Tinker with tomorrow in Maker culture6/24/2015
No need to adjust your television, it’s true — technology is improving at what seems to be an impossible rate. And, truthfully, that pace will only keep accelerating. Since the worldwide web first became a public tool in the early 1990s, technology has proliferated and become refined in virtually every industry. Not only is every aspect of our lives becoming connected and computerized, but it seems practically everyone is getting a piece of the action — not just the giant tech companies, and not just the computer engineers with years of training. No, everyone and anyone can try his or her hand at the tech world now, and the fuel to this fire is what’s known as the “Maker” culture.
Chances are you’ve heard the term “DIY,” or “do-it-yourself” — Changing your car’s oil on your own, re-siding your house without help from a contractor or hooking up your stereo’s surround sound without assistance from the nerd herd, for example. Makers are basically taking this objective to the extreme. While Makers can be anyone from fervent hobbyist craft beer brewers to arts and craft makers, as far as tech is concerned, Makers build computers, cars, personalized mobile devices, their quad-copter drones and much more.
A tech Maker is basically that one friend who sees your new remote control car and wants to take it apart and see how it works. You could care less how it works — the thing is smaller than a shoebox and drives 50 mph. A Maker doesn’t mind risking breaking the little speedster if it means he or she can rip it apart at the seams and inspect its circuits. One hundred years ago, these inquisitive minds would have simply been called inventors and tinkerers, but through the Internet, this new breed of innovators has banded together to push technology to its cutting-edge limits.
Innovations such as the virtual reality 3D goggle Occulus Rift and the wallet-sized, customizeable computer Raspberry Pi are both offshoots of the Maker-sphere. Occulus has ushered in a new age of immersive media, whereas Raspberry Pi has allowed novices to learn basic programming and build tailored electronic devices at request. Despite having possibly the most ridiculous name in tech, Raspberry Pi has helped Makers build custom smartphones, car navigation systems, video game consoles and event robot engines. The cherry on top of the Raspberry Pi is its $200 introductory price tag and incredible ease of use that even a child could tinker with it.
The simplest explanation for why the Maker world has taken off comes from one of the guiding principles of electronics, Moore’s Law. Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, observed back in the 1960s that every 18 months the processing power of computer circuits should double, and during the last 50 years, Moore’s Law has held strong. Inside of that half-century window, computers have gone from being the size of a house, to sitting on our laps, to basically being custom electronic toys like the Raspberry Pi, designed for others to pervert and build the next great tech invention.
While the major Maker hubs are in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York, central Iowa is not left out of the revolution. Area515, a non-profit Maker space on Ingersoll, and the Des Moines Mini Maker Faire are two inclusive organizations that have opened the area up to the idea of thinking up the next great gizmo. In fact, every year the Science Center of Iowa hosts the Maker Faire for thousands to see firsthand what Maker culture is all about. So instead of buying your kid an iPad, consider introducing him or her to the Maker culture so your child can build his or her own. CV
Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.