Making trends, past and future

I spent some time in earlier this year trying to sketch some sort of Venn diagram of my interests with larger trends: within the realm of things that interest me, what the issues that have urgency, which directions are we moving in, what are the forces that I should engage with?

This was in large part to inform the work we’re doing at Lighthouse over the next few years, but also comes from a sense I have that the milieu of ‘making’ that I’ve been operating in for the last 5 or 6 years has shifted, and it’s time to explore some new frontiers.

It’s a useful exercise to look back and try to find a line through all that has interested me in the last few years, to speculate as to where might be fruitful areas to focus in the future, and to share some rough thoughts here for the purpose of working things out, and getting feedback. So here goes…

Looking back

I’ll quickly recap the territory I’ve been exploring over the last few years:

There’s more, but this gives you a sense of my perspective There have been a series of forces, trends and shifts in technology, the economy and society that have led to all these things becoming possible, gaining traction in culture, and being interesting things. They fall under a few categories:

Looking forward

Now I want to turn 180° and look forwards. Which forces are shaping the world today? How will the existing landscapes change, and what new ground will be uncovered?

Dematerialisation and alienation from the physical world

Interest in craft and making is driven in part by a decrease in our engagement with physical things:

Making is in some way an antidote to this shift. A way for people to re-engage with the physical world. This trend of dematerialisation is continuing:

So this imperative is stronger than ever. And most current approaches are lacking:

All of these areas are places where it would be worthwhile putting energy.

Emerging models in manufacturing and mass-produced goods

Shifts in manufacturing over the last 30 years have had a larger impact on culture than the efforts of the culture sector. So if we’re interested in culture, and how that relates to people’s lives, wellbeing, and political decisions, we should engage with the world of mass manufacturing, and the production, marketing and consumption of everyday goods. Right now, there are some really interesting things happening in this space:

  1. China is now more than just a cheap place to make things, but bringing it’s own culture to bear on the things that are made:
  1. Domestic manufacturing is highly volatile, with lots of new models being tried to revive a sustainable manufacturing economy here:

This territory is largely unmapped.

Innovation in media production and consumption

It has been the web, and latterly the mobile web (enabling sharing of ideas, bringing together of distributed communities, preservation of fragmented knowledge) that has powered recent grassroots technology movements: music, media production, social media, physical making. This will continue, and has some interesting effects:

So this is in part about professional development for makers. Its also about owning your own platforms. Whether it’s Instructables, samizdat, or telling the story of a thing, learning DIY media skills is ever-more vital.

Consumer behaviour

And I’ll add one outlier. Most of my interest is in the amateur – in DIY culture. But years spent working for big brands has left me with a fascination for advertising and consumer culture. I’ve lived and worked through 20 years of change in this field, but it feels like we’re reaching inflection points that go beyond just generalised ‘digital transformation’:

Making is inseparable from consumption, so I think these trends are highly relevant, even if not immediately connected