Post-war consumerism has engulfed us to the point that we’ve been conditioned to buy rather than make. Planned obsolescence means having to buy the latest version of a product even the old one’s still serving its purpose well. Repairs are practically impossible to do because of the way products are designed. Almost every big brand features proprietary technology, too, so you always have to involve companies even for service and after-sales concerns.
It is, therefore, refreshing to see movements that have deconstructed technologies and products in favor of the so-called maker culture. As much as previous generations are criticizing Millennials for being too glued to their smartphones and the internet, it’s not as if all Gen Xers and Boomers actually spent their youth apprenticing under skilled tradesmen toiling around in workshops to feel that they are a generation of creators who relied on brawn and lived by the sweat of their brows.
In fact, the available technology today encourages a certain level of involvement through a maker culture, which has spawned a new generation of do-it-yourselfers. This means that millennials might even be more involved in the maker culture than previous generations.
So, it’s actually great that technology today is creating a new age of do-it-yourself (DIY). Connected devices for home use are now being built for ease-of-use with DIY installation and configuration. The Nest thermostat is designed to be self-installed (complete with the tools and guides) and is made to work with most standard heating and cooling systems.
Even home security products like SimpliSafe come in DIY kits that do not require professional installation compared to other popular subscriber-based home security systems. The sensors and alarms are all designed to be self-installed within minutes, and the system can likewise be self-managed through the user’s smartphone, and it also through a centralized contact center when an alarm is activated.
While some may argue that these kinds of DIY activities aren’t exactly producing creations, these product designs encourage an active participation from users. One may even think of these as gateway activities to engaging in more creative DIY projects. Just like in cooking — you don’t attempt complex dishes without knowing how to boil the water first.
For those keen in more creative pursuits, developments in personal electronics and connectivity have allowed computing enthusiasts to foster the maker culture. We can think of this movement as people revisiting the creative space of workshops, garages, and sheds. People are out to change the world through inventions not too different in pursuit as the inventors of the industrial revolution.
Microcontroller kits Arduino and Raspberry Pi are probably heaven-sent technologies for tinkerers. These have paved the way for a multitude of personal and mobile computing projects. While these essentially function as barebones pocket computers, their functionalities can be expanded through a variety of peripherals such as sensors and servos. Users can even explore robotics with these kits. We’ve seen people integrate synthesizers, voice activation, and even health sensors for a variety of projects.
The emergence of 3D printing is also pushing this DIY maker culture to new heights. Components can easily be printed from open source diagrams using a variety of materials including ceramic, plastic, metal, and now even biological materials. This allows for quick and easy fabrication of any conceivable part for any project.
Wi-Fi and Ethernet modules can also be integrated into these kits to allow devices to come online. These pave the way for data collection, access, and control, from virtually any device, which can result in purposeful integration among different devices.
In Gartner’s latest estimates, the firm says 2017 will see 8.4 billion connected devices this year. In three years’ time, that number is expected to explode to more than 20 billion. The maker movement is helping push those numbers.
The maker movement has also made its way into our schools, which aim to inspire students to express creativity through technology projects. The new levels of creativity that we see from various projects are absolutely fascinating as hobbyists and tinkerers can now even outpace companies in rapidly building prototypes of potentially life-changing devices. These may come soon enough for the older and aging generations to enjoy and benefit.
These developments at least hint at a shift in the mindset wherein people simply just have to pay for everything. Maker culture is all about bringing back creation and activeness. This may even spell the disruption of planned obsolescence models on which many companies have built their product life cycles on and forced into our lives.