire in San Mateo or Santa Cruz or in Oakland and see what do people think they are doing? How do they feel about being here? What do they get out of it? Both participants and exhibitors in the Maker Faires.

Long story short, we ended up using the media coverage to quantify and show that the story that is being told about makers and who makers are becomes more coherent in the aftermath of Maker Faires.  It becomes more coherent when a particular area has annual Maker Faires, recurring Maker Faires. So the more makers meet periodically and they exchange, they showcase their projects and they learn from each other and with each other, the more the story of who we are as makers become more coherent, becomes more coherent in how it’s being told.

Dale:  It’s hard to promote Maker Faires, hard to tell people, what it was.

Andreea:  Yeah.

Dale:  They had to experience it, we’d say.  But once they did, they understood what it was. Because in some ways it required people to tell their friends that they enjoyed it and almost that’s what they would say, not what it was, but that they enjoyed it with their family, for instance.

Andreea: It’s that enthusiasm; it is that experience. It’s the fact that the other element we were briefly chatting about is like the genius of having the hands-on exhibitors that allow you to “glue your own.” I think I still, I, in the 2011  World Maker Faire in New York city, I made a little flashlight with a light bulb and a battery and just glued it. Then I put a little cover over it. And I think I still have it somewhere in my purse.It’s just like I made that I have nice flashlights. I have a lot of technology surrounding me, but the fact that I made that little thing — I went to the Maker Faire and it’s not that what I bought was $2 but that I took a glue gun or a soldering iron and I made that particular, that particular flashlight.

I was like, it’s much more meaningful. So at what we ended up doing is that we ended up going out and interviewing these people and adding a component to the paper where we said, this is what people told us that they’re doing. And the editors of the journal, where it was ultimately published, pushed back and said you have to systematically analyze interviews. If you have qualitative data, it’s still a systematic research process you have to do. So we added Kisha Lashley, who was a wonderful co-author and a qualitative researcher who spent a lot of time analyzing the interviews and seeing emerging themes of how the experience at the Maker Faire.

So this particular shared emotion and the particular empathy that people have for each other, recognizing their shared passion for being makers translates into a shared identity. It translates into just having your story.

Dale: How do you make that quantitative?

Andreea: It’s essentially the best I can explain as the quantitative researcher is iterating the analysis of texts.

So like what people would call in the natural language processing  — n-grams, right? So it’s like pieces of sentences or expressions or themes that repeatedly show up in texts from multiple speakers in multiple responses, and then consolidating those themes. This theme is about shared emotion or contagion, emotional contagion. A theme is about empathy and like recognizing each other’s experience as being a common experience. This theme is about identity and who we are, and the fact that we are this together and reaching the point where these start hanging together and it becomes obvious that there’s a co-occurrence happening in how the story is being told. So that’s where you can infer. There’s a social mechanism that translates this emotion, this energy of the emotion into telling the same story, powers the same story because it’s not just about we all have the same information and we are all at the Maker Faire.

Dale: It’s not people just saying they had a good time. It’s people telling a story about that time that kind of fits in with what other people are saying.

Andreea: Yeah, and I think feeling like they’re part of that story, right? Because you can go to a — I don’t know — a convention for like tattoo artists or for musicians or something. Or it’s just ComicCon, right? I’ve never been, but I would like to go one day. I have friends who go to ComicCon and sure, it’s a cool experience that you see all these characters from movies and shows that you like, but you’re not them. They are producing something for you. Whereas at Maker Faire, I feel like you’re part of it; you don’t know as much as all the people, you’re not an exhibitor, but you are part of the same story.

Dale: Which I like to feel like we could build on. And in reading your research is like, I wonder how can we build on this to understand the community better. We can bring lots of more people in and because they share this common experience, they walk away feeling part of this community, which is really hard to do. Because you can bring a lot more people in and have them walk away feeling that was interesting but different from me or that’s not me. I think that’s one of the things your research helps enable is saying, this is a positive force for growing the movement and growing participation in it. And obviously COVID has wiped out most of the Maker Faires over the last year and hopefully they’ll come back.

