Human beings are by nature creators and builders. The evidence of this surrounds us. We have created many, many tools to support this enduring enterprise, ranging from oil paints and violins to concrete and laser-cutters.
In the not-too-distant past, the act of creation was highly stratified. There were fine artists, or those striving to be. There were craftspeople, like Gepetto the shoemaker (aka Pinocchio's father, who dreamed of having a real son). There may have been many stonemasons, but there were few Berninis, and they lived in an elite place.
This segregation of high and low creation has been pervasive throughout the world of work and in recent times too. I recall being told in no uncertain terms by a senior executive that I was not a creative person, only some people were creative, and that when creativity was needed, it would be hired, thank you very much. I doubt that was an isolated conversation. Even in creative industries, the true creatives were housed in special cages.
This is all changing.
Crafts used to be denigrated as "low art", somehow a lesser act of creation. The same was true of graphic design -- if it was produced for commercial reasons, it shouldn't be framed an hung on a wall. There is a shrinking community of people who actually care about these distinctions now. Case in point: Etsy, an online craft market and community. Yes, some of this stuff is perfectly hideous. But much of it is charming. Anyone can get in on the act here, including children.
Although many strive to make a living with their shops, I suspect that many more just want to share their creations with the world. This motive is surely part of what drives Instructables, a place where you can share your approach to making Lego shaped gummy candies.
In fact, these communities have their own ideas about what makes something wonderful.
Customized manufacturing is another sign on this creation highway. You can go questing for amazing sneakers in your local hip neighborhood, or you can quest for them online, or you can design your own. And it's not just sneakers anymore. (Levi's tried to pull off something like this more than a decade ago, but they didn't quite get it right, or perhaps were also a bit too soon. It was custom fit, not custom design, for one thing.) If you are an actual designer in the sneaker world, keeping your job may depend on being at least as good as the free stuff coming in.
And it's not just sneakers. The tools of big-time industrial creativity are fast becoming available to people. 3D scanners and printers -- and the aforementioned laser cutters -- are now within the range of affordability, just as desktop printers became affordable. And they are going to get more affordable. The real question is whether you'll buy these things in the tool corral at Home Depot, or in the electronics section at Best Buy.
Today, I discovered another wonderful sign of these times in Hackerspace.
Here's how my local Hackerspace describes itself -- "a community space with a diverse membership, including artists, computer programmers, web designers, and hardware hackers. It is inspired by the philosophies of the global hackerspaces movement which encourages people to socialize, share knowledge, and work together on their projects."
Hackerspaces reminds me of the unconferences that have sprung up all over the place -- loosely organized groups of people getting things done.
New communications technologies is what has made all of this possible, in many ways, but it is as much a servant as a driver of the change we are seeing. Tools, access to people, and now access to physical space, are all becoming liberated from their place in the stratification.
The change is the great democratization of creation.
Creation and customization: here to stay and growing. Susan Abbott on CustomerCrossroads blog, Sept 29, 2009
Where customization is going. Susan Abbott on CustomerCrossroads blog, Oct 30, 2008
Get your own car logo, make your own stickers. Co-creation is everywhere. Susan Abbott on CustomerCrossroads blog, Mar 31, 2008