Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World by Mark Frauenfelder

Portfolio, 2010

I have had a certain degree of interest in home made projects over the years, bolstered by reading articles on the Boing Boing blog, and occasionally picking up a copy of Make Magazine, amongst other sources.  So it has long been on my radar to read this book by Mark Frauenfelder (a founder and contributor of both of these publications).  It has special relevance for me this summer (July and August 2014) as a children's Librarian preparing for this year's TD Summer Reading Club theme of "Eureka!" - celebrating creativity, discovery, and the maker phenomenon through books and children's programs.

Frauenfelder ventured into the DIY lifestyle to achieve two major goals:
  1. To improve [his] family's home life by taking an active role in the things that feed, clothe, educate, maintain, and entertain us.
  2. To gain a deeper connection and sense of engagement with the things and systems that keep us alive and happy.

As he describes his forays into gardening, tinkering (hacking) appliances, keeping chickens and bees, preparing fermented and cultured foods, making musical instruments, whittling wood, and tutoring his children, he assesses the impact on his life and the lives of his family members.

Frauenfelder wanted to slow down the pace of his activities - take time to enjoy things, build and modify his possessions to become engaged and to have a stake in the success of his handiwork, to avoid waste, to learn how things work - to take back some control of his life.  It is a deliberate turning away from the consumerist imperative to buy the next newest thing and throw out the old.  "Recreational shopping, it turns out, is no match for recreational making."  

For myself, I always feel a deep sense of satisfaction after creating something new, whether it be a newly painted living room, or a hacked Ikea bookshelf, converted into built-in shelves in my daughter's room fit into a triangular space made by a sloping roof.  We have also taken up growing vegetables on our back deck and garden.  I was so happy when I ended up with a bumper crop of jalapeno and cayenne peppers, requiring me to research and explore the cooking possibilities - engaging me in the whole food preparation process - I actually wanted to cook, where normally I see cooking as a necessary chore.  I also regularly enjoy producing art and hobby modelling projects, but I have yet to really tackle a serious maker project like a musical instrument or home brewing beer or something.  This book gives me greater confidence to take on such a project, as it makes it clear that it is OK to make mistakes - it is actually an essential part of the learning process itself.

Discussion Questions:
  1. Have you ever made anything by hand, or grown your own food?  What did you make, and how did it make you feel?
  2. Do you feel that Do It Yourself attitudes are encouraged in our society?
  3. If you could hack (modify or improve) any appliance you own, what changes would you make to it? 
  4. Would you feel comfortable tackling a project with no prior training?
  5. Frauenfelder clearly states his goals in this book, but he also shares other motivations for making by hand (such as becoming energy and food self sufficient in preparation for a world after the collapse of cheap energy).  What other reasons could people have to make things for themselves?
  6. How has the Internet participated in the maker phenomenon?
  7. How could DIY projects enhance the education of children and adults?
  8. Did this book encourage you to explore DIY possibilities in your life?  Did you seek to read more about it?
  9. The author seems to do a certain amount of his career work from home.  Is this lifestyle necessary to successfully integrate DIY projects into one's life as he describes?  Can someone working 9-5 away from home also participate in this movement?  
  10. The book freely blends careful description of his projects, some contextual autobiography, and a bit of social history of the DIY movement, along with the psychological impacts on himself and his family.  What did you think of his writing style and how he blended all these concepts together? 

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