making enough noise to be heard

makers, drones, and rising above the cacophony

>>making enough noise to be heard


Yup, I’m a glassMAKER. Noisemaker? That might be another story.

In the old days they called us “craftsmen” or “hobbyists,” or, to be a wee bit nasty, “crafters,” and made unflattering references to tea cozies* and paint-by-number sets.

I was told today that the correct term is “maker,” and it includes everything from robotics to knitting to calligraphy to programming to drawing to cabinet-making. After much earnest discussion with a drone store clerk young enough to be my grandson (assuming I birthed in high school and my offspring followed suit but this is still a very scary thought), I came away with this definition:

A maker is someone who prizes ingenuity, originality, and “mcgyvering” to create useful and/or beautiful (and probably unconventional) stuff in any medium, without prejudice against combining traditional art materials with technology. Especially technology.

He actually took about 30 minutes and perhaps 7000 words to say this, so I’m paraphrasing.

I like the term “maker,” although I was perfectly happy being called a craftsman or artist. I figured that “maker” came about because the whole art vs. craft thing had gotten so out of hand that people switched to something less argumentative.

My friend Kim says that’s not the reason at all: “Maker” is simply market spin. Apparently new generations, i.e., anyone 20 years younger than the speaker, think “art” is stuff that lives in dusty old museums and peppermint schnapps-laden galleries full of snobs, creaky critics, and Dustin Hoffman fleeing Mrs. Robinson in his walker. And that “craft” means someone’s great-grandma knitting in a rocking chair (probably crafting a tea cozy).

Makers, though, are young, sexy, and fresh. A maker who works with needles and yarn is very cool and probably has his/her/its own YouTube channel pulling down $100k/year in advertising fees and sponsorships. YarnMAKER would never knit a tea cozy, but might knit an insulating jacket for a hand-forged pot used in a Japanese tea ceremony.

Ahhh. So makers…make stuff?

Yes, but there’s more to it than that, said my earnest young maker-mentor: Makers share.

“You don’t just create your own designs, you put those designs out for other makers to use, too. They improve on them, and put them back out for others to do all over again. In the old days,” he said, eyeing me disapprovingly, “Craftspeople were just hoarders. That’s so wrong, and it’s not what a maker does.”

I hastily disavowed my involvement in any insular artistry. “I have a blog where I show people how to make stuff with glass. Does that count?”

“Do you have a YouTube channel?”

“Yep.” (whew)

So it’s now official: I’m no longer a glass artist, I am a glassMAKER. I’m not entirely sure what this buys me, but…yay me?

Actually, I’d gone to the drone store seeking a follow-me mount to improve the stability of video tutorials I’m shooting around the studio. Since I’m a first-water gadget freak, turning me loose in a drone store is about like asking a dog to babysit a butcher shop. (hint: If your hobbies are glassmaking, photography, computers, PMC, and jewelry making, honey, you’re in it for the gadgets)

I drooled all over the toys. The clerks had to gently pry me off the merchandise so the other customers could see it.

I womanfully resisted purchasing a really fabulous drone that was EVEN ON SALE,* not that I would have just plunked that kind of money down on an impulse buy anyway. Probably.

Instead, I chatted with the clerks and customers, figuring out what I really needed for my video work (consensus was I’d do best with a DJI Osmo, which was on backorder), and watching a lot of demo videos. I learned about gimbals and ground sensors and potentiometers and geofencing, got some new ideas for the CNC machine I’m thinking of making, and (of course) qualified as a maker.

The drone world is interesting and the people who love them seem to be my kind of people, i.e., geeky, nerdy social misfits. So what if they’re still living in their parents’ basements, doomed to a life of pop-tarts and Game of Thrones reruns? A nerdy maker is a treasure beyond price.

The presence of so many nerds, though, made it hard to ignore the contrast between drone advertising and the people who actually make, buy, and repair drones. Normally, I call this the iPod effect, which is the notion that buying some unutterably cool technology automagically confers coolth on the user.

Making coolth

Remember GoPro? It’s a PoV (point of view) video camera, specifically designed to be strapped onto your whatever, to film the action sequences of your life.

And that’s the problem: How many “action sequences” of your life are actually filmworthy?

That epic of you jumping into the shower? Fixing breakfast? Cleaning the litterbox? Taking the dog for a walk? Getting stuck in traffic during your daily commute? Sitting at the computer at work?

Since scenes from reality weren’t gonna sell a helluva lot of GoPros, the advertisers filmed fantasy people who actually HAVE action sequences: A world-class surfer shooting the Banzai Pipeline. A mountaineer scaling Devil’s Tower. A chick in a thong, bungee jumping off Victoria Falls Bridge. Some chiseled, bronzed hunk heli-skiing in the Canadian Rockies.

The intended message: Buy this camera and weekends formerly spent scrubbing the bathroom will instead send you off on gazillion-dollar hipster adventures.

