Review of “The Maker Movement Manifesto” by Mark Hatch

Mark Hatch is an open booster of his company, TechShop, which he describes as a space where creative people find the tools and the support they need to make the objects they imagine. All this with a tough-guy, unsmiling author picture on the back flap that might make you mistake the book for the memoirs of a soldier.

But wait! Mark Hatch is an ex-soldier, who manages the Green Beret Alumni group on LinkedIn. This is certainly an unexpected background for the leader of a movement of “crafters, hackers, and tinkerers” that he expects to radically change the way things are made in the world.

But his enthusiasm is infectious. He does not only teaches you about the 3D printers, laser cutters, waterjets, microcontrollers, design software, training, and crowd-funding resources for “makers”; he also tells you where to find them. While reading the book, I installed on this machine some of the software tools he discusses and kept thinking about a kitchen appliance that I think should exist but doesn’t yet seem to.

I believe him him when he describes “maker spaces” like TechShop as enablers for the development of businesses around hardware products that today’s venture capitalists would shy away from, and he has a long list of examples, the most impressive for me being Square, the company that makes the attachment that enables anybody with an iPhone and a bank account to take credit card payments.

Where I don’t follow him is when he elevates the “maker movement” to the status of the “next industrial revolution” or when he describes making physical things are uniquely fundamental to what it means to be human. Of course it is fulfilling to conceive an object, build it completely, make it work, and, even better, make it useful to other humans. But there is no justification for viewing as superior to other activities that don’t involve making physical things, such as healing the sick, nurturing children, or even entertaining others. Making things is just providing a required infrastructure.

The real problem with manufacturing work as it has evolved over the past 200 years is that its division into pieces so small that they rob  production workers of the fulfillment that comes from end-to-end construction of an object. You meet people who enjoy putting something together, but they don’t on an assembly line where they repeat the same sliver of work 400 times in a day.

Pencil box from rumps of table legs
Stand-up desk with customized Ikea table

I see Hatch’s maker movement as a vehicle for innovation that might otherwise not take place, but I don’t see it at the end of manufacturing as we know it. I don’t see it as a threat to Ikea. I particularly don’t agree when he describes their products as “not customizable,” when I have personally customized Ikea closet doors to fit where they were not intended to, cut the legs of an Ikea coffee table to place it on top of my desk so that I could work standing, and turned the rumps of the legs into a pencil box.

When he explains how much better gifts are when homemade rather than bought, I can’t help but thinking of the sweater knit by your aunt that you feel obligated to wear whenever she visits.