Maker Communities vs. Reformer Communities

There is a popular cultural phenomenon called the “Maker Community.”  Actually, there are a whole bunch of these communities.  “Makers” are people who are interested in crafting innovative and unusual stuff from scratch or more commonly, by making new arrangements of commonly available things and materials.  This phenomenon is being celebrated in magazines and TV shows.  A typical project for a maker involves something of the past being put to a new and futuristic, modern or otherwise just “cool” use.  For example, making artistic sculptures from old car parts or making a high-definition TV antenna from wire coat hangers.  Technologies such as welding and machining metal, woodworking, electronics, computers and 3-D printing and robotics are mixed and mastered at a hobbyist’s level of expertise so that each “maker” has a wide breadth of technical skill.  But it is not just the technology.  Being a “maker” means being part of a community.

Probably the main reason “making” did not become a cultural phenomenon in the past, say between World War II and the end of the twentieth century, has to do with the difficulty of communication.  In that era social media did not exist as we know it now.  Yes, the Interent and the World Wide Web were invented in the last decades of the twentieth century, but Super-8 movies, VHS camcorders and  Gopher were just not the same as You Tube and Facebook.  On Gopher you could publish the plans for your project, say a giant match made from an eight-foot-long four-by-four chunk of lumber.  But on You Tube you can share the emotional thrill of a “cool” project with thousands or maybe millions of people.  In the past it was too hard to get a community of like-minded people together face-to-face, but the maker community can use social media to establish communities that cross geographic hurtles.

As a side note, ham radio enthusiasts had achieved a sense of community spanning geographic hurtles, but the degree of technical knowledge required and narrowness of the topic kept the ham community out of the public eye most of the time.  A “maker community” is somewhat like a “ham community” only using more modern media and a much broader selection of technologies.

I’ve observed that the products of the maker community are not really the things they build.  After all, what can usefully be done with a “giant match?” It’s the cultures they build that count.  Building culture is really what engineering at Dordt College is about too.  We observe technical problems in society and try to solve them, not just for the thrill of building something, but also for the thrill of serving others as Jesus Christ’s hands in this world.

Consider the senior engineering projects done at Dordt College.  I’m sure any “maker” would understand why we do these projects.  Just like “makers,” we reform things.  Unlike the overall character of the maker movement, our goal at Dordt College is serving the Lord.  When true service to God happens, then true joy and peace are the outcomes. I’m thrilled to be part of Dordt’s “Reformer Community!” (And I love “making.”)

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Image of VHS Camcorder from an e-bay listing
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About Douglas De Boer

Please see my Dordt College homepage for more information about me. Also be sure to see my "Curriculum Vita" for my personal testimony
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