Our ultra-modern world of on-demand services promises convenience and instant gratification; life moves fast, and we want things even faster. But at what cost? Understanding the DIY revolution—reclaiming our creativity to make more and do more—allows us a new way to connect to ourselves and to each other.
Tap: Someone’s picking out, picking up, and delivering your groceries. Swipe: Your dinner party playlist is taken care of, courtesy of an algorithm. Scroll: An organizing expert is on his way to clean out your closets at home.
The future is now, and modernization in our current there’s an- app-for-that age is meant to make taking care of business quicker and more convenient: maximize haste and minimize hassle, minute to minute; hour to hour; day to day; and on, and on, and on. The fact that comprehensive on-demand services have flourished—and gotten so damn good—is a testament to the reality that we truly want for ways to streamline our lives. Because our lives are overwhelming—and when the consistent stream of minor (and major) inconveniences can be smoothed away and/or outsourced completely, ideally we’re left with more opportunity to do the things we really want to be doing.
But what, then, do we really want to be doing?
The simple answer is: It’s complicated. Everyone has their own happy place and happy pace. (Basically: What gets me jazzed might just bore you to tears.) But despite this disparity, there is a common thread. The Internet era has rendered certain tasks super easy, or obsolete altogether. It’s freeing, in a way; but when our digital lives claim too much territory from our physical ones, do we as people become less defined? A subsequent Maker Movement has seen more and more people seeking satisfaction through participation, and action, and right-brain shenanigans; the kind of hustle where taking part in the process—any process—is most important.
“Makers have a sense of what they can do and what they can learn to do. Like artists, they are motivated by internal goals, not extrinsic rewards.” That’s Dale Dougherty in Design, Make, Play: Growing the Next Generation of STEM Innovators, and he knows from whence he speaks—for over a decade he’s been at the forefront of the charge, as founder of Make: magazine and Maker Faire. “They are inspired by the work of others. Most importantly, they do not wait until the future to create and make. They feel an urgency to do something now—or lose the opportunity to do it at all.”
Consider it a shift; more of a the-journey-is-the-destination mentality than an eyes-on-the-prize laser focus. How this looks IRL is predictably varied. In the Bay Area and beyond, hands-on havens like Tech Shop are booming. These hubs have established themselves as prime locations to learn new crafts and hone rusty ones by offering members access to tools—from oscilloscopes to embroidery machines to injection molders to CNC wood routers—along with lessons on how to master them, and a f lourishing community to support the cause. It’s possible to walk in with no expertise to speak of and, after committing to apply a bit of elbow grease long-term, eventually walk out with a prototype for a foldable kayak, or a laser-cut necklace, or some other weird and wonderful concoction. In between, of course, is where the magic happens.
Because so much of the joy inherent in working on a project actually comes not at the end, when it’s finally “finished,” but in the sometimes messy, unpredictable, and oh-so-wholly gratifying middle. It feels incredible to come up with a cool idea; it feels unbelievable to watch it evolve before your eyes; it feels frustrating as all hell to make a mistake; and it feels all kinds of awesome to problem-solve and keep going. These are sensations that can be achieved in a pure, uncut rush when brain and body work together in a way that unlocks some sort of primal, distinctly human sense of pride in doing. That participatory factor can make us feel alive; it’s then that doing becomes being. We make, therefore we are.
Beyond newbies picking up and pursuing a hobby to make them feel more human, making often carries a strong cultural component, and the cache of upholding a passion passed down from generations gone by. Take lowriders—those impeccably tricked out rides represent far more than a badass means to get from here to there. In Lowrider Space: Aesthetics and Politics of Mexican American Custom Cars, author Ben Chappell—an Assistant Professor of American Studies at the University of Kansas—discusses the powerful ties these vehicles have with identity, pride, and (unfortunately) misguided stereotypes. In an interview with Motherboard, he elaborated on the ethos that Raul Homero Villa calls ‘barriology.’ “I think people who get together around lowriding tend to share certain things in common: obviously an interest in cars, but also there is an ethos that you should try to work on a car yourself, and other kinds of things that relate to a working-class situation,” he says. “One of the things that definitely interested me, though, was the fact that although anybody with a nice ride is welcome, there is an idea that Mexican-American culture and experience are authoritative in this style. That’s part of the value of it.” Engaging with others who share this dedication to cruisers—and the select society that surrounds them—is an integral part of the experience.
To assist in our collective journey to reconnect to our creative personhood, artist studios and design boutiques are increasingly doing double duty as workshops, offering regularly scheduled one-off classes in printmaking, hand-lettering, and myriad niche and mainstream delights.
But while much of this development has played out in meatspace, it isn’t all about some kind of return to a bucolic, pre-digital time. In fact, it’s easy to look back at the analog era with a sense of nostalgia—It was so different back then! People actually used their hands!—but to do so without a healthy sense of perspective is shortsighted. Our attentions today may be more divided, but every generation before us has run into their own crisis of creation. In Gerhard Gollwitzer’s The Joy of Drawing, the author bemoans society’s current state of affairs. “Everyone should draw, make music, write, and work creatively—these are things people need today. In the past, everyone took them for granted. The ‘folk’ sang and invented dances, wove rugs and carved spoons—people were creative. Today, however, almost everyone is merely passive and receptive.” Though it reads like something straight out of the 21st century, this book was published way back in 1959; aka, those good ol’ days.
It’s here that we have a huge advantage; yes, the Internet has changed everything: it’s given us the chance to pawn off unwanted chores and to-dos; it’s altered the way we interact with others; it’s impacted the way we conduct ourselves; but it’s also opened up a literally boundless world of how-tos, DIY tutorials, and encouragement from other like-minded seekers. Sites like Skillshare and Creative bug do a booming biz offering online classes; YouTube has training videos for some of the most arcane hobbies imaginable; Blurb and Shutterfly will turn you into a publisher with a few quick clicks; literally just Googling something you’re mildly interested in will yield a lifetime’s worth of possible projects. Once you dig in,you can share your own knowledge via Instagram; or Tumblr; or a blog no one will ever read but you keep it up just the same because you love it.
This union of on- and offline has led us to a kind of golden age of making—a renaissance of idea generation and actualization. Faythe Levine captured the spirit of the nascent movement in Handmade Nation, her 2006 ode to the movement that made her feel like a powerful individual; like part of a larger, supportive community; and, perhaps most importantly, like herself. “For me, sewing, playing music, making art and films, and even writing this book are about having control over my life. I am making my own destiny with what I create, whether it is with the materials I pick, the colors I choose, or the words I write.”
It’s a beautiful articulation that will forever hold true, one that clearly speaks to the uplifting truth that we can always achieve a new kind of self-expression—not just through the things we make, but via the simple fact that we made them. We can choose our level of participation—what we do, and what we delegate; what’s virtual and what’s “real”—and, as such, take charge of and determine our destiny.
This article was written by Jordan Kushins and originally published in Issue 11 of the Mohawk Maker Quarterly. The Mohawk Maker Quarterly is a vehicle to support a community of like-minded makers. Content focuses on stories of small manufacturers, artisans, printers, designers, and artists who are making their way in the midst of the digital revolution. Learn more about the quarterly here and sign up to receive future printed issues.