Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Why Don’t You? A review of 'Making is Connecting'

Again, this was first published on my work blog - sorry if you've already seen it. I'm posting it here too because I think knitters might be interested. 

making is connecting


I've mentioned David Gauntlett's new book, Making is Connecting, a few times recently: on my work blog, my knitting one, and on the Guardian's Notes and Theories. It's an interesting book worth talking about. It's about the social meanings of creativity and 21st century maker cultures, be these makers of blogs, woolly cardigans, cupcakes, podcasts or physics-themed lolcats, and in particular the changing structures of making which surround what is sometimes called ‘social media’. As any seasoned media studies scholar will grump at you, all media is social, but with this thing we call web 2.0 the patterns of sociability are changing (Gauntlett has made a lovely vid on this) in ways which are wrapped up in the history of crafting.

It has, however, taken me a while to actually finish reading the book and post this review. This isn’t because it’s a hard read, or boring. Quite the opposite. For a piece of social sciences, it’s incredibly well written. Still, in a way, it is a book that inspires slow reading, because one of the many reasons why it took me so long to finish (why it takes me so long to finish most books, unless I make myself sit and read them in a go, or even watch a movie or er… finish this sentence) is that I get distracted. I stop consuming whatever other people have made – in this case Gauntlett’s book – and go and produce something for myself. I knitted, I cooked, I wrote, I gave lectures and organised events. Some of this I did myself, some of it collaboratively. Along the way, I also found stuff other people had made to consume and take part in too. And that’s why Making is Connecting might be ‘slow reading’. Because, this process of going off and doing something yourself is a lot of what the book is about.

One of the key frames of the book is a shift from the passivity of the ‘sit back’ model of what might come to be seen as the odd mid to late 20th century era of the television and towards a culture dominated by ideas of making and doing. People who watched British television at a certain point in the late 20th century may remember a show called Why Don't You Just Switch Off Your Television Set and Go Out and Do Something Less Boring Instead. So does Gauntlett.

I wondered at times whether this shift is over-stating in the book. Or at least that I we should be careful of putting them up against each other in terms of making. I love the passivity of some TV shows because they free me to knit in front of them (just knitting on its own doesn’t catch my attention enough). Or what about TV shows that draw on crafting cultures? (food TV, especially in the USA is fascinating here). Moreover, there are ways in which that big smooth professionally oiled machine of big media acts as a material for 21st century craft. One of the striking, not always appreciated, aspects of 21st century making is how much of it is re-making. Fan fiction is the classic case study of the complexity of such remaking culture. Take, for example, Constance Penley’s book NASA/Trek where she writes about people re-working the stories of Star Trek just as they also rework the various stories surrounding NASA.

A smaller topic, but equally interesting I thought, was that of mess. Gauntlett mentions this first when he is introducing web the notion of web2.0 and mentions a video from Chris Anderson, and then comes back to later when discussing the Jaron Lanier's book You Are Not a Gadget. It reminded me of my friend Felix’s great idea (a few years back now) of ‘messy Tuesdays’. Inspired by the ways in which some knitting and cooking bloggers seemed to be self-consciously styling their domestic lives to look like a glossy lifestyle magazine, Felix wrote up a manifesto (currently offline): ‘You are not your flawless surfaces. You are not your orderly laundry-pile. You are not the seamlessness of your Finished Objects. You are not your risen cakes. You are not your sewn-in ends’. As another blogger, Lara put it, ‘as someone who spent her teenager years wrapped in teenage angst about not being clever enough, pretty enough or thin enough, the idea that my home won't be beautiful enough, my craft not so well executed or my knitting up to speed has been at times quite tough’. They confidently posted about the less tidied-up bits of their lives, celebrating the beauty and reality of the mess that surrounds us all.

I sometimes think we should bring that back: #messytues has something on a twitter meme about it, no? I also think there’s potential for some research here. John Law is good on this topic, as a post on the ‘serendipity engine' reminded me recently. Although I’ve just quoted a couple of knit-bloggers, I think this idea of the reality, necessity and even beauty of mess has something to say about the way we tell science stories too (as the reference to Law may signal).

