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Thursday, March 28, 2019

Why do I think of myself as a "maker"?

In 2015, engineering professor Debbie Chachra wrote a piercing declaration in The Atlantic called "Why I Am Not a Maker". It's excellent:

Almost all the artifacts that we value as a society were made by or at the order of men. But behind every one is an invisible infrastructure of labor—primarily caregiving, in its various aspects—that is mostly performed by women.
...
Describing oneself as a maker—regardless of what one actually or mostly does—is a way of accruing to oneself the gendered, capitalist benefits of being a person who makes products.
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The problem is the idea that the alternative to making is usually not doing nothing—it’s almost always doing things for and with other people.
...
Describing oneself as a maker—regardless of what one actually or mostly does—is a way of accruing to oneself the gendered, capitalist benefits of being a person who makes products.

This is hard to read, because the "maker" identity has been so useful for me. In my struggles for confidence in my work, that identity has served to place "shipping" at the center of what I try to do. "Shipping" for me means keeping communication to others in focus as I work; pushing past my routines and my tendency to keep my ideas to myself, where they're safe. "Real coders ship" is a mantra that makes me feel connected to everyone else who balks at telling others about their work, of preparing and packaging it in a way that tells others I'm proud of it (and, therefore, that judgments on it will reflect on me).

But Chachra makes me look back on that outlook and wonder if I was discounting the aspects of my work that don't scale. When I ran an afterschool creative technology program for kids in Brooklyn for years, parents and kids loved it, but I was always disappointed at my failure to ship artifacts that others could use to replicate the experience. I experimented with creating curriculum and a learn-to-code platform; was I too focused on these?

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