An interview on Making with

Ian Charnas

Manager, think[box], Institute for Collaboration and Innovation

About Ian

Ian Charnas graduated from Case Western Reserve University in 2005 with B.S degrees in both computer and mechanical engineering, and currently manages think[box], the center for innovation and tinkering at CWRU. His work blends art and technology in creatively-themed exhibits and events, including the World's Largest Twin Musical Tesla Coils, a Magical Mustache Mirror, and a Waterfall Swing. Mr. Charnas and his work have been featured on and Wired Magazine, NPR and NPR online, Popular Mechanics, IEEE Spectrum, Boing-Boing, Make Magazine, PitchFork, and Hack-a-Day. He aims to inspire creativity and the belief that you can do anything.

What is Making?

At its core, making is the cultural activity of tinkering, inventing, and learning in the social context of the internet age. The difference between making today versus a decade ago would be that social context, the fact that we’re hyper connected to each other via the web… that we’re sharing our tips and advice freely, not for monetary incentive but for social reputation.

Who are Makers?

Makers are people with a curiosity about how things work, whether its chemistry or mechanics or wood-working or any other topic. The kind of people who take things apart, who modify things, who void warranties and see themselves not just as consumers but also producers. Folks who have the belief inside of them that they can figure it out, that by trial and error they can take an idea from something in their mind through to something in their hands.

Why is Making important?

The process of making in the social context prepares us not only in the clearly-valuable technical skills we learn along the way, but perhaps more importantly the communication and teamwork skills that are increasingly valued in our workforce and society. Dr. Jeffrey Duerk, the Dean of the Case School of Engineering is fond of saying that if you can’t speak clearly and write concisely, you’ll work for someone who does. Today’s making activities involve explaining your project, accepting and offering tips, and other factors of a gracious professional attitude.

What is an exciting example of Making and why?

We see hundreds or thousands of projects each year at think[box] (CWRU’s center for innovation and tinkering), so it is incredibly difficult to mention just one, however one slice of this that combines all of the aspects of Making would be the various EMG work we have seen last year. EMG or Electromyograph, is a technology that measures muscle movement by measuring voltages across the skin. This has been used by multiple groups to create illuminated dance costumes, learn-to-solder kits, and even robotic prosthetics. This is Making because of the way the disparate groups and individuals doing this work interact together, share tips and designs, and exude excitement about their extracurricular projects.

How is Making transforming education?

Making is the application for the science, and the motivation for math. All of those “why do we have to learn this?” moments are transformed into moments where math and science come alive with meaning. Few things motivate a student to dig dipper into differential equations, thermodynamics, and electronics like the addictive feeling of seeing a project come to life.

How can Making change my community?

Making is a phenomenon of cultural change. When you leave the sphere of consumerism, when you bridge the gap from only having bought or looked at things, and enter the world of the producer, the inventor, the maker – your mindset changes from someone hoping for a better world to someone scrambling to make it happen.

How does Making solve big problems?

Making is a boon to education in the way it motivates learners, a help to health care with the recent realization of cheap customized makerbot-printed prosthetics, and a driven creator of skilled members of the workforce. Because of the transparency and sharing aspects of Making, because of these democratizing aspects, the more Making permeates every facet of our lives, from energy to the environment to our system of governance, the greater the diversity of ideas we will see. Many things in the world are the way they are because it was the best solution we could find at the time. Let’s see more people coming up with solutions.