Children as Makers

In the MakersCory Doctorow paints a picture of a not too distant future, where a global economic downturn has led to an explosion of tinkering, innovation and creativity. This explosion is coined the ‘New Work’ movement and draws similarities to the dot-com boom of the 90’s. This ‘New Work’ movement empowers the average person and inspires a renaissance of sorts, almost removing the idea or paradigm of the centralized working environment. It creates a new culture, one of joyful discovery and inquisitiveness, of collaboration, and one where innovation is not only valued, but necessary to remain competitive in a fast-changing world.

This culture, dominated by amateur creators, no longer values corporate hierarchies or structures. People evolve with an ever-changing, and increasingly sophisticated technological world and are not tied or shackled to institutions that try to maintain the status quo, and they in turn, create new economic models and ways of doing business. This new movement is fuelled in part by the 3D printer. Wikipedia describes 3D printing,

“3D printing is a form of manufacturing technology where a three dimensional object is created by laying down successive layers of material. 3D printers offer product developers the ability to print parts and assemblies made of several materials with different mechanical and physical properties in a single build process.”

Quantum Victoria has a Dimension Elite 3D Printer that will be used for engineering processes such as proof of concept, functional testing, product mockups etc. and whilst the current costs of these devices is prohibitive, already we are seeing low-cost solutions entering the market. These printers are basically used as rapid prototyping devices at present, but not for much longer. Neil Gershenfeld, the Director for the Centre of Bits and Atoms at MIT, has been working on personal fabrication labs or ‘Fablabs’ for a few years now. These machines are still currently in their primitive stage, but Gershenfeld predicts that within 20 years every home will be equipped with a ‘Fablab’.

In 20 years, imagine not going to a jeweller to buy a new watch – but instead designing your own and fabricating it in your own home. Imagine being able to build anything you ever need in your own home, then imagine the effect that this will have on society, economics and industry.

New and emerging technologies like 3D printers are radically altering the landscape in which we live. By harnessing the potential of these technologies we can ensure systemic and fundamental restructuring – but to take full advantage of the opportunities this paradigm shift affords, we need children to have a passion for new ideas and creative tinkering. If innovation is seen as the successful implementation of creative ideas, then play is an integral part to the development of these passions we require our children to have.

Whilst most adults recognize the importance of providing young children the opportunity to play in educational environments, the connection between play and learning is often talked about dismissively, referred to as ‘just play”, and discussed as if in a dichotomy with learning. The ‘back to basics’ movement should be about reconnecting pleasurable emotions with learning and encouraging a playful environment – one that is not clinging to romantic notions of nostalgia but instead suited to the needs to the 21st century. This new approach would enable learners to develop the creative-thinking skills that are critical to success in todays society – in other words it would encourage children to be makers.

The Makers is technically science fiction, but really could be a commentary of society in the early 21st century. It resonates with many of the themes that are current in today’s society such as open source v proprietary, the individual v the corporation, intellectual property and out of date copyright laws and infringement in the age of the remix culture. 

Download your own free copy of Makers by Cory Doctorow here.

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