It’s odd to think that there was a time, not so long ago, that people had to make everything they needed to survive. I’d put money on the fact that most of us could not make soap, butter or bread, let alone build our own homes or sew clothing for our kids. Each technological innovation, it seems, has taken us further and further away from learning, let alone perfecting, such basic skills.
That is, until a confluence of The Great Recession and crowdsourcing turned people back on to the idea of making things.
In 2009, Matthew Crawford, the author of the bestseller “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work,” observed that, “This seems to be a moment when the useful arts have an especially compelling economic rationale.” Crawford ditched his life as an information worker for the satisfaction of motorcycle repair. “A good job,” he observes, “requires a field of action where you can put your best capacities to work and see an effect in the world.”
For evidence you need only poke your head into the TechShop in San Francisco’s Mission District, a sort of Hewlett Packard-garage meets vocational training that was founded by DIYer and serial entrepreneur Jim Newton. Home to a dazzling array of machinery, this facility attracts everyone from hobbyists to venture capitalists. There’s even a red phone that connects you directly to the U.S. Patent Office.
Members have access to a sheet metal shop, waterjet machine, silicon mold makers, wood routers, CNC routers, screen-printers, the full spectrum of Autodesk software, and even something as seemingly anachronistic as a quilting machine. “Dream Coaches,” like the amiable electrical engineer who showed me around, glide from woodshop to machine shop, working as teachers, cheerleaders, and most importantly, connectors, linking folks with experience to those who need it.
Techshop is increasingly helping guys (and gals) with a dream transform prototype into product, but to get to the next stage, entrepreneurs have sought an extra boost. To help bridge the “Valley of Death” — the place where good ideas die for lack of funding — a large number of creators have turned to Kickstarter. Since its launch in 2009, the Manhattan-based “crowdfunding” startup has helped everything from feature films to urban gardens to a stylus for touch screens. Together, Techshop and Kickstarter are the dynamic duo of manufacturing.
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