I was idly browsing through Wired when I noticed an ad. This is unusual in and of itself as I’ve largely learned to ignore ads, but this one was special. It contained a circuit diagram, so caught my eye. And then, I noticed the Radioshack logo with the words “LEARN HOW TO BE A MAKER”. Here’s the ad in its context:
Clicking this ad (you’re welcome, Wired) takes you to RadioShackDIY, which is apparently a site for makers to share the projects they make. I’ll itemize my reaction below, since it is conflicting.
1) Good. More exposure for the Maker Movement, more people being exposed to the ideals of remaking the world around them, more awareness in general. I am glad to see the efforts of stubborn hackers being recognized and lauded, because it sets such an awesome precedent for those that would look up to them. I find it quite likely that the next 3 years will see the emergence of some celebrity makers (in addition to Adam Savage, of course), and role models like that being present in the public stream of consciousness will hopefully result in more people getting excited about science, engineering, and technology.
2) Bad. This feels like the beginning of corporate commodification of the maker movement. This has happened time and time again with the influx of hippie visual memes into advertising in the ’60s, normalization of punk rock and “goth” fashion with stores like Hot Topic. This is cynical, I know, but the maker movement is a precious thing to me and I absolutely do not want to see it become a hollowed out marketing plaything*. Right now, the maker movement is alive and vital, full of curiosity and exploration. Corporate exploitation of subcultural movements most always results in marketing finding and then producing the lowest possible common denominators of that movement and then releasing them for the highest ROI (see Avril Lavigne and punk rock). I feel, strongly, that the maker movement, in that it is distinct from other subcultural movements in its inclusiveness, exploration, and breadth, should not be commercialized, but commercialization is the inevitable result of profit motives. I want to be wrong on this one, I really do.
3) Anger. RadioShack, as a chain, moved in and undercut the competition from local radio supply stores, leading to their going out of business. This occurred mostly in the 90s. And then, once their competition was gone, they stopped offering useful components for sale and became a shrill Best Buy knock-off hawking consumer electronics to poorly-informed consumers. To then turn around and try to re-embrace what they once were and have fallen so very far from, and to cloak themselves in the light of the stores that they drove out of business is disingenuous at best and douchebaggy at worst.
I’m not sure how to reconcile these conflicting reactions, but I really really do hope that #2 doesn’t come to pass.
*Another example would be what Disney did to the main characters in Cory Doctorow’s near-future Makers. I won’t spoil the ending for you if you haven’t read it yet. It is serialized for free here.