TWTP #5: Mark Frauenfelder on the Maker Movement and the Blockchain Future

A pile of many many different maker tools (hammers, scissors, etc.)

The market continually strives to provide what we need or want.

More. Cheaper. Faster.

All this readily available stuff is replacing our natural inclination to make, tinker and fix. And as our lives get busier and busier, we have less time to “noodle around” in a workshop. When something breaks or wears out, instead of taking the time to mend, fix and repair we  “go and buy a new one”.

To resist this ongoing trend towards consumption, you need to intentionally practice the arts and crafts of production. You need to become a maker.

For some, this is what the maker movement is all about, and my conversation with Mark Frauenfelder, the ex-editor in chief of MAKE magazine, explores the who, what, when, where, how and why of making.

Along with his work as a maker, Mark is also a blogger, illustrator, and journalist–a bit of a contemporary renaissance man if you ask me! He is co-owner of the collaborative weblog Boing Boing. Along with his wife, Carla Sinclair, he founded the bOING bOING print zine in 1988, where he was the co-editor until the print version folded in 1997. Mark became an editor at Wired from 1993–1998, and he’s written and edited a number of interesting books.

Mark co-edited The Happy Mutant Handbook and he is the author and illustrator of Mad Professor, World’s Worst and The Computer: An Illustrated History. Mark is the sole author of Rule the Web: How to Do Anything and Everything on the Internet—Better, Faster, Easier; Trick Decks: How to Hack Playing Cards for Extraordinary MagicMade by Hand: My Adventures in the World of Do-It-Yourself; and Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects. I originally came across Mark’s work in the foreword to the excellent Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun.

Mark currently works at Institute for the Future as a Research Director.

Some big ideas exchanged:

  • Mark talked about his upbringing with early IBM computers and a technical dad who would bring interesting gadgets home (along with many other things you can do to encourage children to be inventors, one is simply being a tinkerer yourself!)
  • Mark and Carla started making the Boing Boing zine for fun, printing short runs of a few hundred, and then they went to Mike Gunderloy at Facsheet 5 for a review. That review ended up leveraging his audience, and from then on, their print runs grew and grew, picking up more and more distribution opportunities culminating in their last print run 17,500 copies! (“Fake it ’til you make it!” is the motto for small business success. The internet makes this model even more of a possibility! Make something. Share it on social media. If the crowd bites, make a small production run and start an Etsy account! And so on.) 
  • Makers create their own educational opportunities for themselves and others: instead of working through bureaucracy to try and introduce making into educational institutions, they just “route around the interference.” (Doing something innovative sometimes requires you to just work around the roadblocks and Kafkaesque rules and procedures. Or as Grace Hopper said: “If it’s a good idea, go ahead and do it. It is much easier to apologize than it is to get permission.”)
  • The relationship between “punk tech” (making, DIY, etc.) and “consumer tech”? It’s complicated. (Companies should build more maker-friendly consumer products, not just to go against the logic of planned obsolescence. Makers are both a decentralized and autonomous R&D department for existign companies, as well as the seeds of new entrepreneurs and companies.)
  • In North America, we’ve spent the last 30 or so years outsourcing manufacturing to other countries, so the very idea of the maker movement is revolutionary in the face of this trend (The rust belt never went away, its future was just distributed to other parts of America.)
  • Hacking the infrastructure (The majority of people in the world are “unbanked” (i.e. without access to traditional banking). Whereas the number of mobile phone users in the world is expected to pass the 5 billion mark by 2019. Bitcoin and blockchain fintech hacks the existing banking infrastructure, and this could be better for the global majority. The theme of hacking the infrastructure also came up when we talked about Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak’s early, illicit foray into phone phreaking.)
  • Make something that is going to make a difference in your life, give yourself a growing sense of self-efficacy (This theme of self-efficacy comes up again and again in my interviews… stay tuned, I might put something together on the lost arts of fostering self-efficacy: politically, technically and otherwise!)

References, allusions, and mentions implied:

People mentioned:

Credit where credit is due:

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