You could have used that same script for every drone ad I watched in that store today, playing to a crowd that was, what…gonna go home and film ourselves taking out the trash? Here’s a sample:

Yet the longer I was there, the more convinced I became that the advertisers had the right ad for the wrong story. These people weren’t after glamorization; they were simply fighting to be found.

Presence detection

Modern computer networks can tell when you’re doing something at your computer, tablet or phone, and they can use that knowledge to let the network know you’re available. We call that “presence detection.”

Presence detection used to be very difficult to do; nowadays it’s a given. Yet, the easier presence detection becomes technologically, the more difficult it becomes metaphorically.

In other words, now that online knows you’re there–along with millions of others–does anyone really notice? 20 years ago, getting your picture in the paper was a big deal. Today, putting that same picture online doesn’t even break a yawn.

Everyone’s special…so no one’s special.

If you’re old enough to remember when there were no smartphones or world wide web (or heck, maybe even laptop computers and WiFi) then you probably have no problem untethering to go find yourself for awhile. It’s a whole lot easier to be unique when you don’t have the entire Internet looking over your shoulder.

What would it be like, to grow up in a generation that has always been connected? What if you’d always had the collective wisdom of the web, your network of friends, at your fingertips? If you knew, beyond a cacophonous shadow of doubt, that you could never, ever leave that warm, nurturing sea of online voices, all of them JUST LIKE YOURS?

As much as I love the Web and all its advantages, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s gotten damnably hard to stand out. And I think that’s at the bottom of our obsession with selfies and drones that follow us around, recording our lives:

See me. Hear me.

Maybe the paradigm has shifted from mere vanity to the far older quest for immortality. When we’re packed onto the web like sardines in a tin, perhaps follow-me drone videos and tossing our designs into the maker community chest are how you make your presence felt instead of simply (yawn) detected.

Maybe the reason we’re so obsessed with following ourselves around, shooting our story, because we need to convince ourselves that our story is really there. Maybe a follow-me drone ensures that when we really DO have an action scene, we can record it and prove ourselves to the world.

“The idea,” said my maker-mentor, “Is to give back, you know, so that what you make lives on no matter what happens, if you die or fall off a building or go to jail, that thing you made will be there with your name on it, forever. It’s not the money, it’s about getting it out there and being appreciated.”

I think that other maker-nerd, Ser da Vinci, probably said the same thing.

*A tea cozy is a kind of teapot slipcover, intended to insulate the pot and keep the hot water hot if you need to leave it out on the table during your tea party. The microwave made tea cozies obsolete–why not just zap your water back to the right temp?

The mid-century notion of covering household equipment, though, didn’t stop with the tea cozy. Thumb through mid-century craft catalogs and you’ll find toilet paper dolls, quilted toaster covers, mixer covers, can opener covers…the goal seems to have been to encase the entire house in coordinating fabrics. Probably a plot by Proctor & Gamble to increase washing machine detergent sales.

**Just for the record, it was the Uneec Typhoon quadcopter.



  1. kathryncecelia February 2, 2016 at 5:22 pm - Reply

    I always enjoy your mind stimulations. Since following Instructables (early in the web) I have known about “makers”. As that’s what they call the people who, as you stated, make things from things that may not have been intended to do what they are made to do by the Maker. I thought about it, too, when I first heard the phrase. But the context was solely through instructables, and so “maker” made sense. The new use of maker instead of artist or craftsman is a new thought for me. I think I have called myself both an artist and a craftsman and occasionally artisan. I must confess to being older, and thus not as inclined to have heard the younger point of view on maker vs artist vs craftsman. I find it interesting, and fitting… but for me a rose by any name is still a rose. I’ll let my work be my work and others will call it what they will… it will still be what it is. Thank you for another thought provoking post.

  2. valerieadams February 1, 2016 at 12:56 pm - Reply

    I’m loving the freshness of the term Maker too; plus it’s easier for me to own than trying to label myself as an Artist.

  3. Jennifer Buckner February 1, 2016 at 9:26 am - Reply

    What about the term “artisan”? It describes “a person skilled in an applied art; a craftsperson. 2. a person or company that makes a high-quality or distinctive product in small quantities, usually by hand or using traditional methods: our favorite local food artisans.”

    • cynthia February 1, 2016 at 6:51 pm - Reply

      I like “artisan,” too, Jennifer. Up where I live, it’s a high accolade, usually used in conjunction with food, so almost exactly #2 in your definition. I suspect that an artisan can have trade secrets while a maker is supposed to share, but don’t quote me; I’m too new at this stuff. 😉

  4. Brenda February 1, 2016 at 8:23 am - Reply

    I love this post! As someone raised in the unplugged days who is raising someone totally plugged in (when she wants to learn something–be it a song on the piano, anime drawing, or how to use Final Cut Pro–she goes to YouTube) it really resonated with me. I also like the definition/distinction of “maker” vs. all the the other labels for us creative types.

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