Oxygen Lecture: Maker Culture 2/2

As promised here’s the text of the talk I gave at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, University of Dundee.  It is part of the Oxygen Lecture Series, organised by the University of East Anglia to address subjects – from digital technology to the environment – of critical contemporary relevance to society at venues in London and Scotland.

Commissioned by Creative Scotland, the series has been put together by Ian Chance, director of the MA in Creative Entrepreneurship at UEA London, the university’s London centre.

Here’s the text of the first lecture – it’s long. There will be a video available at some point.

Part 2: Respiration

[Slide: primordial earth ]

These two lectures will explore Maker culture and its impact on culture and society more generally.

Oxygenation: how maker culture came to be

Respiration: how to work in a world of makers

The titles of the two lectures reflect a major change in the Earth’s biosphere called The Great Oxygenation Event (GOE) (also known as the Oxygen Catastrophe or Oxygen Crisis or Great Oxidation),  the biologically induced appearance of free oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere, after which living organism could use it to drive respiration, the chemical reactions that are the basis of life[1].

Geological, isotopic, and chemical evidence suggest this major environmental change happened around 2.4 billion years ago. The emergence of free oxygen shaped the consequent evolution of all life and has given us the world we know today, just as the emergence of information and communications technologies based around electronic circuits has shaped the modern world.

[Slide: Arduino ]

The first lecture considered how we got here, looking at the history of technology, the emergence of hacker culture and open systems, the development of computers and the internet, and the ways culture, society and the economy have adapted to and influenced these developments, ending with the emergence of maker culture as a response to the plethora of electronic devices in daily life.

[Slide: 3D Bill ]

Tonight we will consider where we go from here, and the potential significance of faster, pervasive networks, mobile devices, 3D printing, sensor networks and other new technologies, touching on the movements to teach all children how to code, on issues around copyrights and patents, and on the ways artists and cultural organisations use – or could use -the new tools.   And it will try to explain why makers matter and what sort of world we could have if we allowed them to inspire us.



Yesterday I discussed the way the maker ethic emerged from the intersection of hobbyist/DIY culture and widely available electronics, fuelled by free software, facilitated by the internet and supported by a growing network of publications, events, organisations and make spaces.

[Slide: Makers cover ]

I described the work of Cory Doctorow, whose 2009 novel Makers Cory Doctorow projects us into a future where 3-D printers have passed through the stage of breathless Daily Mail features and into and out of the nexus of consumer technologies that shape our lives here, and what might happen if the capabilities they embody were to be set loose on a failing economy.

[Slide: Maker Faire ]

Makers is dedicated to ‘the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things’, and its main protagonists, Perry and Lester, are members of the maker culture, members of what Wikipedia calls  ‘a contemporary culture or subculture representing a technology-based extension of DIY culture’[2].

It is one that stresses new and unique applications of technologies, and encourages invention and prototyping, focused around electronics, robotics, 3-D printing, and the use of CNC tools, as well as more traditional activities such as metalworking, woodworking, and traditional arts and crafts.

Today I want to consider what that means, and where we might go next, now that we live in a world where you can easily find out how to:

[Slide: camera ]

send a smartphone into space (or near-space),

[Slide: Blinds ]

have your window blinds open and close automatically to keep the temperature in a room constant[3]

[Slide: Makie ears ]

add a microprocessor to your customised 3-D doll and make its ears perk up when you receive and email

[Slide: robot knitting ]

have a robot knit you a scarf

[Slide: wheelchair ]

adapt two kitchen scales to let your severely disabled child control their

[Slide: Makespace ]

Or visit a Makespace where you’ll find equipment, guidance and a community of like-minded people. Makespaces can be found around the world, including this one in Cambridge which was set up by my good friend Laura James in her plentiful free time.

Where Makers Came From

I think it’s sensible to see maker culture as the result of two separate movements that came together about a decade ago when we started putting electronics into almost every consumer durable: the hobbyists and the advocates of free software.

[Slide: Model Train]

The desire to look inside and see how things work is as old as the species – if not older, and there have always been hobbyists building model trains that really work, tinkering with cars to make hotrods and generally applying skill, ingenuity and inventiveness to fixing, modding and building.

