Out & About With … World Maker Faire

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“If you can imagine it, you can make it.” – Davis Dunaway

In 1939 and 1964, crowds flocked to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Flushing, NY for the World’s Fair.  They came to see the future for themselves. They came to marvel at human progress. They came to meet the people who had made it. But most of them probably wouldn’t have imagined making it themselves.

Fast forward fifty years. This past weekend, another crowd flocked once again to Flushing, NY. But in the true spirit of the twenty-first century, they came not just to see or to marvel. They came to roll up their sleeves and make the future themselves.

Welcome to World Maker Faire.

Thanks to a generous education fund from my day job, I was able to attend the Faire this past weekend and experience what all the fuss is about. What hit me first was the age spread of the exhibitors. Imagine a motley crew of inventors, ages seven to seventy, all showing off their creations—from serious for-market electronic products to whimsical homemade games and everything in between.

In between the displays, attendees could take in a life-size mousetrap made of junk (which, admittedly, needed quite a lot of calibration!), comparison shop from a spectrum of 3D printers, nosh on puffed rice from the old-fashioned “puffing gun” spectacle, enjoy art generated by robots, and explore the exhibits of the New York Hall of Science, which now stands permanently on the historic World’s Fair site.

But no matter where I turned, the message of the Faire was the same. You don’t have to be an expert anymore to be the star of the world’s fair. Making is for everyone.

Perhaps this sentiment was best summed up by Davis Dunaway, the fearless leader of Willow Glen Makers, a group of inventive California kids. “You don’t have anymore excuses,” he smiled, as he showed me “The Grid,” a life-size recreation of the iPad game Flow that his young charges dreamed up and built using arduino. “If you can imagine it, you can make it. The tools, information, and how-to you need is all out there somewhere.”

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The sheer variety of creations was a testament to just how few barrier still remain between human ideas and the power of modern technology, paired with smart finds at the local thrift store or junkyard.

As I strolled through the faire, I stumbled on hybrid race cars. Life-size mazes. Nanobot artwork. Lego robots. Homemade Oculus Rift controllers. Games both old-fashioned and technologically-advanced.

The challenger spirit, too, was everywhere, perhaps best embodied by an effervescent red-head who taught me to play his fully-customizable, two-player arduino-controlled labyrinth board game. When we got done, he handed me his business card with a big smile and a single question: “What will you bring to Faire next year?”

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But as wonderful as all of this was, perhaps the best part of World Maker Faire was what made it uniquely 21st-century: the making. At least half of all exhibits had a make-it-yourself component where attendees could build, craft or hack their own mini-version of the project on display. Others offered colorful, full-illustrated instructions that attendees could take to try at home.

Many big brands in attendance—like Radio Shack, LG, and Intel—even had engineering hack sheds where young and old attendees alike lined up for a turn at the soldering guns and circuit boards.

Your truly even made a singing circuit board necklace. [Insert applause here.]

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All in all, I came away from World Maker Faire as energized and inspired for the future as I’d imagine those attendees did in 1939 and 1964. The difference is, most of them admired the inventors from afar.

At this year’s World Maker Faire, everyone joined the ranks of the innovative class.

Because in our age of possibility, anything can be hacked with a little thrift, creativity, and ingenuity. The only question left now is, “What will you make next?”

Smaller Maker Faire events happen in cities all over world. Find out where there’s a Maker Faire branch in your community.

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