Smoke Signals

July 17th, 2015

Welcome to the Tribal Worldwide weekly Smoke Signals trend report, news from the frontier of digital marketing. We’ve scoured the net to bring you the hottest stories in the digital, media, and marketing space. Have any thoughts on any of these stories? We want to hear what you think!

In this issue:

The Maker Movement – Is It Still Happening?

The Maker Movement – Is It Still Happening?


The modern maker movement has found many fans since its inception in the mid 2000s, and I’m one of them. I purchased a MakerBot Replicator, a mid-tier consumer 3D printer, three years ago. Needless to say, its application for my own personal pursuits has been limited. There are only so many iPhone stands, photo frames, and chip clips you can create before you get a little bored with your printing options. However, some of my friends who immersed themselves deeper into the culture have used their 3D printers to create instruments, furniture, and even replacement automotive parts.

It’s important to point out that we’re currently in one of many maker movements or maker eras. The late 70s and early 80s saw another maker movement, known by most as the ‘microcomputer revolution,’ which heralded much of the innovation and progress that our current smartphones and tablets rely on today. Although just 35 years in the past, this era still fills many in the tech community with a deep sense of nostalgia. This has surely contributed to the growing interest in products like the Kano Computer and circuitry from Adafruit, two companies providing the makers of today with simple DIY hardware solutions reminiscent of those from the past. Software is still king, but hardware is rising in popularity. It has also inspired entertaining accounts of this pivotal time, such as Halt and Catch Fire, a drama on AMC that chronicles the bootstrapping and experimentation of the era.

The current maker movement, as well as prior movements, was born out of the idea of tinkering with technology. Neither 3D printers today and circuit boards then can be considered plug-and-play technology – as they are not finished nor perfect. I’ve had to fix the extruder (the device on a 3D printer that pushes out the hot filament when printing) on my Replicator multiple times. It could be argued that another maker movement, which took place at the turn of the 20th century, occurred with automobiles. The makers during that era were building and hacking cars. The technology was simplistic enough for most to understand and work with. The ending of all of these eras comes at the hands of technological complexity. When computers became mass-produced with faster processing power and all the bells and whistles, most makers stopped building their own machines. Due to rapid advances, the technology became ‘closed,’ and many makers lost their interest and desire to tinker. The same can be said within the automotive industry. At its birth, there were hundreds of small automotive brands compared to the two dozen that exist today.

With the recent news that 3D printer sales have slowed for the first time in a decade and staff layoffs at 3D printer manufacturers, is the consumer demand for ”making” on the decline? And more importantly, is the contemporary maker movement nearing its end?

These are questions that have surrounded me recently, and my firm belief is that this isn’t the case. If we use previous maker movements as any indicator, we’re nowhere near the refined technology that will render the current era extinct. In fact, there is even now the Congressional Maker Caucus, a group of 25 representatives in Washington, D.C., whose responsibility is to educate fellow representatives about maker technology with the belief that it one day could help America declare independence from Chinese-made generic goods.

Implications: Perhaps we need to redefine what the maker movement is. Rather than pinning an entire movement on a few critical technologies like 3D printing, robotics, and electronics, we should be looking to the greater community of makers. Unfortunately, we’ve had a limited view which I believe has distorted the recent sentiment of the movement in a negative light. When we say ”maker,” we should also be taking into account the millions of makers that use Etsy to sell their custom goods and crafts. Etsy went public earlier this year and is also celebrating its 10-year anniversary – an exciting milestone for the maker community. Additionally, we need to look to the millions of new content makers using apps like Periscope and Meerkat, essentially rendering themselves small-scale directors.

These numerous technological tools that we have at our fingertips essentially allow all of us to be makers. One of the best examples of this came from a recent encounter I had with Sean Baker, the director of the full-length feature film Tangerine, a Sundance award winner, which was filmed exclusively on the iPhone. Even Apple’s current campaign for the iPhone, “Shot on iPhone 6,“ is changing the paradigm of what a maker is. Sure, we might not all be 3D printing guitars, but should that really be the bar we need to hit to deem ourselves part of the maker movement? I predict a future where we are purchasing the art that resides on our walls from friends, and friends of friends, or even a craftswoman in Cambodia, whose store we happen to peruse while online.

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