This past weekend, I took the family to Maker Faire at the San Mateo County Expo Center.
“What is Maker Faire?” is perhaps one of the easiest and hardest questions to answer. On one hand, the answer is as simple as, “It’s a place where people make stuff.” But it’s also an incredibly complex question due to the sheer scope of stuff that gets made.
How do you boil down an event where someone spent 13 years building a life-size working version of the Mouse Trap game? Or built a steam-driven motorcycle out of wood? Or a solar-powered recycling unit that processes fish poop to fertilize a vegetable garden? Or teaches people how to re-purpose their old clothes with its variety of sewing and craft techniques?
It’s tech, but it’s more than that. It’s geeky, but it’s for everyone. It’s an overwhelming sensory experience that’s still one of the most family-friendly events I’ve ever attended.
On a basic level, it’s one of these events that reminds me why Silicon Valley is one of the most thrilling places on earth. It’s easy to get cynical about this place sometimes when it seems everyone gets wrapped up in chasing money, status, and success. But strip that away, peel back the sometimes stiffling hand of the corporations, and the heart of Silicon Valley looks something very much like Maker Faire.
At that core, Maker has a very powerful message for everyone who is ready to listen. It reminds us of the simple joy of creating.
To some degree, we have all felt that the building blocks of our world seem increasingly outside our grasp. Everything is increasingly complex, whether it’s our cars, the gadgets in our homes, or the computers that run our lives.
We look at these things and feel intimidated by them, baffled by their inner workings. We react by outsourcing the creation of just about everything in our lives, from our clothes, to our food, to our machines. We buy more and more pre-packaged stuff. The result is that we are growing more and more disconnected from the fundamental things that surround us every day.
Maker Faire’s simple mission is to reverse that tide. It reminds us that the ability to create and participate in the world around us is still well within our grasp. And it does that by gathering this fantastic group of people who have embraced that simple joy.
Wandering around Maker Faire, you can see the wonder in the eyes of these people. It doesn’t matter what the ultimate product is, whether it’s a fire-breathing robot, or a whimsical putt-putt golf course or a human-powered merry-go-round. If you ask any of these folks why they built these these things, the answer you’d likely get is, “Because we can.”
Because it’s not the thing that matters. It’s the ability to create and participate more fully in the world arround us. The joy is in the process and the act or creation, not value of the end product.
That is what Maker Faire is. And that’s why I already can’t wait to go back next year.