In the past few years, hands-on learning and do-it-yourself making have taken off in electronics and fabrication of soft and hard goods. This represents a new case of a perennial enterprise dynamic: Disruption. That's what happens when an established industry is confronted by a new technological way of doing things, and all habits, business models, and attitudes must change.
In this case, the established industry that is being disrupted is.... industry itself. The driving forces behind this sweeping change include increasing sophistication, ease-of-use, and accessibility of digital fabrication software and hardware tools; the lowering of costs of components and raw materials; the rise of wages around the world, making outsourcing a less viable alternative; affordable overnight and short-term shipping; information sharing on the internet; and an ecological imperative that encourages a more effective use of materials and energy.
Advocates of the maker movement are bullish on its potential for changing the way all industry operates -- including the way we design, make, sell, and distribute things, and even the way we learn about industrial production. On one level, this disruption seems inevitable and predetermined. However, the speed, breadth, and impact of this change are all uncertain. We have seen many highly viable technologies have little or no impact; and some have changed every aspect of the world. Will digital fabrication be the next search engine, or the next Segway?
The aim of this class is to examine the potential size and impact of the maker movement and to consider the unexamined consequences of it. In assignments and discussion, students will articulate what the movement means to individuals, where it may lead industry and institutions, and how it could affect the fabric of industry. In the process, we will study existing knowledge about the dynamics of disruption, the cultural changes involved with changing technology, and the relationship between dynamic manufacturing and conventional manufacturing processes. Then we'll check our assumptions with research about the current reality of the movement.
This will be a discussion and research class. In-class discussions will be fed by assigned readings, students' research and interviews, and possibly invited guests. Final projects can include in-depth reports explaining the subjects at hand; well-researched scenarios about the possible directions this might take; or designs for methods, or practices or tools related to the subject at hand.