The Problem With The Maker Movement
Illustration by yours truly, Sabrina Smelko

Disclaimer: This essay has been nearly a year in the making, and I haven’t published due to a fear of offending people, but I finally realized that conversation is one of the greatest equalizers, and it’s my responsibility as a creative professional to foster a dialogue around this important — but potentially touchy — subject in the hopes that it bridges a gap, adds some much-needed perspective, and encourages a healthier industry. So please bear with me and do me the favor of reading the whole post. In your mind, imagine a gentle voice rather than a pointed finger. 


A few people have asked me why I quit blogging under Hands and Hustle and why I merged my Instagram accounts, so I owe you guys a bit of an explanation, which I couldn’t have without launching into a much larger discussion surrounding the “maker movement”, a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately — and one that I’m curious to explore with you guys.

Before I dive in, let’s establish what the maker movement is. As described in this HuffPost article, it’s

“an evolution of millions of people who are taking big risks to start their own small businesses dedicated to creating and selling self-made products.”

I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise that DIY continues to be a top search on Pinterest. Companies like Kickstarter and Etsy are equipping people with access to resources that help turn their handmade business dreams into a reality, and this passion-fueled cultural movement is impacting and challenging the old operations of industries everywhere — from food, to tech, to apparel and beyond. In essence, I love what this movement represents: I love that more focus is being given to individuals over massive companies; I love that people are paving their own paths and becoming business owners; I love how this movement has the potential to change how we shop, what we have access to, and give us a better understanding of what we’re buying as consumers; and I love that it’s so openly and widely supported. However, aspects of this movement really bug me, namely the public and social media promotion of it, which often puts forth only half-truths and rose-colored glasses ideals about what it means to be a creative professional (or self-made “maker”).

This pattern of thought dilutes and cheapens an industry that has been trying to prove itself for decades previous. Competition is only growing for anyone who is a business owners, but the idea being promoted that a can-do attitude is all you need to succeed is not only a scary one, but one that diminishes the efforts of those who came before us — those who’ve paved the way and who have worked hard to get themselves and the industry to where it is today.

Headline Skimmers

So, what does this have to do with my old blog, Hands and Hustle? Simply put, the blog name, the language I used, and the hashtag I started, #HandsAndHustle, helped put forth a trend and band-wagon-hopping tendency that quickly took over and populated my feed. Before I go on, let me clarify some very important things: 1. I think making things yourself is a noble pursuit that everyone should be practicing, 2. I think exploring your creativity and stretching your skills and abilities is a very healthy approach to life itself, and 3. I’m still thrilled that people use the hashtag because I love what it’s supposed to represent. However, at the end of the day, thanks to the internet and social media, many read the headlines and skip the body copy which leads to unfair beliefs based on shallow perceptions.

The Original Doers

Think for a moment of our ancestors: the original “makers” and “doers”. They didn’t wear DIY as a badge, rather, DIY was an essential part of life. Or what about home-ec, a once-mandatory class that has since been wiped from many curriculums? I think growing up in the age we do, where technology has made life easier, we’ve naturally become adults who crave exploring these skills and activities, hence our inclination to fill this gap with personal pursuits, guided by the school of the Internet. For many reasons, it makes sense why this is happening, and, generally speaking, it’s not all bad. I think the growing trend towards freelancing paired with the increasingly more deserted full-time landscape renders this shift inevitable. I also think that, ironically, everyone is already (and should be) a maker, in the broader sense of the word. Where I find issue is in the cheap, overnight, public claiming and pursuit of a creative career. While more and more will (and I believe should) take their futures and careers into their own hands, I think it’s important that we respect the industry and the years upon years of hard work that many underwent to make these fields professional and respectable places. It would be a shame if, when this fad fades in time, those still chugging along in the self-made creative space were left in its dust — tired, forgotten and underpaid once again, cutting away all of the progress made up until this point.

Word on The Tweet

I should pause to say that I do not believe that people are being dismissive or disrespectful on purpose. The problem lies in that, because of blogs, social media, etc. this “maker movement” promotes the false idea that that if you simply “do” and “make” and have a great attitude, you’ll become a success, and I myself have been guilty of helping push this idea along. On my old blog and Instagram, I used cheap language and phrases such as “movers, shakers, hustlers and makers,” without realizing the damage of this seemingly (and, in theory) positive, feel-good movement. I wrote about making and doing, and celebrated the “doers and dreamers” of the world, which is still something I support and believe in, but the issue is that this dialogue without the support of full story promotes an unfair impression of what it means to be a professional employed in a creative industry. The words hustle, do, make, etc. may be just that — words –, and it’s not the use of them that bugs me, but what irks me is that many who use them do so with the wrong intentions. While harmless, we can do better than hot phrases that romanticize something as serious as your career and life, which is exactly why I decided to separate myself from this kind of language, at least superficially.

Hype

Hype has made being a creative professional seem fun and easy, which I think is part of what attracts many people to give it a shot — how awesome is it to get paid to do what you love!? Sure, it can be fun, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy, or that there aren’t hard days, or that sometimes — specifically because your job is also what you love, you’re turned off from it and the pleasure and joy it once offered is robbed from you for lengths of time. That’s the stuff you don’t hear. The conversation is lacking in the full story that it takes guts, sleepless nights, a strong work ethic, business savvy, time, and, for many, professional training to make it in this saturated space — and then even then, it doesn’t guarantee results or success. You cannot work in a silo and expect to make it simply because you have a good attitude and use relevant hashtags. That is simply not enough, and I think that’s a really, really good thing.

To Love It, Even When You Hate It

I’m certainly not a stickler for post-secondary, and my views are not archaic in the sense that I believe there’s a right way of doing it. I don’t believe in the “back in the old day,” mentality, and I certainly don’t believe that this “maker movement” is all bad, or that people are purposely cheapening the industry. However, I do believe that if we’re going to continue to promote becoming a creator online, it’s only responsible that a secondary dialogue be started that provides a more well-rounded perspective on the matter. I’ve witnessed many (myself included) roll their eyes in silence over this problem, but passive-aggression gets you nowhere and I think it only fair that more people from a variety of backgrounds begin to offer more insight and perspective on the topic, so that’s exactly what I’m trying to do here, and I’d love to hear what you guys think in the comments below — but before I end this off, I want to make it clear that in saying all of this, I’m not trying to cut people down. Rather, I’m saying this in defense of and to champion those creators who came before us: those who never make claims; those who know the reality that having a can-do attitude is not always the secret ingredient to a client’s tight deadline. Ironically, I still encourage everyone to make something (of) themselves, to spend an evening on a DIY project; draw or create something for fun or for a challenge, but if you’re going to pursue it as a career, please do so with respect of those who’ve dedicated their lives to that particular creative practice and do your due-diligence by researching and educating yourself on the topic beyond lurking social media. Do yourself a favor and make sure you really want it. Make sure that you’re willing to continue your practice, even when you hate it and it hates you.