Maker Faire: Kansas City will celebrate things people create themselves — from new technology and electronic gizmos to urban farming and "slow-made" foods to homemade clothes, quilts, and sculptures. The family-friendly event at Kansas City's Union Station, June 25-26, 2011, will bring together makers, crafters, inventors, hackers, scientists, and artists for a festival of fun and inspiration. Sponsored by the Kaufffman Foundation, Maker Faire: Kansas City is guided by the staff of MAKE Magazine and organized by a variety of Kansas City-based organizations.
Dale Dougherty is the editor and publisher of MAKE, and general manager of the Maker Media division of O'Reilly Media, Inc. He has been instrumental in many of O'Reilly's most important efforts, including founding O'Reilly Media, Inc. with Tim O'Reilly. Dougherty was the developer and publisher of Global Network Navigator (GNN), the first commercial website, which launched in 1993 and was sold to AOL in 1995. He was developer and publisher of Web Review, the online magazine for Web designers, and he was O'Reilly's first editor. Prior to developing MAKE, Dale was publisher of the O'Reilly Network, where he developed the Hacks series of books.
What was the guiding principle behind MAKE magazine?
The framing idea of DIY, or do it yourself, and Make is you can learn to do anything.
We have magazines about woodworking, cooking, gardening, and you read those magazines because you do that activity. It’s a hobby. And I thought we really didn’t have that kind of magazine for technology enthusiasts. We had magazines that tell you how to buy technology, sometimes how to just use it. We didn’t have projects to do, and I had a sense that projects were a good way to organize technology. Increasingly, a generation that grew up with technology wanted to play with it, both to learn what it’s good at, and also to share it with other people. So that was the impetus of Make, this notion of a DIY technology projects magazine.
Is there some intrinsic motivation to take things apart and find out how they work?
You learn by doing. You learn by taking something apart. You have questions that you explore by looking at something, getting your hands on it. Even back to the early computer days, there was this idea of hands-on, getting access, and being able to gain control of a technology.
Embedded in this is just a curiosity of the world around us. How does it work? What is it made up of, and how do I influence it? How do I change it? So that’s kind of a really broader framing of hands-on than just being able to manipulate objects.
You use the term hacking to describe a curiosity about the world and looking beneath the surface to find out how things work.
I’ve been surprised that people really understand the difference between, just consuming things and being able to play and change things. I use the term hacking to mean personalizing, customizing, and changing technology so you can make it do what you want to do.
How do schools tap into childhood enthusiasm and curiosity about the world that is at the heart of the Maker Faire movement?
If you think of it in contrast to school where someone is loading you up with information that most of the time has no context and doesn’t resonate with you. Think about the passion and the enthusiasm that you have that makes you say, how does this work, or, how do I build something. Or, you know, a kid has an idea for something in their head and to be able to take that idea and transform it into something real that they could show other people. That’s a very powerful thing. And again, it’s not that different if you’re an artist or a musician or an inventor. … I’ve got something that I’m thinking about and I put it into some form and shape that other people can react to and give me feedback.
I think we’re really trying to move from the student as a consumer of a standardized education curriculum to a student who’s a creator of their education; you know, that’s producing and creating that education. Because that, this is really what it’s about, is moving from being directed to doing something, to being self-directed. And you know, the world changes completely when you figure out that you can drive the bus, right?
So I think there’s a real opportunity, particularly with kids that don’t learn from textbooks in the standard classroom setting. How can we give them alternatives? Like, open labs where for three or four hours a day, they’re really doing stuff. They’re learning about tools, they’re tackling projects, they’re learning about materials, they’re learning about working together. Education can learn so much from the power of students in peer groups teaching each other. When you learn something ahead of me you can teach me and be my peer mentor.
What will we see at the Maker Faire in Kansas City?
I think of it as a community-based learning event. We’re bringing together all these smart people that do stuff all the time. You can learn from all of them. They could be in a school. They could be a hobbyist group. They could be a parent in a garage. But they all have something that they’re doing, and I think kids can gravitate to that.
We get parents coming to Maker Faire and they see things in their kids in a context that they’ve never understood before. When their kid takes something apart they’re telling them, “Don’t do that, Johnny, that’s destructive.” But at Maker Faire they see people celebrating doing that, and they’re saying, “Oh, this is so much fun. This is how I learn.”
Maker Faire brings that whole rich community together. This is the beauty of organizing Maker Faires. You have the ability to not only present an object, but to present a person and to be able to talk to them about what they’re doing. You are able to ask, what’s that? How does it work? What can you do with it? And that conversation I think is what the, it’s the basis for learning at Maker Faire.
In a sense the Make Faire is a celebration of creativity and invention in their purest sense. Is there connection between making something and shaping that innovation into an entrepreneurial venture?
I think the opportunities are there, and to some degree, creating a business is realizing that you’re moving from satisfying yourself to satisfying the needs of other people. It goes back to this impulse of having an idea and wanting to make it real. And one of the ways it becomes really real, if you will, is to have it become a business. It becomes something that sustains itself. It may succeed or it may fail, but that’s the nature of creative enterprise.
I want to mention the other side. That is traditional business can learn a lot from this Maker community and how innovation really comes out of this enthusiasm.
Are you pushing against a trend? After all it’s a disposal society where manufacturing is fading and the fix-it man is a distant memory.
The archetype of the tinkerer has been lost in our culture. I have this video that I found from 1961. It’s an industrial video. It opens up with a seashore, like the California coast, and it says, “All of us are makers,” that’s the opening line. I think there was a belief in the 60s, kind of a mainstream belief, that this is who we are and what we do. And I’d say that today it’s a subculture.
You also feature some of these industrial video segments from the 1950s and 1960s on your blog. Is that a tribute to the old-school makers?
Absolutely. We reinvent things that don’t need to be reinvented because we don’t pay attention. So there’s always a chance to discover new things in the past as well as in the future. I find it a source of ideas and inspiration to read about inventors, read about scientists; to see other people’s work, and sometimes we see it in a fresh way because we see it from our context. In its day it was wrapped up in something else.
As we’re writing the magazine, we’ll go back and look at something that was published fifty years ago and say, “Gosh, kids today would love to build that.”