On Monday, 31 March and Tuesday, 1 April I had the pleasure of going to the FuturEverything conference. In the next few days I’ll be posting about my findings and the interesting information and projects I found out about. I’m going to try and make it as interactive as possible, so it’s less like a report and more of a sample of what was presented at the conference. You’ll be seeing videos, Twitter posts, photos and graphics from presentations.
First up: Critical Making with Golan Levin and Garnet Hertz; one of my favourite sessions of the conference. Both speakers were erudite and engaging, clearly at ease with being on stage.
For those of you who don’t know, I’ll give you a quick run down of what “Critical Making” actually means. Mat Ratto, who popularised the phrase, runs the Critical Making Lab at the University of Toronto. Critical Making is the act of understanding technology, and its relationship to society, by building and creating it. This is often in a group environment (at a hack day, for example) with an open-design (using both hardware and software) framework. The actual process of creating in this way is, in many ways, more important than the final object, and involves reflecting on the process in order to learn from it.
Some of the tools of a Critical Making Lab might include:
Many, many circuit boards and LEDs
Garnet spoke first about his handmade ‘Critical Making’ book. Which “explores how hands-on productive work ‐ making ‐ can supplement and extend critical reflection on technology and society.” It has 70 contributors and was hand made in a zine style. He recalled, wincing, the amount of stapling and folding he had to do, though I doubt he was working alone!
From there, it got slightly more weird. Cockroach operated robot, anyone?
Garnet spoke of critical making demystifying processes and this was something that really appealed to me. I feel that by enabling makers to create with understanding, they equip themselves with the skills to contribute rather than just consume.
Golan Levin was next to speak. His many years of teaching has gifted him an exceptional stage presence and he spoke thoughtfully about a topic I found genuinely joyful. Golan is responsible for creating the Free Universal Construction kit, as an answer to his son’s construction play problems.
Equipped with construction toys of different brands, a 3D printer and these files, you too can own the kit which allows 10 different construction toy brands to speak to each other. This, for me, is the very definition of innovation. By using the technology available to him, Golan solves an everyday issue that these large companies are not bast placed to solve. Lego has no incentive to make a kit that helps users integrate their system with a competitor’s, but a Dad certainly does. By reverse engineering, Golan has created this open source kit that promotes interoperability where previously there was none.
Another project he spoke of was Information Graffiti and putting information in context. Inspired by Hobo codes – the symbols that homeless people draw to indicate a welcoming host or a scary guard dog – Golan developed a way of printing QR codes as stencils. These can be spray painted onto buildings and used to notify people of places that have good wifi, bad coffee, rude/excellent staff etc. Of course, spray painting directly onto buildings is a bit illegal, but he didn’t go into that aspect. Having said that, I really enjoyed the community spirit that this project has the power to engender. It equips everyone with the capability to contextualise data at the exact place where it is useful.
As someone who has always wanted to be an artist, the NeoLucida project was something that genuinely made my heart soar. Camera Lucidas are said to be one of the tools frequently used by the early masters in their work. However, original Camera Lucidas are antiques, and come with antique price tags. Enter the NeoLucida.
A successful Kickstarter campaign later and these little beauties are being sold on Amazon. Though sadly they won’t ship to the UK as yet. I live in hope.
So many people encounter issues that are eminently solvable, but retreat when it comes to the actual making of the physical thing that would solve their problem. There is a barrier, whether perceived or existent, that prevents them from making. Critical Making aims to equip people with the ability to no longer see creating something as a barrier to solving problems.
“10 years ago if you spoke about a maker, you were probably talking about God” – Justin McGuirk (Moderator)
“The maker movement is folk art for engineers” – Garnet Hertz
“What’s worth making and why?” – Golan Levin