Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot
Container City: Shipping containers, indispensable tool of the globalized consumer economy, reflect the skyline in Singapore, one of the world’s busiest ports.
You don’t see bicycle-powered cardboard rhinos every day. But when you nearly stumble into one at a Maker Faire, you don’t even blink. After just a few hours spent navigating one’s way though twirling electric-powered cupcake cars and dashing steam-punk-attired ladies and gentlemen, you become well-trained to expect the incongruous and delightfully absurd. And you start thinking, hmm … I’ve got a lot of cardboard in my basement … what completely bonkers thing can I do with?
Mark Frauenfelder, editor in chief of Make Magazine, calls the Faire “a magic space-time moment.” I can’t argue. The Maker Faire my son and I visited in San Mateo, Calif., on Saturday pulsated with a vibe so enthusiastic, so healthy, so creative, and so gosh-darn happy it was impossible not to get swept away. If the hands-on, funky robot, DIY delirious madness of the Maker Faire offers us a clue as to where the culture is headed this century, then guess what: Maybe things aren’t going to be so bad, after all.
You can learn how to sew or how to make a circuit board at the Maker Faire, play with Lego or 3-D printers, listen to the wisdom of sustainable farming experts or watch the mad scientists behind EepyBird.com drop 640 Mentos into 108 bottles of Coke Zero and create a dazzling ballet of choreographed soda gushers. You can ride a bike seemingly designed by Dr. Suess, or whirl around a tire-swing to the accompaniment of a vintage PacMan soundtrack.
You can forge something, should you so please (and if you’re wearing your safety waiver bracelet). Let me repeat: You can forge something. I’ve taken my kids to Disneyland. You can’t forge anything at Disneyland.
Gouts of flame? Check. People on stilts? Check. Motorized couches? Check.
My son and I fought our way into one exhibition space that was so jam-packed and noisy and dark that it was hard to figure out what was going on until we struggled our way deep into the crowd. Then we saw two giant Tesla coils aimed at a cage containing three children. A switch got flipped, bursts of lightning flashed from the coils to the cage, and a seriously rocking version of the theme song to “Doctor Who” started blasting. My son and I turned to each other and high-fived. But the line to get in the cage was too long, so we checked out some drone quadcopters instead.
I’ve been to geek gatherings — gaming conventions, software programmer conferences — where nearly everybody was white, male and pale from too much time spent in virtual words. A Maker Faire is geeky as all get out, but (at least in San Mateo) it is also incredibly diverse in terms of age, gender and race. And everyone shares the same drive: not just to gawk but to get their hands dirty. Everywhere you look, there are stations at which the young and old are encouraged to do something, make something, craft something. A Maker Faire negates everything you’ve ever heard about how the ubiquitous spread of computer technology has created a generation of kids locked in thrall to their screens.
Indeed, watching the swarms of kids devouring every possible crafting/hacking/mashup-ing opportunity, I could only think, these are the youngsters who will be opening up their own Etsy stores in the months and years to come. I saw one kid, who couldn’t have been more than 9 years old sitting behind a table stacked with old busted circuit boards that had been transformed into analog clocks. “Did you make these yourself,” asked one admiring grandmother. He nodded. If, as William Gibson once wrote, “the street finds its own uses for things,” then the Maker Faire is the Rome that all those streets lead to. Repurpose, recycle, reinvent.
In Northern California, the hippie and the geek have long been intermarrying. At Maker Faire, their spawn are coming of age. The Maker movement is a real thing. And it’s wonderful.
Man Covering His Mouth: A shepherd by the Yellow River cannot stand the smell, Inner Mongolia, China
Angry Crowd: People jostle for food relief distribution following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti
“Black Friday” Shoppers: Aggressive bargain hunters push through the front doors of the Boise Towne Square mall as they are opened at 1 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2007, Boise, Idaho, USA
Suburban Sprawl: aerial view of landscape outside Miami, Florida, shows 13 golf courses amongst track homes on the edge of the Everglades.
Toxic Landscape: Aerial view of the tar sands region, where mining operations and tailings ponds are so vast they can be seen from outer space; Alberta, Canada
Ice Waterfall: In both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, ice is retreating. Melting water on icecap, North East Land, Svalbard, Norway
Satellite Dishes: The rooftops of Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest cities, are covered with satellite dishes, linking residents to a globalized consumer culture.
Child Brides: Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010.
Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million
Big Hole: The Mir Mine in Russia is the world’s largest diamond mine.
Clear-cut: Industrial forestry degrading public lands, Willamette National Forest, Oregon
Computer Dump: Massive quantities of waste from obsolete computers and other electronics are typically shipped to the developing world for sorting and/or disposal. Photo from Accra, Ghana.
Oil Spill Fire: Aerial view of an oil fire following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Gulf of Mexico
Airplane Contrails: Globalized transportation networks, especially commercial aviation, are a major contributor of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo of contrails in the west London sky over the River Thames, London, England.
Fire: More frequent and more intense wildfires (such as this one in Colorado, USA) are another consequence of a warming planet.