Friday, February 1, 2013

No one makes anything anymore, Or why you should care deeply

Years ago a longtime mentor of mine lamented that he didn't produce anything.  As an academic, his brilliance is carefully cataloged in journals and scholarly tomes.  I told him I was making cheese and bread and joked a bit about using my degree; I am, after all, something he "produced", in a way.  Since then he has taken up photography and done more long distance biking.  Capturing beautiful moments on paper seems more like making something these days, I guess.  And doing it from the saddle of a bicycle gives life a heady depth that sitting on dissertation committees sometimes lacks.

A friend, another academic of sorts, recently made a similar remark, pointing out that the work coming out of his fine arts field was esoteric, and perhaps a bit pointless.  Heavy on the commentary, a bit light on the contribution.  No one makes anything anymore, he told me.  A universal problem of our civilization, he called it.  (Kinda makes you grin, doesn't it?  I mean as bad as things are, doesn't that seem like a problem you could solve?  It is also one of those challenges that doesn't cross your mind if you are walking 20 miles for water or waiting in a refugee camp for food.  Lucky, we are.)

It seems much of our world feels this way.  Here in Medusa, we have been discussing alternatives to education, especially those alternatives that have wide democratic stripes.  Having control over your own learning feels like a prerequisite for really making anything of import; it also feels like the only way we're going to unleash the creativity we're going to need to make it through the next several decades.  We have grand dreams (and when I say "we" I might occasionally just mean me, since the rest of my ragtag bunch of idealists tend to be a bit more realistic in our five year plans) of bringing the coolness of Make Magazine to Medusa.  Make! is the ultimate in DIY learning - supporting a beautiful technological anarchy that has been blossoming as we become more and more disillusioned with what "education" has become. 

I find it so thrilling that we are blessed to be living at a point in history when we are both embracing the local (with Slow Food and tiny home ecovillages and the like) while living at the pinnacle of technological progress.  We have such incredible opportunities laid out before us.  I think Medusa is the perfect place to locate one of MIT's FabLabs, for example.  They could be used in the design and construction of solar panels, or any number of products that support renewable energy.  Or we could use the web to implement a local version of a sharing economy, and support the transition to a world that embraces community and collaboration.  (And if you are a member of the Tea Party, don't bother sending me emails: that is not code for communism.)  Really, I think the possibilities are limitless.

We're hosting a meeting - and I am crazy enough to think that the process of gathering amazing people together is as much making something as anything else in the arts and sciences - and I think you should be there.  We are all about building prosperous, self reliant communities; let's start with the one we know best.  This time, we'll probably touch on sustainable farming and renewable energy, buy local business campaigns and the emerging sharing economy.  Some of it might focus on how to connect with other local groups.  But either way, we're making something worth checking out. 

Are we solving a great universal problem?  I'm not sure - and who am I to say?  But I know we just might be solving some small problems, right here at home, and lately that seems to be where we should all start.

Friday.  February 8th at 6pm.
(And if you need bribery, Chris and Samantha just might bring cookies and farm fresh milk again.)

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