[Slide: Custom car]

They haven’t stopped, they never went away, it’s just that many of them now express their creativity and tinkering instincts in ways that make use of relatively advanced technologies like lasers, microprocessors and robots, and as a result a facility with software is as important as knowing how to use a lathe or a bandsaw.

[Slide: desktop pc]

The desire to know how things work is both a political and a practical one. If you can’t open it then you don’t really control it or own it – but you can’t fix it, tinker with it or use it for things it wasn’t intended for, either. Maker culture is about doing stuff that violates manufacturer warranties in ways that might shock you.

But you also need to be able to get inside the things you want to use, change or fix. And if those things have computer in them –and increasingly they do – then you need to be able to write your own code.

[Slide: RMS]

So a second driving force behind maker culture is the free software movement,  started thirty years ago by a young programmer called Richard Stallman expressed his concern that he could not see the internals of the software that he was expected to use in his academic work by creating the GNU project and outlining the free software philosophy.

Free software means that the software’s users have freedom. (The issue is not about price.) We developed the GNU operating system so that users can have freedom in their computing.

Specifically, free software means users have the four essential freedoms: (0) to run the program, (1) to study and change the program in source code form, (2) to redistribute exact copies, and (3) to distribute modified versions.

Software differs from material objects—such as chairs, sandwiches, and gasoline—in that it can be copied and changed much more easily. These facilities are why software is useful; we believe a program’s users should be free to take advantage of them, not solely its developer[4].

Stallman’s work and that of the Free Software Foudnation continues, and many of the computer systems that we all rely on every day are based around GNU/Linux and other free software.


In order for Maker Culture to thrive there need to be things to make and things to make them with, and given the importance of computer control to the sorts of projects most makers undertake, there need to be accessible computers.

Here’s one: it’s a Lego Brick.  For me a key moment was when I got my hands on Lego Mindstorms

[Slide: Mindstorms]

Then there’s the Arduino

[Slide: Arduino]

Arduino started in 2005 as a project for students at the Design Institute of Ivrea, Italy. At that time program students used a processor board at a cost of $100, considered expensive for students.

[Slide: mbed]

There is the ARM mbed

[Slide: Raspberry Pi]

And of course the Raspberry Pi,  like the Arduino and mbed a low-cost microprocessor on a circuit board that can be used for many purposes.

[Slide: Hackable Hardware]

Along with cheap laptops, cameras, controllers, quadcopters and the rest of the panoply of easily available hackable hardware, it would be surprising if maker culture hadn’t emerged.

Manifestations of Maker Culture

Today the Makers are everywhere and their influence is growing.

[Slide: MMF]

Last month I attended the Mini Maker Fair in Brighton, the third event of the name and a great example of the current maker culture. It filled Brighton Dome with stalls and workshops and excited voices –some of the from kids, but not all. There was a robot knitting scarves, loads of ways to use Arduinos and Raspberry Pi computers and even a 3D scanning machine set up inside a wicker sculpture representing the torso of a pregnant woman that would scan and print you.

[Slide: scanning]

I got myself done – thanks to @3difiy

[Slide: Babbage]

The month before on Click we reported on a Teddy Bear that replicated Felix Baumgartner’s astonishing space jump

[Slide: Make]

And of course, there’s Make magazine, published quarterly since January 2005 that focuses on do it yourself (DIY) and/or DIWO (Do It With Others) projects, aimed at people who enjoy making things and featuring simple and complex projects which can often be completed with cheap materials.

[Slide: xxx]

So what does this mean? Is maker culture just an expression of the creative instincts of a few people with no wider significance for the ways we deploy modern technology

I think it is much more, a new expression of deeper human desires to make things and communicate how that go back to pre-history and are the root of our intelligence and civilisation.

[Slide: hominid]

We – the species – started by making tools, and the ability to share the skills involved have surely been central to our evolution.  The Internet, free software, open hardware and pervasive technologies are just the latest expression of a desire to make that goes back to the first hand-axe.

