Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Maker Movement - why it is green and why I love it

I don't know if the people who started the Maker Movement intended it to be a green movement, but whether intended or not, it has the potential to do all kinds of green good.

The fact of the matter is that we Americans buy too much junk. And I am not preaching at you here, I am not telling you that you personally are responsible for the over consumption problem, I am saying that too much of the stuff we buy ends up being junk.

So many of the products that we buy are poorly designed, or worse, designed to break. Whats more, when they break, you find that they are impossible to open up and repair. In fact, if you do open one up, your warranty instantly expires, and FBI agents break down your door and cart you off to be prosecuted for theft of intellectual property. Sort of.

Manufacturers have gotten used to the idea that they are selling you a closed system, and if anything ever goes wrong your only options are taking it back to the manufacturer or throwing it out to buy a new one. Planned obsolescence and designing for short product life span ensure that you will need to purchase a replacement widget soon, and the old widget will be useless for any purpose other than filling land.

So what can we possibly do in the face of such an entrenched system? Is there no way out? Well the people at Make Magazine may not have all the answers, but they have a great philosophy for getting more out of your junk, and evaluating whether or not your next purchase is going to be junk.

Make is a Magazine about how to be a modern day tinkerer, how to get more out of those widgets we buy with our hard earned money, and how to turn our landfill fodder into a fun Sunday project. With the purchase of a few basic tools (that should last you the rest of your life), we can conquer our waste stream, open up those busted products to repair them, re purpose them, or possibly even improve them.

Endowing garbage with new value, reusing and re purposing things instead of buying new junk, that is as green as it gets. Also, it's FUN! What former boyscout, amateur engineer, or generally interested person doesn't LOVE the idea of cracking stuff open and messing with the functional parts?

On the purchasing new stuff side, Mr. Jalopy (yes, like an old car) has penned the Maker's Bill of Rights, a simple list of how a product should be presented. In a forum at the UCLA book fair this past spring, he asked the audience: if you can't open something up and tinker with it, do you really own it? Or are you just renting it from the manufacturer? With that in mind, the Maker's bill of rights provides a simple list of rules for products that a Maker will approve of. Some of them are neat little memorable sayings that hold an entire philosophy in a few words, such as the most quotable: "screws are better than glues."

I think that embracing the Maker's philosophy can improve the relationship that people have with their stuff and at the same time reduce unnecessary waste and consumption. I dare say, if more people took the initiative to understand how things work and how to work with them, the positive repercussions could be limitless.

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