We went to Maker Faire last weekend for the first time in years. Our motivation was the warning from some quarters that it might be the last year for a Bay Area edition of the iconic show, and it gave me a frisson of rage to think that the contemporary “techie,” so-called, probably had the weekend circles for Bay to Breakers rather than Maker.
But the show, while considerably scaled down, seemed much closer to the spirit of the event. Gone were the aisles and aisles of vendors selling flashlights or Arduino kits or electric scooters. Also gone were most of the Burning Man elements and the big show pieces – no life size Mouse Trap, no Bellagio-style Coke Zero/Mentos fountains, no fire breathing mechanical octopus or rolling house (and there were effectively no steampunk elements at all).
Instead, it was heavy on the actual makers making – people doing felt needlework, high school kids who built an AR topographic sand table from an XBox Kinect, handbuilt tiny trailers towed out from Salt Lake City. People who are making stuff not to sell, or selling stuff for you to make, but making and crafting and building for its own sake for themselves. Craft that rises almost to the level of art while still being eminently practical on its own merits.
It used to be fun to be in tech. It used to be aspirational. That was before the age of “get bought by Google or Facebook” and “drop out of Stanford and get Y Combinator to put you on the VC sugar tit forever so you don’t have to face the market.” There were always rich assholes here (cheers, Larry) but the tech sector never used to be the chosen destination for assholes wanting to get rich quick. Not on this scale.
That’s why Maker Faire is important. It calls back to the days of the Homebrew Computer Club, the days when technology was very much a hands-on proposition and you couldn’t just farm out your servers to AWS and your manufacturing to Shenzhen. And it celebrates technology that isn’t just internet-of-Shit gimcracks or gig-economy services to provide assisted living for rich millennials in the city. It’s participatory. It’s motivating. It’s inspirational. And if it goes, it will take a good chunk of the soul out of what it used to mean to be Silicon Valley.