The point that most interested me about this book, however, was the way that Gauntlett, as a professor of media studies, is interested in people making media and mediating making. It’s all very popular culture orientated, with some nods to domestic life. The hand crafting of pharmaceuticals, for example, doesn’t get much of a look in. I wondered if this would have brought something else to the debate.

That’s one of the reasons why I referred to NASA/Trek. There are many other better works on fanfiction (e.g.) but I think Penley’s discussion of something as intrinsically ‘big science’ as the space race says something about the social arrangement of makers in late modern society. There is a danger that by focusing on the ways people make and remake some objects we further 'black-box' others. For example, I learnt how to knit from reading knit blogs. I can make a jumper. I can also blog about this on the super clever iphone I carry around with me. I don’t know how to make an iphone though, or even spin my own wool to make that jumper from. The latter is largely a matter of choice (I do at least know some blogs that’d teach me to spin and even what plants to grow to make my own dyes from, as well as a few people who have access to sheep for wool, or possibly even a llama). For the former though, I have no clue where to even start teaching myself, even if I did, the manufacture of an iphone is not exactly opensource. Most of the time, I’m ok with that cluelessness, it frees me up to be knowledgeable about other things, but it does also disempower me.

There are key ways in which most of us do not have the means to (media) production – from our inability to understand how to do anything but use (as in use as a consumer) the shiny computers so many of us carry around in our pockets, to more economic or legal issues like the one Martin Robbins recently flagged up on his post about web hosts as the Achilles heel of online journalism.

None of that is necessarily a criticism of the book. We all have to focus somewhere, and Gauntlett does touch on these issues a bit in his final chapter ‘Web 2.0 – not all rosy?’ Still, I was surprised not to see more on the sociologies of work, expertise and technology and finished the book wanting to hear more about anti-social aspects of DIY culture. I also suspect Gauntlett would get an intellectual kick out of the various aesthetics of steampunk maker culture (old post I wrote on an exhibition of such work).

To conclude, I do want to stress that Making is Connecting is a lovely book, not least because of Gauntlett realistically optimistic approach. Though he’ll happily call ‘rubbish!’ (his 10 things wrong with the media ‘effects’ model is justifiably a classic), he doesn’t wear an ability to be ‘critical’ like it's some sort of pin badge to show membership of the ‘very clever thinkers club’. Academics should be able to say they like things, and I like this book. I’ll end on a positive note, an honest one, and say if you are a maker of any sort, I can wholehearted recommend Making is Connecting. It’ll give you a chance to think about the history and philosophies of crafting cultures. It’ll lift you out of your own maker microculture to help you ponder your wider context. It inspired me to make this post, and others, and to think more about my making. So do read it, even if it does take you a few months to get around to finishing it because you keep putting it down to do something else instead.

37 comments:

Woolly Stuff said...

I like your review a lot and I really like the idea of messy tuesdays!

Messiness is great because it is a reminder of being human and imperfect and how great that is. My husband's a musician, and one of the things I really like about what he does is that he always makes sure there's an organic element in there, no matter how synth poppy it gets (to me, "organic" and "messy" are synonymous). It just reminds the listener that this is real people making this stuff and it's what gives the music its drive and vibe.

Just some thoughts that reading your post gave me :)

herbivoreknits.com said...

I remember Messy Tuesdays! This tendency to present airbrushed versions of our projects and the domestic setting has been irking me lately, but I hadn't thought of it in relation to the pristine 'lifestyle' magazines, TV shows etc. Mess is good.

Leather Jacket said...

Really it very interesting post, thanks to share this amazing exprenice...


thanks,

Vita said...

merci)
super boulot)

Panic Away said...

Interesting Post, Vengeful Gladiator's Leather Gloves equipped can interrupt Shade using their Deadly Throw ability.

Multi vitamins supplement said...

I love reading and I am always searching for informative information like this! Write more informative news like this, and let's Stop Dreaming Start Action!!