We continued by inventing writing, and then printing, and the history of civilisation could be seen as the failed attempt by those in power to control the consequences of the spread of technology to the masses.

Makespaces are the printing presses for the revolution and Makers are the revolutionaries seeking to hold back the tide of consumer culture and passive consumption.

[Slide: sharing]

In his paper Molecular management: Protocols in the maker culture[5] Otto von Busch says:

The maker culture is thus less of a DIY and more a do-it-together culture, merging collaborative play and interactions, often for the sake of shared curiosity. The mindset of the participants is that of the explorative craftsman; using a practical attitude of sharing ideas, methods and skills among practitioners, and the interactions are managed in a flat and meshworked manner through the use of protocols. 

[Slide: screens]

So how is the modern world being shaped by maker culture?

Maker culture has emerged at a time when screens and computers dominate the lives of many living in developed countries. Today’s middle-class children are growing up into a world dominated by networked devices, and they are being exposed to a real-time stream of status updates, snapchats, Whatsapp greetings and YouTube comments almost from birth.

Adults aren’t immune, of course. I doubt I’ve gone more than a couple of days without using a computer in the last twenty-five years, and have had a mobile phone with me for at least the last fifteen.

I find it hard to recall what it was like in my first term at university when the phone box on the corner of Silver Street and Trumpington Street was my connection to home, but I did at least have twenty years without computers in my life.  My daughter, however, is clearly in the real-time generation: I didn’t use a computer until I was nineteen, yet she built her first website when she was four.

[Slide: reading]

Some people might think that exposing her to screens from such an early age is bad for her development, but I was doing something equally interventionist at around the same time – I was teaching her to read.

We were never born to read and reading is not an innate ability as language seems to be but something every one of us has to learn how to do. We invented reading only a few thousand years ago, and with this invention we rearranged the neural pathways in our brains, which in turn expanded the ways we were able to think, which altered the intellectual evolution of our species.

[Slide: Proust and the Squid]

Maryanne Wolf’s marvellous book Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, offers solid evidence to show that a literate person thinks differently from an illiterate one, so we must conclude that teaching someone to read imposes radical changes in neuroanatomy and brain function.  Making someone literate is really a form of brain surgery, carried out with words and pictures instead of saws and scalpels. It is a process of rewiring the brains of children to make them able to thrive and be useful in the wider society as they reach adulthood.

[Slide: brain]

Our ancestors’ invention could come about only because of the human brain’s extraordinary ability to make new connections among its existing structures, a process made possible by the brain’s ability to be shaped by experience, and the plasticity at the heart of the brain’s design forms the basis for much of who we are, and who we might become.

But if the ability to read a text is as much a learned behaviour as knowing how to use a mouse to control a cursor on screen then there is surely no reason why different forms of literacy should not emerge as new technologies do, and no reason why our screen-based culture should not be changing the way our brains work.

The exact nature of the perceptual changes that will result from significant exposure to screen-based online services is of course impossible to ascertain, although that hasn’t stopped some from speculating widely.

[Slide: google home page]

In a 2008 essay for Atlantic magazine that formed the basis for his book The Shallows, Nick Carr claimed that our intellectual faculties are being damaged by the internet, suggesting that the style of searching and exploration of links encouraged by search engines such as Google is changing the way heavy users think and reflecting that “over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going – so far as I can tell – but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think“.

[Slide: HAL]

He likened himself to HAL, the computer in Arthur C Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, reverting to child-like singing as its memory banks are disconnected by astronaut Dave Bowman, and regretfully notes that “my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle“.

It’s a nice argument, and it succeeded in provoking a wide-ranging debate, with tech commentator John Battelle arguing that he felt himself getting cleverer as he searches, follows links and absorbs information, arguing that when “performing bricolage in real time over the course of hours, I am ‘feeling’ my brain light up, I and ‘feeling’ like I’m getting smarter. A lot smarter, and in a way that only a human can be smarter”.

[Slide: makers]

And I think that Maker Culture is one way to let the internet make you smarter, by using it as a channel to a community that will encourage engagement with the real world, with problems and their solutions and with the deep joy that comes from being physically active and physically engaged, and making something from atoms as well as bits.

