O’Reilly’s annual Maker Faire is happening this weekend, May 3 and 4, 2008, in San Mateo. It’s a festival of do-it-yourself (DIY) culture, and is a chance to see just how creative people can get with soldering guns, welders, circuit boards, old bicycle parts and lots of propane.
That’s just for starters. The Faire is now in its third year. Since it’s in my home town of San Mateo, I’ve attended each of the past two years, and the panoply of displays was frankly stunning each year. The Faire attracts a lot of same on-the-fringe techies that you might find at Burning Man, and indeed many of the projects on display have been created for Burning Man. But San Mateo has none of the dust, chaos and expense of Black Rock City. So this is a good chance to see some of these kinetic, firebreathing sculptures without venturing out into the forbidding Nevada desert. (I’ve never been to Burning Man, but I’m a big fan of it from afar.)
More to the point, Maker Faire is designed to give you a chance to talk with the people who made these projects, so you can start learning how to do similar things yourself. Granted, 90 percent of the audience is not likely ever to build their own moving, music-pumping robotic giraffe, and they’re there just to admire the handiwork of others. Similarly, lots of subscribers to O’Reilly’s Make magazine will never actually build most of the projects in the mag’s pages. I don’t, and yet I’m an enthusiastic subscriber.
So what is it about D.I.Y. culture that attracts people who don’t actually do it themselves? I think it’s two things: One, it’s just fun to look at what people can accomplish on their own, from a backyard zipline to an electric car shaped like a giant tin muffin. It’s like admiring art: You don’t have to be a painter to enjoy a trip to an art gallery.
Two, D.I.Y. culture embodies a kind of optimism about human capability. In a world where almost everything is manufactured elsewhere, then packaged in several layers of plastic and sold to you as-is under the glaring fluorescent lights of a big-box retail store, it’s encouraging to know that people can still do things for themselves. It’s that inventive creativity (and the skill with metalworking tools) that impresses me, and gives me hope about the future.
So even though my own efforts at making things have been rather modest so far, I’m looking forward to Maker Faire as a chance for me — and my family — to soak in that optimism, that creativity, and that inspiration. See you there!
Wired.com will be covering the Maker Faire extensively, in words, photos and video. Most of our coverage will appear on Wired’s Gadget Lab blog. If you’re going to be showing a project at the Faire and want us to know about it, please get in touch with Wired.com reporters Alexis Madrigal (email, twitter) and Jenna Wortham — they’re looking for cool stuff!
UPDATE: Here’s a great preview of the Faire, with video, by Jenna and Alexis: From Welding to Weddings, DIY Rules at Maker Faire
And here’s the detailed schedule of Maker Faire events happening during the weekend.