Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The future of making: the dialectic of DIY and Big manufacturing

Once I had got past the hopeful delight prompted by Mutant Rob's contribution to today's issue of boingboing on a potential constitutional bombshell in the patents basement, I had a blast checking out the post on Mapping the future of making. This reports an interesting scenario mapping exercise undertaken by the non-profit Institute for the Future, and plots possible scenarios of how social networking among DIY types might interact with the logistics of big commodity manufacturing in the coming decade. Presented mainly as a dialectic between the social and the technological, it can also be read in terms of the dynamics between grassroots and corporate production and between tinkering and theory-driven production.

It got me thinking to Daniel Bell's account of the 18th and 19th century “talented tinkerers”, who were behind many of the major “inventions” of the 19th century. This era was eclipsed during the 20th century with the blooming of theory-driven production, which might be seen as the operating logic between contemporary western universities helter-skeltering into the patents rush. Now we seem to be seeing a pretty significant comeback by DIY tinkerers in the context of networked communications. In part the networks foster and "spread” DIY activity and sharing at the level of production. At the same time, they foment global reach at the level of “consumption” and uptake, picking up on the “enterprise” motif.

It also got me to wondering what might happen if educators used some artifacts like the Future of Making map as stimuli for envisaging some possible “uncurriculums” and “unpedagogies”. My hunch is that learners would get a whole lot closer to understanding the nature and role of theory and how to use it than they have any chance of doing in today's classrooms. They would also be exposed relentlessly to the need to engage in systems thinking. And they would learn that generating knowledge by “construction” is not an individual, privatised, in-the-head, deskbound process.

BUT, could they write an essay under exam conditions about photosynthesis in plants?

Probably, but I'd like to think they wouldn't.

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