In the computer age a new form of literacy emerges – not just doing the old stuff using new technology – and we may need to think differently in order to acquire that form of literacy. There does seem to be a difference between screen-based literacy and page-based literacy but it is important that we find ways for the technologies to help us achieve our goals, and  not define the goal.

Engaging with the tools, building things, solving problems that require both logical and physical inventiveness show us a path towards this.

[Slide: lathe]

Having access to Twitter doesn’t take away my capacity for deep reading, nor make it unachievable in the young, although it does mean it has to be something taught and worked at, like other skills. But then, it always was – making people fully literate has never been a trivial task – nor has learning how to use a lathe, or carve fibreglass.

[Slide: wood]

Maker culture is more than computing, of course, but the use of processors is deeply embedded, and many maker projects are IT related. That’s inevitable: we live in the age of electronics, where many aspects of daily life are shaped – for good or ill – by the capabilities of machines that rely on the flow and detection of tiny electric currents and the opening and closing of silicon-based switches.

[Slide: Radio]

These days most of the switches and circuits are in computers, though we should not forget that radio was the first mass-market electronic technology.

[Slide: Cityscape]

The things these technologies can do are truly astonishing, and their application has transformed the lives of us all – not just those like me who have easy access to the latest shiny toys but even those who live in poverty and may never themselves hold a mobile phone or computer or share information over the Internet.

But no technology exists in a vacuum, and the growing use of powerful digital computers connected by an ever-faster and ever more pervasive network requires us to ask hard questions about the ways they will be used to shape society. Maker culture is one answer to this, one grounded in collaboration, interaction, sharing, generosity and openness but also in the deployment of appropriate technology to solve problems rather than just using computers because they are there.

[Slide: Two Cultures]

If we go back to 1959 and CP Snow’s argument that the gulf between scientists and literary intellectuals was damaging the ability to deploy new industrial technologies in ways that would transform the lives and prospects of the world’s poor, we can see a similar view expressed today in fears that the end users of information systems are there to be exploited by government, marketers and social networks because they do not know how the systems that shape their lives work.

The world has changed since 1959, and the context within which Snow was speaking has vanished, most notably in the period since 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union imploded.


Yet since 1983, when the Internet was created, and 1991, when the World Wide Web was invented, a new world order has emerged, one based around digital networks and one that creates an entirely new set of issues. The digital world has succeeded so rapidly that anyone who did not fully engage is left behind. And the pace shows no sign of letting up.

In order to be a maker you need to be a programmer. And you need to engage in computational thinking


For me the key division is between those who know what coders do and those who do not, and the question to ask someone is not ‘what is the second law of thermodynamics?’ but ‘what is a recursive function?’, but others see the dividing line in a different area.


John Naughton, former Professor of the Public Understanding of Technology at the Open University and Observer journalist, believes that the real ideological division is between those who welcome open networks and open standards and those whose thinking is closed[6]. He says:

the gap is not between the humanities and the sciences but those who are obsessed with lock-down and control, on the one hand, and those who celebrate openness and unfettered creativity on the other.

And goes on to note that

The odd thing is that one finds arts and scientific types on both sides of this divide.


For Jonathan Zittrain the division is inherent in the technology, and lies between the closed  and tethered systems of Apple’s iPhone and games consoles and the open, generative potential of GNU/Linux running on a generic PC.

[Slide: laptop]

These are real and important distinctions, but choosing intelligently between an open and a closed network or a generative versus a tethered system is surely only possible if we understand enough about computers and how they work to be able to make sensible decisions. Otherwise we are relying on the positive connotations of the word ‘open’ to distinguish it from ‘closed’, and as any proponent of closed networks will tell you ‘open’ also implies open to abuse, to viruses, to phishing and to content that could anger or offend.

[Slide: iwf]

We cannot evaluate the work of the Internet Watch Foundation, the voluntary body that censors the UK internet, or decide whether NSA should be allowed to inspect our packets or Virgin Media throttle our connections or the AT&T terminate the internet connections of customers accused of copyright infringement unless we have some level of understanding of what the network is, about the different layers that make up the TCP/IP stack, about protocols and data structures and computation and programmes. And about programmers.

