The importance of maker spaces

 

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As the industrial experiment winds down in fits and starts, the infrastructure of the world will fall apart in bits and pieces.  Roads will get bumpier, electricity will get intermittent, parts will be harder to get, food deliveries from far away will most likely get expensive – the usual sorts of predictions that have been illustrated by many of the fine folks on the blog roll, in both fictional treatments and unfortunately, in real life.

The best advice that has been given so far has been to, “Collapse first, and avoid the rush.”   Reduce your outbound cash flow, live low to the ground, find alternate sources of income, and invest in the things that matter, most importantly, be part of a community that you can trust.

Dmitri Orlov’s view (among others) is that the real communities that abide are the ones built around ones of limited size (Dunbar’s number, and all that) and a few other key elements.  The first part of the four part series can be seen here, and he gives some great examples of groups that seem to have figured it out (the Roma (Gypsies), the Hutterites).  Some of the key elements of the societies that do survive (that were brought up in a discussion he had) were that they were simultaneously:

  1. A church
  2. A nature preserve
  3. A historical society
  4. Minority-owned

There’s a lot more to this thesis that can be encapsulated here, but the ultimate conclusion is that individuals and single families cannot survive alone.   Gold, guns, and grub can’t save you; community is the key, but only a community built with certain elements can survive for a longer time.   Some of the best part of the analysis is the question of why such communities (especially the planned ones) fail, and the excellent commentary given in Part 4 of his essay (a good chunk loosely translated from Peter Koropotkin’s Anarchy).   One key point Koropotkin brings up: “Thus, to all those who are forming communist communities, I recommend very strongly entering into a union with other such communities.”  You still have to deal with Dunbar’s number for your own group, but a network of communities helps you out in the long run.

So, you want to save you and your family’s bacon (literally and/or figuratively).   You see the signs;  what do you do?  For some folks, this is all a bit much, and taking the plunge into a religious community or any sort of world might be a bit tough, given the general agnosticism/atheism/non-religious tenets that many adhere to.  Also, you may have a day job, a house, and all the trappings of a traditional American or Western life.  It is difficult to pull yourself away from that orbit, as many have mentioned in the comments of the blog roll.   The phrase, “living in two worlds,” is almost a trope in the Peak Everything community.

Joining a traditional church or other organization might get you some of the benefits of an community that abides, but your worldview might still be the same, and your behavior might not change as much as you’d think.  If you go to a church or synagogue, you may be part of a community, but unless you are inviting people to your house on a regular basis, you may be only partially investing in that community.

One community (and importantly, a network of communities) that might work for those in transition (or that might compliment being part of a church or civic organization (a Masonic lodge, which JMG has mentioned)) is the maker space/maker space world.  A maker space (or hacker space, depending on your definition and the mission of the place), in a nutshell, is a place where people get together and build things, usually with a lot of shared tools, space, and expertise.  The oldest one started in the 1990s; Australia and a few other countries have men’s sheds, another group of maker-like organizations that started around the same time.

There are a few pros and cons of such spaces, of course, with respect to Peak Everything and the examples of communities that abide.   Let’s start out with the problems:

Cons:

  • Although by definition, a maker space is place where people can make anything, many of these spaces are heavy on microelectronics, 3D printing, and the use of the modern world to get things done in their particular spaces.     As our technological suites diminish, these things may be useless (or less useful) going forward.
  • Some places don’t cater to lower income folks too well; for some, the maker space is a ‘rich white male’ club, and although these places are fun to be in, you need surplus cash to participate.  There are places that do have many free events, scholarships to get people in the door, and community outreach programs, however.
  • Some places (as noted above) are heavily skewed to being male; this is a serious drawback, but some places are relatively balanced, because they include a wider variety of crafts (sewing, printmaking, jewelry, knitting, printmaking) which have a broader appeal.
  • Some claim that these spaces have had governance and assault problems.
  • Participants might only be interested in entrepreneurial enterprises that are more plugged into the profit-making world, and the attendant things that go with it, rather than forging a long term community.
  • Shunning people (a key element in any community that abides) can sometimes be a long and laborious process.
  • Maker spaces don’t have some of the key elements of communities that abide; they only provide a portion of Orlov’s list (“housing, nutrition, education, medicine, entertainment, companionship, social security and a strong sense of belonging”).