But you’re also looking at this for other organizations as well. This is a kind of organization, the maker community, and in a context like Haas and the business school, how do they look at Maker Faire or what lessons could they learn from Maker Faire?

Andreea: That’s an interesting question. I think a lot of where we can learn from both the experience during COVID and also from the overall maker initiatives would be to be reminded of the value of motivation and authenticity in participation. The fact that when your employees — Dale and I were talking a little bit about some failed, some successful initiatives of maker spaces in companies, or established around larger companies — the value of harnessing the enthusiasm of people. It’s not harnessing it in a economic fashion and getting people tricked into contributing to the corporate success, but having people who believe in what they’re doing, who are enthusiastic and who have the space or given the space or given the freedom to explore things is very valuable. I think both for  fully using our human capacities, our human abilities, and for having happier and more fulfilling organizational cultures as well. So I think there’s definitely a value to it.

The other aspect of it is the, I would say, extra-organizational aspect — the extent to which makers have been able to be more nimble and so breakdown like legal barriers, institutional barriers to putting together an emergency response during the pandemic in ways that governments and established corporations were not able to respond. So we were talking about the example of like ventilator designs or even masks and face shields and the ability of producing that on the spot and coordinating, local production with local hospitals and also coordinating designs at a global level.

And I think there’s a lesson to be learned there about sort of network structures of collaboration that are not hierarchical.

Dale: I think that’s a really good way of getting at what happened during COVID-19 at least in the maker community. Networks. There wasn’t a central command, they were distributed; but they were sharing, they were connected.

That seems like a capability that business could learn from, even government could learn from.  What I’m interested in is what’s an interface between a maker effort, like Open Source Medical Supplies and government? How can government support it, not diminish it? How could government enable it, empower it? I also think in education, there’s a lot to learn because education isn’t centrally managed, it’s distributed, but they don’t do a good job at sharing often.

Andreea: I think for me, one of the interesting things that has come up is thinking of the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

And this is something that I bring up to my students in class. I think generally speaking, at least in a very traditional perspective of thinking about organizations, corporations have thought of, if I pay these people more, they’re going to work more. And there’s a level of discomfort;  it’s an uncharted territory for a lot of organizations that people will work more because it’s fun, because they’re passionate about solving a problem, because they care.

So there’s a level of, oh, what does this mean for my pay scale? What does this mean for my organizational structure? For my promotions? Because when you give people the freedom in the making context , we can see people will contribute, to be civically engaged and contribute to repairing things in their neighborhood.

I was talking about an example in Cambridge, where they were repairing newspaper boxes that involved some painting and some welding and some art, required artistic contributions from people expressing themselves through the redesign of these boxes. So when you give people the freedom to be creative, they will be involved and participate in this, but you have to create an institutional framework and the connection for enabling that. And if you are solving it with money, very often you will displace those intrinsic motivations.

Dale: What are you working on next, and will you continue to study the maker movement?

Andreea: I do have additional data on the maker movement that I had collected a few years back. I collected data on maker spaces and the extent to which people and maker spaces — this is an interesting thing to think about right now in light of what we’ve gone through with the pandemic.

What I’ve observed is that in maker spaces, a lot of the ideas that came together collaboratively were coming together by necessity of having a shared physical space. So it wasn’t that people would go out and look up a YouTube video online, how to 3d print something. And then they come to the maker space and push the button and print the object. It’s by nature of working with other people or receiving input from other people.  The other element I’ve documented is a lot of the makerspaces will have more or less organized bins of scraps and materials. So if I’m trying to 3D print a cell phone case, I will look at, oh, like someone left this material, that’s like ABS plastic and some will left this that’s different and maybe I could do it. Maybe I could combine them. How about I experiment? Oh, this works. So I’ll buy extra material. So I can have that ability of experimenting both with like ideas and experience, engaging with other people’s learning and engaging with other people’s artifacts or leftovers in iterating this.

So I think that’s an interesting aspect of it. There’s definitely an element of, I work with 3d printing, but someone left LEDs or some sort of other tangential thing. How about if I combine them into a new convergence of materials and ideas into a new project? So I think that’s interesting.

