In 2011, maker extraordinaire Brook Drumm was struck by lightning and became a superhero. Well, okay, only metaphorically, but his transformation from self-styled do-it-yourselfer to Printrbot Man was no less complete for the experience. I’ll let him explain the transformation in his own words from an interview in Popular Mechanics:
“I came up with the design of a 3D printer that would cost $500, and when I put it on Kickstarter it went crazy and raised over $800,000. I was at the center of this convergence of hardware and software and materials and electronics. The timing was right and I got struck by lightning…Technologies and platforms have evolved to the point where guys like me in their garages can do things that it used to take a big company to do. Those are superpowers that we all now have.”
So, you see, today’s children’s heroes don’t so much wear a cape and inexplicably decide to put underpants on outside their trousers as they have managed to harness the bits of decentralized power provided through advanced manufacturing technology. While they may not be able to eliminate a villain in a single punch, they can give someone a prosthetic limb in a single print. Arguably a much more valuable ability to have.
While Drumm as Printrbot Man may not be featured in his own comic books series (yet!) he is part of a television series created to showcase a rugged team of superheroes as they tackle a set of real world problems: All-American Makers. The feats of making performed on the show are designed not only provide viewers with inspiration but also help to encourage children to be interested in creating, all with a generous touch of patriotism:
“My passion is kids,” Drumm said. “There’s so much potential at this time in history for kids that just need to have their eyes opened. I mean, I had Legos (sic) and Tinker Toys, a 1950s erector set, and a bunch of crappy tools. But today there’s Arduino and Raspberry Pi and all sorts of crazy mechanical toys and robots…the maker movement is starting to catch on in America because it’s so full of hope; it’s so full of possibilities that can realized within our borders. We can do it here!”
The key in making lies in not just putting things together, but also in tearing them apart. A vital component to the maker movement is that it doesn’t just accept the miracle of a functioning product – it has to be taken apart and understood. This is the fundamental difference between a maker and a consumer and since Drumm doesn’t have X-ray vision, the only way to get at the core of the products that make it on the show is to un-make them. Sometimes the threat of de-construction is enough to bring a potential maker to her/his knees but Drumm firmly believes its a necessary part of the strengthening process.
In the end, the message may be more Wizard of Oz than superhero. You don’t have to be struck by lightning, bitten by a spider, or exposed to radioactive material in order to have the power of creation. And while this ability is much more common than we think, it is still never mundane, as Drumm explains:
“I get excited when I see passion in the maker; when their personality just lights on fire when they start talking about their inventions. If there’s a story there – you get that ‘aha!’ moment, or hear how their wife has been putting up with the whole thing strewn across the kitchen table for months on end – that’s what I get excited about. You can’t make that, you can’t buy it, you can’t invent it. You either have it or you don’t.”
Drumm acknowledges that, right now, it seems to be something that guys have done a better job of discovering in themselves and, unfortunately, this program doesn’t seem to be poised to combat the super villain Perfidious Chauvinism, but as their hearts are pure, I’m sure it will only be a matter of time before they realize the opportunity they have to participate in the freeing of MakerWoman from the bondages of Perfidious and its henchcritters Uncertainty and Self-Doubt. Discuss this story here.