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Resources for Makerspaces (March 2019): The Origins of the Maker Movement

by Janet Ochs, Richard Powell, and Lisa Czirr

The Origins of the Maker Movement

Makerspaces tend to have unique names based on the purpose and location of the space—fab labs, hackerspaces, or tech shops, for example. Regardless of the name or level of functionality, each of these spaces contribute to a new digital revolution—the maker movement.

In 1998, Neil Gershenfeld, the director of the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA), taught the first “How to Make (Almost) Anything” course. Seven years later, he published Fab: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop—from Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication. The book describes how he and other early adopters embraced and fostered making around the world. Gershenfeld explains how a CBA outreach project and subsequent establishment of fab labs gave individuals access to powerful creative tools. Gershenfeld predicts that fab labs will precede personal fabrication (PF) on the desktop, likening this transition to the movement from mainframes to minicomputers to PCs. 

Gershenfeld recently coauthored another book, Designing Reality: How to Survive and Thrive in the Third Digital Revolution, positing that digital communication, computation, and fabrication will drive the next digital revolution. Participants in the revolution will utilize a growing ecosystem of fab labs or makerspaces to develop highly customized products. As technology advances, personal fabrication will be as ubiquitous as PCs or cell phones are today. The authors speculate on the future, and discuss personal fabrication’s implications for society.

Dale Dougherty, another prominent Maker, launched Make magazine in 2005 and the Maker Faire in 2006, helping kick off the maker movement. In Free to Make: How the Maker Movement Is Changing Our Schools, Our Jobs, and Our Minds, Dougherty discusses the culture of making, describing it as a transformative and highly creative and societal revolution. His book takes the reader through the history of making and discusses some prominent makerspaces, detailing the communities that run them. According to Dougherty, making is a form of play that performs an essential psychological role; he encourages everyone to become involved in the maker movement.

 Making and a series of experiences from a for-profit organization called TechShop, Inc., is the basis for The Maker Movement Manifesto: Rules for Innovation in the New World of Crafters, Hackers, and Tinkerers, by Mark Hatch. A previous CEO of the organization, Hatch documents the history of the maker movement and provides a maker movement manifesto. The book mainly discusses makers outside of the academic realm, but it also offers insights into the birth of the movement and identifies key individuals, companies, and organizations that advanced it.

Sarah Davies’s book Hackerspaces: Making the Maker Movement incorporates interviews to shed light on the organizational structure, operational aspects, culture, and communities involved in running a hacker or makerspace—emphasizing the relationship between making and societal changes. Setting the book apart is a chapter devoted to the unique challenges of women and minority makers or hackers. Davies also provides an overview of Chris Anderson’s Makers: The New Industrial Revolution. An entrepreneur and owner of the company 3D Robotics, Anderson focuses on the business and entrepreneurial aspects of makerspaces, and the maker movement’s potential to affect the economy. Authors like Anderson characterize the maker movement as the next Industrial Revolution.

David Lang’s Zero to Maker: Learn (Just Enough) to Make (Just About) Anything functions as a roadmap, enabling readers to follow the author’s journey toward fully embracing the movement. Lang discusses his own misconceptions, such as the notion that makers are lone geniuses (in reality, making is a team effort), or that they need a scientific background. This is a useful guide for anyone unfamiliar with making or who—like Lang—is unsure where to start. Entrepreneurially minded readers will be particularly intrigued by Lang’s journey and advice, as he also discusses the business aspects of making.

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