In terms of future projects, I am soon moving to the of Vlerick Business School in Belgium. So I’m excited to see to what extent either cultural differences or institutional setups for enabling collaborative innovation, open source projects are different in that space. And perhaps, building on my work here, continuing to collaborate, collaborating with Dale on some initiatives to basically bring to fruition the projects that the maker community is passionate about and also to the extent that we can quantify the role that makers have in society, not just the economy, but more broadly in educational spaces then society.

Dale: That’d be great. Part of where it’s fascinating to me about what you’re studying is a lot of the problems that I think we face as a country and as a world aren’t necessarily business problems, or they don’t have a business model behind them. There is a social model behind them, meaning people care, they want to see change. They want to know how to make that change. And I think that the future is figuring out how to use the talents of large numbers of people. You could inspire them perhaps or enable them. You can’t direct them. And I think that’s the interesting  pattern that we see in the maker movement that perhaps is extensible to solving problems in the future.

Andreea: I don’t know of any specific initiatives, either the Open Source Medical Supply Initiative, or I know they’re some related initiatives to create PPE in responding to the pandemic needs, but I think that in some ways, the need that we’ve had over the past year to push some things into the virtual space, like create platforms for interaction much more than we had before, because we couldn’t interact in person, I’m hopeful that might help revitalize international collaborations, global exchanges of ideas, and the maker community. Although perhaps I’m biased, but based on my own research on the Maker Faires, the role of in-person excitement and emotional contagion of having that feeling of hands-on participation and experiential learning and experiencing things together is rather irreplaceable.

Dale: We want to go from viral contagion to…

Andreea: emotional contagion. Yeah. Happy, emotional contagion. I think it’s a very, it’s a very powerful force. I would say in light of the past year, people are reconsidering their life choices and priorities. There’s a lot of will to change. And there’s a lot of awareness that things like pandemics or environmental change are things that we need to deal with.

Dale: It struck me, you mentioned the word empathy in there and it’s a common word used today, but there’s a dimension around this that just made me think of it. At a place like Maker Faire, we actually see ourselves in those other people. That’s a kind of empathy that because someone likes to play with robots or someone likes to cook and we like to cook or play with robots, we see that connection and that’s really what we’re getting at here. And I think certainly during COVID we felt sometimes a lack of connection or just a virtual connection which wasn’t as powerful.

Andreea: It’s definitely a very different type of emotion I would say. And there’s been research done on zoom fatigue by my colleagues at Stanford, but  there’s like the multisensory and the immersive dimension that’s missing from being in front of the zoom screen. And it’s beautiful because you can connect with people in other time zones but it’s not the same experience as being in the same room with people, having those small chit chats in the breaks between different sessions or having coffee, the water cooler conversations, like all of that is missing right now from the virtual environment.

And I think it’s very vital. There’s research that talks about motivations at work and one of the four is like an ABCD framework. A is acquiring, so we want to be promoted; we want to be successful. B is bonded. C has to do with challenges and exploration and learning. D has to do with defending, feeling that the organization is fair and just. And I think this dimension of belonging has been very challenged, right? So it’s just not having that shared commute with colleagues, lunch breaks, having the sheer, like chit chats experiences, the photos you have on your table that people ask you, like how was this vacation? Like, how old are your kids? How are they doing things like that. We’re missing all that, the exchanges in the interest of organization.

Dale: Sometimes that’s compensated for by having that in your local community, your church or social league or whatever, but we’ve been missing that as well. So it’s compounded.

Andreea: So Dale and I were talking a little bit about the role of associations in social life and cultural life and civic life and in society. And how, in some sense things like maker spaces, function as these. I like to refer as them as like third places, right? So it’s not necessarily the bar or the street corner or the, what used to be the bowling alley that Putnam talked about.  It could be a place where people come together and they tinker on hobbies, and then maybe you’ll learn something, you teach your kids things or you learn as you’re making yourself a new bag. You’re making yourself a new Microsoft surface holder or something like that, but you’re learning with others. And there’s a, there’s an irreplaceable aspect to that.

Dale: Here’s a closing thought. What it makes me think of is how could maker spaces and Maker Faires move towards each other a little bit, right? How could that localized maker space that’s open year round have more of that emotional content and that connection and not just be how I look in there and people are doing their work, but there’s something there for me to get engaged in. Not just about the machines or about the materials that are around, but the experiences that are there.