Why it matters

[Slide: coders]

I trust that most of you will accept that the distinction I’m describing is real, that there is a gulf between the majority of those who use computers here in the UK and other developed countries and those who can write or even read code.

However you may think that the distinction, even if it exists, does not matter that much and certainly does not merit any real attention. I hope that I can convince you otherwise.


I drive a car but I don’t understand it. When the clutch needed replacing I could not tell if a repair was possible, if the work was needed or even if it was well done.  When the brakes ‘broke’ I had to trust in KwikFit, who told me that the nut on one of my ‘calipers’ was seized and charged me £300 for the privilege of having them break the relevant part so they could replace it.

Those who do not understand computers are in the same position as I was with respect to my car, and when they have problems with their home or office computers they too may find themselves unable to determine what is reasonable.

But the importance of computers and computerised systems in so many areas of modern society means that they are also exposed in other ways. If they cannot understand the systems that are used to record, monitor and control so many aspects of their lives then how can they play a full part in the debate about the development and deployment of those systems?


Without this understanding people are in danger of giving credence to absurd and inflated claims about the capabilities or dangers of new technologies, falling for media scares like Susan Greenfield and Aric Sigman’s nonsensicial and self-serving speculations or indulging in moral panics over new tools, services and technologies and the ways they threaten us.  They are likely to acquiesce to the procurement of vastly oversold IT systems like the now-abandoned NHS Connecting for Health or the national identity database, to accept that ‘the computer says no’ when faced with poor customer service, and to miss the many opportunities that computerisation offers to make the world a better place.

It is time to do something about this.

[Slide: Maker Faire]

And Maker Culture is the way

We live in a world where science-based technologies have led to technology-based science and the positive feedback that results allows us an unparalleled ability to manipulate the natural world, to transcend our evolutionary history and shape the small area of the universe that we currently inhabit to meet our emerging needs.

[Slide: IPCC report]

We are making key decisions about how we organise the world, what we will do about the shifts in the biosphere caused by the runaway industrialisation which Snow saw as the solution to the worlds problems, and how we can remove want and suffering in a world that may soon hold ten billion humans.

[Slide: Computer Lab]

We increasingly rely on digital technologies to help us, and projects like Andy Hopper’s ‘Computing for the Future of the Planet’ at Cambridge University offer an insight into the many different ways computers will be used to solve problems, avoid difficulties and aid progress.

Policy, practice and spending decisions rely on understanding the options, so we cannot have politicians, businesses or citizens operating in ignorance of what these things are, how they work or what they can or can’t do. We need to ensure that those in power now are properly educated, and we also need to give young people the tools and awareness needed to shape the world they will inherit from us.

[Slide: Parliament]

I believe that if people are to make their own choices they need to understand computers and how to put them to work, because our world is being remade by the capabilities and affordances of digital technologies. Just as a farmer needs to know how to fix the tractor used to plough the fields, so anyone who wants to shape the world rather than be controlled by others needs to know what it is that makers are up to, and be able to emulate them.

If that is granted, much else will follow.

The Open Data Society

[Slide: Dublin]

Last month I gave a talk in Dublin on The Open Data Society and Its Enemies. I think it’s relevant to any understanding of Maker Culture because makers believe in sharing, in openness, and in questioning in order better to understand. After all, you can’t fix it if nobody will admit it’s broken.

[Slide: Open Society]

The term the ‘open data society’ is  a play on the formulation that philosopher Karl Popper used in his book ‘The Open Society and Its Enemies’, written during the Second World War and first published in 1945.

For Popper, an open society was not a description of a political system but rather an approach to what a society considered possible – an epistemological rather than political question. When he wrote The Open Society and its Enemies he believed that the social sciences had failed to grasp the significance and the nature of fascism and communism because they didn’t understand how those types of societies understood the world, and he was responding to this.

[Slide: Marx and Mao]

He argued that totalitarianism forced knowledge to become political which made critical thinking impossible and led to the destruction of knowledge in totalitarian countries, and criticised those philosophers, like Plato, Hegel and Marx, who he thought had laid the framework for totalitarianism.

