I just finished reading the book Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson.
tl;dr version: It’s a well written, entertaining read, it covers some exciting possibilities, but while it describes some society-wide changes, I think those will take 15-20 years. Most of the benefit in the short term will be to individuals and companies who enjoy making things.
I did not read Chris’s previous books Free and The Long Tail but I read many reviews of them and articles by the author. I thought they were innovative ideas but presented as an inevitable future rather than simply being new tools in a business toolbox. I’m much more convinced by Makers. I think it’s a meatier idea, but I also think Chris is an excellent persuasive writer, and he had hundreds of pages to work on me this time.
I believe the central premise of Makers – that manufacturing will become as accessible to normal people as paper printing has become and that change will create new opportunities – will be a huge positive force in the lives of those that embrace it. I’ve been very impressed with the people I’ve met in the Maker community. Besides the awesome gadgets, all of the Makers I know are trulygenerous, excited people who love what they’re doing and love sharing it, and their love of making is adding value to the world. It’s what I imagine the software community was like before software startups became big business. Even the most idealistic developer today can’t avoid the fact that software is inextricable from big companies, startups, and money. Hardware startups are becoming hot but because hardware still has a marginal cost, companies must have pricing discipline. Too many startups provide a free service that can’t support itself, so they shut down and disappoint their users. I see hardware startups creating more italian restaurants than megacorps, and I think that’s a good thing.
How will Makers affect the world? First, by democratizing digital product design. A whole host of items will be reimagined over the next few decades, to turn “dumb” objects into smart, networked services (see Nest thermostats and Pebble smart watches). Someone will need to make these, and just as the best software has come from individuals and small teams, so will the best new hardware. The people doing this will be the ones who learn this valuable skill through enjoyable play and tinkering. Besides the software billionaires, many millions of people have great lives and careers because software development is a valuable skill, but many of those people learned it because it was cheap, available, and rewarding. The spread of Maker communities, spaces, kits, and tools will do the same for hardware, and I predict that there will be 10x as many teenagers and college students that work with their hands a decade from now.
Second, home (for lower-quality or single material) and local (for more complex goods) manufacturing capabilities will shift consumption, not in Western suburban communities, but in underserved areas in rural and urban areas, and in developing countries. The entire world’s supply chain is delivered to the superstores close to suburban homes and people’s lives are designed around reliance on that supply chain. The variety of quality as well as the convenience of having everything co-located will continue to work for most households. This distribution model has ruled for so long that mass manufactured goods definethe acceptable level of quality. For example, I have a laser printer in my house, but I still buy greeting cards at the store because I can spend 2 minutes and $5 and get a well written card on better quality paper with the right sized envelope. But people that have never had that kind of retail access will build their lives and expectations around on-demand manufacturing and open source digital designs. I love picturing an African village treating a 3-d printer as their Wal-Mart.
I really enjoyed this book (it’s entertainingly written if nothing else) and I encourage everyone to find a Maker space near you and try making something. It’s a rush.
Here are some random thoughts I wrote down while reading the book:
- Book turned a skeptic into a believer
- Express “print” as analogy with desktop publishing
- Maker machines are a technological capacity that everyone is eventually going to have, like digital cameras, Internet, computers, printers, etc
- What changes when you can assume everyone has these?
- Separating design from mfg seems fraught, similar to outsourcing. This never worked for software and product companies are learning the lessons. Maybe I’m missing something about the diff between traditional mfg and design vs 3d designed objects
- Most people worked for companies to get jobs and support their life. Should sustenance be decoupled from purpose?
- The author makes so many points convincingly that I have to take him seriously when he makes one I’m skeptical about
- Confuse possibility with scale – a new industry creating 10ks of jobs doesn’t even match population growth. This might be the future economic situation but most aren’t being prepared for it
- Dorsey square story – being software only limits you to seeing the world through software-colored lenses
- Diybio is reproducing LAN equmemt cheaply using maker skills. Could medical be done as well? Could medical procedures be done so cheaply that insurance be undercut completely? Would that collapse the medical cost pyramid?