For a couple years the theme of ‘making’ has inspired public debate around the collective idea of a radical transformation of contemporary capitalism. The speculative transformation may be capable of changing the unfair global production landscape and bringing about a new system in which auto-production and free exchange of ideas and artifacts finally triumph.
This approach, which comes in a moment where immaterial economy and diffused knowledge are taking over, suggests a return to a more ‘concrete’ and practical approach to our actions and to reality in general. The main protagonist of this era is a new kind of artisan, who puts his or her “personal commitment in everything that gets done” .
‘Making’ in this context can be understood as an object, an aim, a way of solving a problem, a virtue or a practical endeavor, or a tangible and measurable result. The term here calls for a strict interpretation, tied to practicality, although without the severe tone that the same may assume when pronounced under the circumstances of any regime trying to justify its absolutism with ‘facts’.
The innovations we are seeing originate from a new global sensibility, capable of magnifying the creative contribution of new technologies and means of communication, rather than simply focussing on their public reception. In this context we can place machines, such as 3D printers, and pieces of hardware, such as Arduino, that allow a facilitated, artisanal approach to complex themes like manufacturing and robotics. This appears to be the third revolution of capitalism.
David Gauntlett, one of the main scholars of the Makers movement defines ‘making’ as the ability to tie connections:
“Making is connecting because you have to connect things together (materials, ideas, or both) to make something new; making is connecting because acts of creativity usually involve, at some point, a social dimension and connect us with other people; and making is connecting because through making things and sharing them in the world, we increase our engagement and connection with our social and physical environments.” 
The changing paradigm we face undermines many basic pillars of modern culture, industrial society and the way in which we conceive of politics. The cartesian approach once considered standard for many disciplines, implying a distinction between rational analysis and practical creation, is now subverted by the ‘learning-by-doing’ concept, key to the Makers movement. The physical creation of highly innovative objects is even revolutionizing the way we learn: Gauntlett writes about a practice that evolves from “sit comfortably and listen” to “make and build” . The former is the result of traditional educational systems, generalist media and related policies; it implies a disjunction between learning, practical experimentation and the production of artifacts. The latter initiates a new era where knowledge is built and transferred through participation, shared experiences and active involvement of different communities.
The Makers movement is being popularized thanks to technological achievements that seriously undermine the contraposition between a digital and a physical world towards the final overcoming of the “digital dualism” concept . For this reason, another key player in this landscape is the web 2.0 which, as Gauntlett tells us , cannot be untied from the practice of the Makers movement since, in some ways, the former has been a reference for the latter.
The combination of rapid manufacturing technologies and control systems is deeply changing the notion of production, distribution, consumption, creativity, sharing, automation, etc. It appears to be shaping a neo-artisanal world, where new technologies may lead us to the most advanced frontiers of customization and reach a new shape of capitalism.
In the very moment in which an object is created, a series of intimate connections are tied with the author: his or her emotional capital  somehow lives in the artifact. The new craftsmanship involved in the participatory environment of FabLabs improves sharing of this capital and thus emotional connection between people, objects and their environment. The passion that drives participants is the same that guides the objects’ realization; these factors help us to see in Makers the most advanced manifestation of the core capital of the 2.0 universe: amateurs .
Amateurship is the emerging value of our age and is key to understanding a new form of cognitive delocalization which is taking over the geopolitical delocalization we have experienced during the last decades. The new capitalism does not delocalize geographically, exploiting different working standards throughout the world, but rather shifts the role of the producer to the consumers, taking advantage of the productive vein shining in the eyes of the new craftsman: the same vein which, since the beginning of the 21st century, fostered the creation of tons of digital contents.
Unfortunately, some of the connections tied by Gauntlett between ‘making’ and other key concepts of capitalism (such as social, cultural and emotional capital) may be subject to some perplexities in the minds of critical readers. In particular, the ability to produce and share freely everything everywhere could subjugate ideas, relations and contents produced by Makers in the same way that, for Marx, work has been subjugated to capital. As Carlo Formenti would say, this could make us all “more happy and more exploited”.
Seen through this lense, the revolution could be a simple extension, applied to the producer-consumer structure, of classical geopolitical delocalization processes which have distinguished rich countries from poor ones. Better named as multi-localization, this process could bring creative invention and construction in the hands of prosumers spread throughout the globe, leaving brands with the ‘simple’ management of communication through symbols and cognitive processes. It is not new, in fact, to talk about brands as content providers: producers of immaterial concepts based on complex narrative structures and inflamed storytelling, so much as we have seen in the practice of widespread media.
What you have just read is today nothing more than a remote hypothesis, though some big brands have already started to understand the potential of the Makers wave (in between them, Nike and McDonald’s) and 3D printers are appearing in sale locations. There is the risk that the spontaneous creative potential of the crowd may be subjugated under the cognitive influence of the brand. Though at the moment the process of appropriation is mainly limited to the means of production and applied only in promotional services and merchandising. However, everything suggests that a further development may lead to an incorporation of ‘making’ practices into the world’s most powerful brands.
- Sennett, Richard, 2008, pag. 28
- Gauntlett, David 2011, chapter 1
- Jurgenson, Nathan, 2011
- Gauntlett, David, 2013
- Illouz, Eva, 2006
- The figure of the amateur has been critically narrated by Andrew Keen and later ad later benevolently rehabilitated by Patrice Flichy
- Gauntlett, David, La società dei markers, Marsilio, Venice, 2013.
- Flichy, Patrice, La società degli amatori. Sociologia delle passioni ordinarie nell’era digitale, Liguori, Naples, 2014.
- Formenti, Carlo, Felici e sfruttati. Capitalismo digitale ed eclissi del lavoro, Egea, Milan, 2011.
- Illouz, Eva, Intimità fredde, Il Mulino, Bologna, 2006.
- Jurgenson, Nathan, Digital dualism and the fallacy of web objectivity, http://bit.ly/1sTYP31