[Slide: The Pope. A Pope]

In Popper’s view an open society is one that is open to challenge, open to different points of view, rather than one that is grounded in some unchallengeable authority, whether religiously grounded or imposed by a political ideology.

This view comes from his philosophical work and his own theory of knowledge, since if knowledge is provisional and fallible this implies that society must be open to alternative points of view.

[Slide: Science Lab]

An open society allows cultural and religious pluralism;  by contrast closed societies are grounded in claims to certainty and an imposition of a particular version of reality, where freedom of thought is dangerous and must be suppressed and only certain forms of intellectual exploration are permissible.

In Dublin I argued that a full appreciation of the types of knowledge that the open data makes possible (and which an open Internet makes shareable) supports the sorts of open society that Popper was concerned with, so that any society that fully embraces the open data and open knowledge manifestoes would find it difficult to be closed in the Popperian sense.

[Slide: Big Brother]

That doesn’t mean it would be good, or nice to live there, or that it would not be evil. It just would be hard for it to be closed and remain closed. And since I happen to think that a closed society can never be good, whereas an open (data) society might be, it’s an outcome I’d work towards..

To be clear: I am not arguing that you could not build an open society on closed technology – though I think it would be unlikely – but that you can’t easily build a closed society on open technology. The relationship between technology and social structures is too complex and rich for the discourse to be simplified to ‘if A then B’ or ‘if not A then not B’ logic, and I don’t want to make it look as if that’s what I’m claiming.

[Slide: NHS]

But I think that an open society that seeks to deliver equality of opportunity, social justice and free expression is better and more stable if it’s grounded in technologies which are themselves ‘open’.

[Slide: Spreadsheet]

I also believe that in the age of electronics an open society, one in which questions can be asked, where critical thinking is not just permitted but encouraged and where investigation rather than ideology is used to seek out the truth about the world – the open society according to Karl Popper – now has to be an open data society because reusable, structured data has become the main machine for doing the heavy lifting of moving knowledge around in modern society, just as books move ideas around.

And I think the Maker Culture is another vital component of an open society, because knowing how things work is the first step towards resisting being controlled by them.

[Slide: The World of Makers]

So what world will the makers bring about, with their commitment to collaboration, sharing, taking the lid off and mucking about, and remaining attached to the physical?

Well, it’s going to be different..

[empty steel mills]

We live in a time of change and of creative destruction.

[Neelie Kroes]

We live in a time of digital agendas and the digital economy and digital britain taking its place in digital europe.

These things happen because we are living through a once-in-a-civilisation transition from analogue data to digital data, entering a hybrid world.

In that world we will have data that is born digital

[word doc]


[book, kindle]

a digital representation

[3d scan of artwork]

We will have access to the stored knowledge of the world, and it will be organised – some, but not all of it, by Google

on websites

[bbc site]

through applications, tools and services


through APIs and interfaces


It will be world of opportunity, and we will use it in unimaginable ways

To educate, inform and entertain

[BBC charter]

To create added value for public or private purposes


To build new social structures and new business opportunities


To transform what it means to be human…


err, probably not, actually – the meat has a habit of making itself heard.

But things will change quite a lot.

Coping In the New World

[police in riot gear]

There are lots of ways to respond to the changing world

Some simply resist, and indeed the Old Order is fighting back.

[Parliamentary debate]

Clamping down with the sort of measures seen in the #debill is a good example of this. We can think of many others.

Retooling is also an option, but it can involve giving up much that made it valuable in order to pursue new goals.

[one laptop]

Better is to reimagine, and to consider how old values operate in the new world, and Makers are one way in which we can reimagine the world in the age of electronics.

It’s the Discourse, Stupid

[max with ipad]

We live in a networked world, or at least those of lucky enough to live in western industrialised countries with reasonable infrastructure do.

We may already be a network society here in Europe, one where access to and use of the network underpins all economic and social structures.

We see it already in financial services and retail, we see it in the way some of us live our lives online, connected to friends and colleagues and information services whenever we are awake, linked in to simultaneous extended conversations that stretch around the world.

