In the opening segment of last week’s Daily Show, a photograph of a tear gas can used by the Egyptian Military against recent protestors with the words “Made in the U.S.A.” crossed the screen with the usual witty banter.
My first thought was similar to the punch-line- this probably wasn’t exactly the “Sputnik” moment that President Obama had in mind. Obama focused a large portion of his State of the Union address on engaging Americans with the traditional rhetoric of what makes America “great.” Ingenuity, innovation, invention, etc. Technology must not be considered a “dorky”endeavor.
In the past week or so the paradox between American consumerism and America as a creating culture has seemingly ‘followed’ me. Ads offering Snuggie blankets and Shake Weights allow for a version of American innovation, but these consumer products don’t alleviate the complex issues of our generation, and they’re definitely not worthy of a space program comparison.
On the one hand, we’re a culture that is known for slothfully gorging on fast food while driving in our oversized automobiles on our way to the drive-thru pharmacy to pick up our cholesterol medicine, texting (at red lights) while our children watch a DVD of cartoons instead of noticing the world they’re inhabiting.
The other side of American culture boasts of garage inventors, tinkering away at technologies that created the Personal Computer; kids in garage bands torturing neighbors until a record label takes notice; or other creative endeavors – but when did our garages become overflowing storage units for our plastic crap or hobbies long ago abandoned instead of little laboratories?
Focusing on this has created a perfect storm of my own reflexive look back on how I spend my own ‘relaxation’ time, both past and present and my very American desire to increase my own creative productivity. Growing up, my own parents spent weekends tinkering and building things, usually slightly leaning, and had hobbies that engaged them for a few years before another replaced the time allotted. During the workweek, their dedication at respective careers and childrearing exhausted to the point of digesting in the Thursday night line-up on NBC.
My thoughts for this blog post came together (possibly quite poorly) after procrastinating on Facebook and waiting for divine intervention. Someone had posted about a TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love about the creative process and how we should get away from the notion of the individual creative genius and revert back to the ancient idea of muses and gods influencing human ‘makers’. What a lovely thought, but overall, not the most inspiring of talks. Rebounding, I found Dale Dougherty’s, publisher of Make Magazine, talk about the traditional American maker culture and ‘hacker space’. These spaces where Americans return to a habitat resembling garages and tinker around with things
“Makers are enthusiasts, amateurs and they are people who enjoy doing what they do – they don’t even always know why they’re doing it.” He claims that everyone is a maker – which in part is possibly true as most people have made something in their lives – but the makers he discusses are ‘in control’.
When discussing making things and the idea of control, President Obama’s Sputnik moment for our generation makes a bit more sense. Combine our American identity of ingenuity, manifest destiny and our shaky world order – it’s understandable to tell us to reignite our imaginations and tinker to create and produce the future.