And, for the positive side of the ledger:

Pros:

  • One of the greatest strengths of any maker space, especially with multiple areas of interest, is that you get experts in practically every area.  People who are professional engineers, seamstresses, carpenters, welders – all of them know each other, and (time permitting!) very happily share their knowledge.
  • You do get to meet people, and interact with them on a more real, rather than corporate basis.  Sometimes, these bonds become stronger and maker space members will begin to live with each other, as they share a common culture.
  • These places have community tools, which yes, do take a beating, but are usually better (commercial/professional) grade, and which generally have far better utilization than privately owned tools.
  • Like a group house, having your own small space (for those places that have them), is far cheaper than having your own studio.   Also, the presence of others can energize you and your projects.
  • Although there are some more trivial and whimsical projects that maker spaces have created, many places, having the DIY culture aesthetic, do a lot of their own work; building walls, furniture, ceilings; things that need to be done in the ‘real world.’
  • Participants are interested in entrepreneurial enterprises.  Yes,  this may seem like a contradiction, given that this is also a ‘con’, but these are places filled with people learning to be on the outside of the system, and supporting themselves (Charles Hugh Smith writes a great deal about this).  Many maker spaces have small or sole proprietor businesses that are not part of large corporations.
  • Generally, the folks in the maker world  are an open-source, privacy minded group of people.  Yes, there are hyper-libertarian Bitcoin-using folk in some places, but most of the time they eschew any heavy-handed top-down hierarchy.  Most maker spaces are ‘do-ocracies’; people who do stuff (and not just talk about them) are the ones who nominally ‘lead’, in as much that cats can be herded.

Maker spaces, like any other human organizations, follow a few different models of existence; the culture can vary widely from place to place.   I’ve been a member of and visited a slew of different maker spaces in cities around the country, and there are of course a few similarities and differences.   One key thing is that if you don’t like one maker space, there’s a good chance you can join another one, if the particular one you’ve joined doesn’t quite fit with your worldview.  A community of maker spaces could allow for that transfer between communities that Koropotkin thinks is key to preserving those individual spaces.

For sure, these spaces aren’t going to last forever.  Most spaces are still connected to the modern industrial world.  Those that are purely built around the latest and greatest technologies (Internet, microelectronics) might fade as the ability to get cheap electronics goes away.  Then again, these spaces might be the only ones who have the capability of salvaging things.  Because maker spaces revolve around building/fixing/teaching real world skills, they even might evolve or morph into the guilds in Star’s Reach (the Ruinmen’s guild, the Armorer’s guild, the Radiomen’s guild).  If there’s anything to take away from the maker space world (or any of the other DIY worlds), it is that you can start to get into a ‘real world community’ that is hands-on, adaptable, in-person, and more suited to our upcoming future.

Questions:

  • Have you visited a maker space? What did you think of the place?  Look here for a list of them.
  • If you are a member – what makes your place run?  Does it have long term sustainability?  What would you change about it so that it could be sustainable in the long term?
  • What sorts of people cause trouble in such places?  What about wealth, gender, income differences in members?  Is there a limit to the amount of diversity in a place?
  • What sort of parallels do you see between maker spaces, and in the communities that abide?   The obvious difference is that it isn’t religious/faith based (or does faith in technology count?), but there may be enough parallels that they evolve into guilds.  How might this happen?   Could modern unions do this instead?
  • Maker spaces rise and fall; what causes them to fail?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One thought on “The importance of maker spaces

  1. Pingback: A year of peakfuture | peakfuture

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