[using Skype on iPad]

The ways that we interact, the sort of societies we create and even the forms of politics that we find ourselves engaging in will all shift in consequence.

[Russian revolution]

The world does sometimes change unexpectedly.

We have seen how the social impact of the mobile phone happened in the blink of a marketer’s eye once it was safe to assume that all of your mates can receive texts, and there will be many other points at which things just change.

Many of these changes are the result of factors which are implicit in the technology and could, with a bit of luck and effort, be predicted.

[early web server]

The impact of the Web was obvious back in December 1993 when I first saw it; the text message is not itself interesting but its pattern of use is.

Other technologies are themselves fundamentally disruptive: they break what was going on before and offer up such new and previously unimagined possibilities that all the old bets are suddenly off.

The difference is only clear when you are confronted with a new disruptive technology. When you see something which will change the world in ways you understand your first response will be ‘woah – that is so cool’. When you see something truly disruptive you are more likely to see right through it. But if you get it, your only possible response is ‘Oh, fuck’.

But it is important to realise that the technologies that are changing the world don’t just arrive fully-formed. They come about as part of an ongoing conversation – a discourse – between companies, users, markets and society.

[group talking]

We are all part of that conversation, and the things you say next matter more than you may realise. Makers are the avant garde of the technology culture

The Circle of Meaning

As we build the global network society we will rely more and more on the things that networked computers can do.

[Slide: Raspberry Pi doing something]

The ‘affordances’ of new technologies – the things that they make possible – and the ‘externalities’ of these same technologies – the unexpected impact they have on the wider world and the costs that they make others bear – will be as important to the shape of our future lives as older technologies like television, telephones, printing and money have been so far.


It’s easy to see the developers, programmers and all the other people behind these technologies as something of a priestly caste, talking to each other in impenetrable jargon and coming up with new tools and services and products in splendid isolation, bringing new ways of working or new hardware down from the mountain like Moses with the tablets of law.

It isn’t like that.


Who designed your mobile phone? The software running on this laptop? The laptop itself? To an increasing degree you did, through the concerted and continuous exercise of market pressure on an increasingly responsive, reactive and desperate technology sector.

Of course, your choices are exercised within a framework that is itself created by previous choices, by the affordances of today’s technology and by the desires, however poorly understood or expressed, of today’s players to stay in business, thrive and even dominate their market sectors.

And you only have limited access to the results of your efforts –many of these systems are closed to tinkerers.

[Slide: market]

But somewhere between the (im)perfect market and techno-determinism, somewhere between consumer pull and technology push, lies the real world, a world in which the development of technologies can only be understood as one among many of the discourses we engage in every moment of our lives.

It is the same in any arena of human activity, whether a marketplace or an audience or a parliament. In the theatre the expectations of the audience shape the types of artistic endeavour considered worth pursuing; new forms of expression create audiences around them; and so it goes.

[Slide: makers]

That is the discourse makers are choosing to engage in by finding out about new technologies and techniques, by considering how they might take their ideas and put them into practice, and by sharing what they know freely with ohers.

Technology Trends

We’ve reached the point where much of the future can be trivially predicted, barring a singularity, the rapture or the collapse of industrial civilisation.

The network is everywhere

[WIMAX, 4G..]

Processors are cheap, accessible and available


The cloud is condensing out of the super-saturated vapour that surrounds us

[Slide: Facebook]

Social tools are infecting all aspects of human communication

[Google Glass]

New interface technologies are emerging

What does this mean?

[old tv]

It means that the boundaries are blurring

between digital and analogue

between online and offline

between human and machine

It means that the networked enterprise is finally achievable. It is the future some of us have seen coming for many years. It is a world of traumatic change and vast opportunity.
It is the future our parents warned us about.

And it is a world that makers can shape through their vision and through their abilities.

Tomorrow’s World, Today

Technology creates possibilities.


Disruptive technologies can create revolutions.

We’re living through one now, and it has already affected many aspects of your daily life.

Imagine life without a mobile phone.

Imagine doing your job without email.

