My last post introduced the MakerSpace, local workshops all over the world where community members are welcome to teach and learn from one another. 3D printing is heralding a revolution in the realm of sustainable manufacturing and production, and MakerSpaces stand in the vanguard of the movement. These inventive workshops emphasize the importance of STEM education and active learning, hands-on application, rather than lecture-based, passive memorization and regurgitation.
Within the overarching MakerSpace umbrella lies another type of community workshop, called a Fabrication Lab. In short, these “Fab Labs” are more structured environments, sponsored and supported by the Fab Foundation. MakerSpaces are less formal, sometimes more focused on a specific type of industry, whereas to be considered a Fab Lab, the space has to fulfill certain requirements set forth by the Fab Foundation, such as a stock list of equipment and a source of financial backing, from grants or membership dues, for example, to ensure the continued existence of the Lab.
In the midst of negotiating my return to Colorado, I had an opportunity to visit Fab Lab Baltimore and speak with Mollye Bendell, a 2012 graduate from the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland. She exemplifies Millennial flexibility, ambition, and optimism. She studied sculpture in college, and now finds herself the manager of B’more’s only Fab Lab. She simultaneously gave me a tour of the Lab, answered all my questions, and helped roughly a dozen patrons with their projects and challenges. She knows the personalities of all the heavy equipment pieces–the CNC router is named Susan–and the ins and outs of various softwares. She provided thoughtful answers to the questions I’m only starting to form, questions this new project is raising.
“Do you consider yourself an artist?” I asked. “Yes,” she replied. Her sculpture degree came with an aggressive engineering component, part of the reason she’s had so much success in the past two years as the Lab’s manager. Despite experience with CAD design and woodshop, Mollye learned almost everything on the job. I asked Mollye where she saw herself in twenty-five years, and she cited “personal happiness” as her dearest objective. She hopes to be “open to many things but doing a thing, still absorbing information, still learning.”
We discussed our generation’s role in the future of STEM. “Digital natives,” she called us. A lot of us don’t understand the why behind our world—I for one have no idea how my phone works, but I expect it to enable me to chat with friends all over the world. I don’t question it the way people of older generations do, people who didn’t grow up with the technology boom. But Mollye was careful not to exclusively applaud millennial ease with technology; she sees a lot of her peers as “engulfed in a world of screens.” For example, I’m here in the Fort Collins Library in front of my laptop, tablet on the left, smart phone to the right—that’s three screens within grasping distance. The computer grows smaller, but monitors bigger. As a generation we’re very plugged in, and the long-term effects of such dependence are yet to surface.
I also asked about what it’s like being a woman in what has traditionally (for no logical reason whatsoever) been a man’s field. She says men are occasionally initially dismissive of her, that there does exist an “old school machismo complex.” She feels sometimes like she can’t be too nice, or she’ll get hit on. She finds this convention strange, and tells me that all the women she knows active in STEM, citing her own mother and Sherry Lassiter, the Fab Foundation director, are “always really cool.” She believes social pressures can keep women from pursuing their interests in STEM.
All this initial research I’m doing into the world of MakerSpaces and Fab Labs is exposing me to a host of new knowledge. While Mollye helped patrons with their projects, I spoke to others in the Lab. One guy was using the CNC router to design a fiberglass mold for car body panels. Another couple was using a laser printer to make wooden crafts. They told me they use the Fab Lab about twice a month. One man was using a 3D printer to create a proprietary personal invention that he’d been working on since June. Another young woman was making a wooden wall hanging to give to a friend as a gift; this was her first time in the Lab. There was a huge range of ages represented by the people in the Lab, hobbyists, inventors, and artisans. “Everyone deserves access,” Mollye told me. You truly can make just about anything.
This movement is picking up speed, and Madison and I are already involved. The maker movement is opening up edge markets, redefining individual industry, reducing costs, and inspiring people to do it yourself. Our project is broad in scope, nothing short of world-changing. Fab Labs, MakerSpaces, and STEM education are going places. Movement is happening in the right direction.
About six months ago I invented the word Madulthood, a word to describe the state of being youngish. Being an adult seems like such a boring thing, blerg. But being a kid is even less appealing, as it hacks your independence to shreds. The Millennial generation comes of age; we’re all at least eighteen now, legal adults. We’re growing up in a world featuring countless wars and the ever-present threat of planetary annihilation, plus a never-ending financial depression. But we’re not depressed, we’re actually optimistic. We don’t possess the same values as our predecessors. We’re not interested in stability. We’re happy to bounce from job to job, the important thing is to feel valued and respected, not earn a fat pay check. A lot of us would work for free if we could use our skills.
Which is exactly what Madison and I are doing with this project, title Madulthood. Our goal is to relocate to Europe and starting in April, bike from Copenhagen to Barcelona and document the maker movement along the way. We’ll make a lot of our own equipment. At the end of our journey, we’ll turn our footage into a documentary, working title Self Made. Sustainable industry is a good time. It’s empowering and an important element in our collective future.