Andreea: So I would say that you have many maker spaces within the Maker Faires that are trying to replicate that experience. But I think maker spaces, I know a lot of them are under various constraints in terms of having like funding and space and legal requirements, but having either something that is accessible. I know one of the complaints that I’ve heard raised against to some extent against the maker movement is that it is somewhat more accessible for people with disposable incomes and people of a particular, a particular gender or age group or so having some sort of like accessible initiatives for free classes, free training for  retooling for people lacking experience, like apprentice type of models. I know Tech Shop had some initiatives like that for veterans, if I’m not mistaken. Having something like open houses, some maker spaces do them, but having a community type of a show where people can come and experience this is how it would be. I know the Crucible does a little bit of that in Oakland. So having this is how you could do like blowing and make your own, I don’t know, bell.

Dale: Most people don’t have a good understanding of what goes on in those spaces, why they would be important to them. It’s takes  while to establish that. Opening out to the community is a really big thing, whether it’s through Maker Faire or something else.

Andreea: Perhaps spaces in schools or in the libraries that I know that they have more limitations in terms of what kind of equipment they can use and things like that because they don’t have ventilation or they don’t have the infrastructure necessary. They could function as a bridge to, oh, if you want to learn more about welding, you could go to the space, that’s down the street, that’s more of an industrial space.

Dale: I think one of the roles that makerspaces and Maker Faires is to connect people more deeply to their community at large, do you know that there’s multiple places to go to and multiple opportunities to learn?

And I think one of the big things that I’d love to see is that in a sense through Maker Faires and maker spaces, we’re trying to create learning communities and it’s everywhere. It isn’t just school. It’s the person that knows how to do something. It’s the person that might open up their garage. It’s the person that has an art studio. These are all opportunities that could be better connected and not everybody can access and find those opportunities. We could do a better job.

Andreea: I think one thing I would add, and it’s just the idea just came to me because I studied Wikipedia. I think that having a way so Wikipedia in its early stages, especially was very good at creating, having a shared purpose. We’re creating a compendium for learning, this desire for knowledge, we have to present both sides. We have to have references. These are the norms of engaging and then giving space to volunteers to come in and out, according to those norms or rules and self aggregate and coordinate.

So if we were to have a similar ability to have a well-defined civic project or like neighborhood project, where like I know one of my friends, for example, in Oakland, participating to creating some murals. I have friends who participant in like planting trees and things like that. So you have an equivalent, that’s like a maker, a multi-disciplinary initiative where people in that community are coming together to create things and they can contribute different things that they can be artistic. They can be like visual, musical, technological, participating to that hands-on project together. It would create like a community glue.

Dale: Yeah, I think that’s great. And I think people are looking for those kinds of experiences where they can contribute and do something.

Andreea, thank you very much.

Andreea: It’s my pleasure.

Dale: And good luck on your move or sorry to lose you here in Berkeley.

Andreea: I’ll be back.

Dale: We wish you well

Andreea: Hope I continue to contribute to the community. Thank you.

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DALE DOUGHERTY is the leading advocate of the Maker Movement. He founded Make: Magazine 2005, which first used the term “makers” to describe people who enjoyed “hands-on” work and play. He started Maker Faire in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2006, and this event has spread to nearly 200 locations in 40 countries, with over 1.5M attendees annually. He is President of Make:Community, which produces Make: and Maker Faire.

In 2011 Dougherty was honored at the White House as a “Champion of Change” through an initiative that honors Americans who are “doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.” At the 2014 White House Maker Faire he was introduced by President Obama as an American innovator making significant contributions to the fields of education and business. He believes that the Maker Movement has the potential to transform the educational experience of students and introduce them to the practice of innovation through play and tinkering.

Dougherty is the author of “Free to Make: How the Maker Movement Is Changing our Jobs, Schools and Minds” with Adriane Conrad. He is co-author of "Maker City: A Practical Guide for Reinventing American Cities" with Peter Hirshberg and Marcia Kadanoff.

View more articles by Dale Dougherty


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