This revolution is not about delivering social justice – though it might help.

It is not about overthrowing the old rulers – though they might end up going because of their stupidity and inflexibility.

It isn’t even about challenging the hegemony of mainstream media or undermining established political structures, though both will undoubtedly be casualties.

[early PC]

It is about living with the consequences of the widespread digitisation of most of the information most of us deal with most of the time, and the ability to distribute perfect digital copies of that information over a fast, reliable and global network.

[laptop users]

It is about living with the resulting abundance when we have designed our systems around the assumption that entertainment, education and information are rarefied commodities and that their dissemination must be carefully managed.

It makes the invention of printing look like a dress rehearsal.

And it will directly affect most of the things all of you do, completely altering the environment within which your tries to extract value, whether that’s reputational or financial.

The challenge is real, but the potential to reimagine your way of working is also real.

If you do it right.

If you’re lucky.

If you have good friends.

With a Little Help From My Friends

[Slide: Makers]

Because this is another area where Maker Culture is having an impact – it is based on a Do It With Others model.

This new world rewards collaboration, cooperating and sharing.

[chimpanzee group]

Collaboration is the essence of humanity. It may even go deeper than that, back to our primate core.

Every business is a collaboration between autonomous individuals who have decided that the advantages of working together outweigh the appalling costs of creating an organisational structure.

[Coase, Shirky]

As Ronald Coase tells us, and Clay Shirky notes with glee, the differential changes as the underlying environment shifts, and new communications technologies can mean that the transactional costs of your business rise above the incremental value it offers – at which point you go out of business.

But collaboration goes much deeper.


You are all organic collaborations, working agreements between the independent cells that make up your body, each capable of doing so many things but dedicated instead to function inside an organ or as part of a specialised system.


And each cell is also a collaboration, with inserted strands of DNA from viruses acquired and exploited throughout the years, and the mitochondria that provide the ATP that drives your cellular machinery having their own genetic material, beginning as separate cells that were assimilated a few billion years ago.


Schumpeter’s model of creative destruction was developed with reference to manufacturing industry, where a new technology or technique offered the potential for higher productivity but carried the risk of making the wrong choice and losing what seemed to be locked-in profits from current practice.

New communications technologies – from email to chat to the social tools that now surround us – offer a different set of challenges, but they are just as threatening.

They offer the possibility for new forms of organisation and new forms of collaboration, challenging the way an enterprise conceives of itself.

And this is the real promise of the new fund. Not that it will give you the money you need to build your ideas, but that it will encourage you to explore new ways of working with partners.

Thinking of new stuff is easy. Implementing it is – and will remain – hard.

So as you consider what it means to be a Maker don’t just think about the ideas you’ve had – however cool they may be. Think about the people you could work with, the cool stuff you could build, the ways you’ll share your ideas to give them life in an age of abundance, connectivity and processing power.


And recognise what a moment this is.

Maker Culture goes with the grain of the age of electronics in the way that capital to invest in machinery and factories went with the grain of the first Industrial Revolution.  Cooperation, sharing and openness are the things that will shape this world, if we let them, as the move from land-based wealth to capitalism shaped the last two hundred years.

[Slide: coffee house]

It might seem a mighty load to lay on a bunch of hobbyists sitting in makespaces and coding quadcopters – but look at the impact a group of people meeting in coffee houses had two hundred years ago when they created the structures that defined the modern economy.

Never underestimate what a bunch of motivated, clever people can achieve.



[If you’ve been affected by the issues in this talk, please visit your nearest Makespace]





[1] And one of the great things about science is that this may not be as simple as we thought – research published this week indicates a far more complex process [ref]

[2] See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maker_culture – this entry retrieved 1/4/13

[4] http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/philosophy.html

[5] Molecular management: Protocols in the maker culture

Author: Busch, Otto Von

Source: Creative Industries Journal, Volume 5, Numbers 1-2, 1 October 2012 , pp. 55-68(14)


[6] See his recent Observer article at http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/may/03/digital-media-john-naughton, or his earlier comments from his 2002 address at University College Cork, at http://www.ucc.ie/opa/naughton.htm