Best Electric Toothbrush said...

Messiness is a way of life! When things are too perfect, things start to look too artificial.

Messy Tuesdays! :D

www.muebles.pl said...

Oh my god, there's a great deal of helpful information here!

Generic Viagra said...

Nice post. Thanks for sharing it.

Learn Spanish for Kids and Family said...

The article in your blog reminds me some old memory .That is good .It gives me happy .I think we will have a harmonious talk.Do you agree?
learning spanish for kids
english to spanish for kids
learn spanish for kids
learn spanish on dvd
spanish songs for kids
spanish worksheets for kids
english spanish for kids
english to spanish worksheets for kids
progressive media partners, llc spanish
english to spanish for kids

Web Design Companies said...

Great minds at work

www.almeria-3d.com said...

Quite useful material, thanks so much for the post.

Jackson said...

interesting and impressive post.. i like the icons though i don't use them.. thanks for the share ]
Cheap Penegra

generic propecia said...

this is very good information to read

To Healthy Living said...

thanks for posting such informative post. Cool.

upholstery cleaning Milwaukee WI said...

The information in your article is incredible. Very good article.

Maisam said...

If you want to make you free flash website I think you need free flash templates .
Free flash intos is of the best free flash effects that you need.

Felony DUI said...

I’m impressed, I need to say. Really hardly ever do I encounter a weblog that’s each educative and entertaining, and let me inform you, you've hit the nail on the head. Your concept is excellent.

Computer Support Services said...

I am following your blog regularly and got great information. I really like the tips you have given. Thanks a lot for sharing. Will be referring a lot of friends about this.

Engineering Services and Solutions said...

Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about information and love learning more on this. If possible, as you gain expertise, it is extremely helpful for me. Would you mind updating your blog with more information? Thanks @ Econis Labs LLC.

newagesource said...

Fantastic article, it’s very comprehensive and exciting! it’s so helpful to me, and your weblog is very good. I am

definitely going to share this URL with my friends. Just bookmarked this site.

Sildenafil Citrate said...

This thing is really awesome. I have liked your work.

acheter kamagra said...

Very interesting!

Sophia said...

being messy is being myself ;).. interesting post.. thanks

Knitting Needle Sizes said...

Thanks so much for posting another good review. It's great to know which books might be a good add to my library and which ones to skip.

Generic Viagra said...


I am very glad to see such information; resources like the one you mentioned here will be very useful to us. This is very nice one and gives in-depth information.

Moncler Outlet Store said...

It really does make it easier if they would list the opening like that.

ali khan said...

Hi, I think your website might be having browser compatibility issues. When I look at your blog site in Ie, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, excellent blog!advertising | advertisment | production houses in pakistan | pakistani matrimony

Best Article Websites said...


Your blog post is very unique and well research, Thanks for your research on academic knowledge.
website development for companies | Low cost and high quality 2d animation | Advertising agencies in London

ijaz gill said...

I found this Information very interesting and informative! Keep sharing!
testosterone booster supplements

ijaz gill said...

Simple, useful and very Interesting Post. Keep it up.
Lower Blood Pressure naturally

ijaz gill said...

Thanks for posting this. i really enjoyed reading this.

Testosterone Booster with DHEA

ijaz gill said...

Thanks to a brilliant effort in publishing your Information. One can be more informative as this. There are many things I can know only after reading your wonderful Information.

whole food multivitamin

ijaz gill said...

This is good site to spent time; I just stumbled upon your informative blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your very well written blog posts. I will be your frequent visitor, that's for sure.

interior decorator NJ

ijaz gill said...

Wonderful site and I wanted to post a note to let you know, ""Good job""! I’m glad I found this blog. Brilliant and wonderful job! Your blog site has presented me most of the strategies which I like. Thanks for sharing this.

NJ interior designers

ijaz gill said...

Good info and Thanks for sharing this with us.


interior designers NJ

ijaz gill said...

Hey … it's an amazing information dude. Thnx! For sharing this great.
interior designers new jersey