I am an innovator. And yet, I still struggle with what exactly that means.
Say you’re driving down a west coast highway in your economy car, listening to music, admiring the landscape around you. You look up and see that there are old electrical (or maybe they’re telephone) lines up on the mountain to your left. Do you ever wonder who put those up there? How much manpower did it take to move a structure like that up a mountain? Are you noticing how many there are? And this says nothing of the highway carved out of the base of that mountain, or the metal, wood, and plastics that make up the railings, signs, and other parts of the highway that make up the invisible highway interface on which you now drive. Each of those pieces that make up your driving experience must be made from something, mined, or created from somewhere, fabricated and constructed by someone.
Last year, sitting with a community designed around learning and pedagogy in Atlanta, Georgia, I learned about maker spaces — a gathering of interested people with a variety of skills, getting together to exchange ideas, abilities, and learn from one another. This year, I accepted a fellowship called the Student Innovation Fellowship (SIF), which is a sort of maker space for innovation on my university campus. When I attempt to explain what I do as a SIF (yes, we make plenty of Star Wars jokes), it takes me a moment to decide what to say. Sometimes I describe it as a think tank, and sometimes I say that we advise faculty and students on technology use, but really, it’s a maker space where I get to explore what it means to innovate. I have certainly learned that a maker space is an innovation in itself: When we use skill and knowledge as a currency (ex. I will teach you HTML if you teach me how to change my oil), we open up whole new worlds of complexly linking systems about which we often don’t already know. This, to me, is the wonder of infrastructure: that idea that the material world is made up of so many many moving parts that one human could not possibly understand every bit of it, even in a lifetime of trying. Read More