A lot of people have a mother that made cookies. Mine did, too. Sometimes. She might make them in between sewing an entire collection of gigantic dinosaurs for a window display or painting large canvases with 3-D objects protruding out of them. When I was seven, my mother learned to use power tools and, for much of our youth, she was out in our gararges (we moved a few times) making furniture or reworking huge objects made of metal or wood. Even today, because she can't use a computer, she will often ask me to "look on the internet" for large metal grommets or a particular kind of hardware or stain or upholstery fabric. My mother, in short, is always making things, has always made things. She has made a some (but very little) money off of the things she's made, but she doesn't stick with anything long enough to develop a "product" or a static style. When Etsy came about, though, I really thought that my mom would finally have a market for the things she made. For a while, she had hope, too, I think. But the more I learned about Etsy and like sites, the more I saw it shift and, for the most part, come to value a particular kind of aesthetic (one, I might add, quite in line with commercial tastes), I realized that Etsy was, like any face-to-face community, not as tolerant of variances in style or taste. Don't get me wrong, I like the things on Etsy, and I like that I can supposedly "feel good" for not supporting corporations. But I like Nordstrom, too, and corporations have become, it seems, increasingly savvy at letting you know that if you spend so much you are helping kids in Africa with AIDS get medicine or, more recently, feeding the hungry in Haiti. What is the difference, then, between buying things from Etsy to do "good" or things from Nordstrom to do "good"? This is a question that always comes up for me and one, that, is more complicated to answer than what it may seem.
The blog I read for today, then, was the teeming void blog, and after reading a few entries, one that caught my eye was an entry on a 3-D printed weather bracelet that reflected weather patterns. This post fit into the overall project of the teeming void because the posts their are largely regarding a data aesthetic.
Although the idea of data as aesthetics is quite interesting to me, what impressed me most about this post is a link I followed to a site called Ponoko where, apparently, you can have 3-D objects printed for you and laser-cut. There was another post on the teeming void, where the author tested this out by ordering some laser-cut wood pieces.
What interests me about Ponoko, then, and the ability to custom order these kinds of things, is it gives the common person access to a kind of technology that was once only available to the owners of the means of production. (It is also interesting to note that the aesthetic on Ponoko is one that is less commercially polished, unlike Etsy or Nordstrom). This gives me a sense, then, that is technology (even though it is still a consumable product) has some interesting potential for allowing people to make things that were not formerly possible. My mother, for example, would often search for industrial materials but be impeded in her projects by what was on the shelf at Ace Hardware or K-Mart.
As interesting as the weather bracelet idea is, though, I think it points to another issue that came up in our discussion this week: access. Even though Ponoko is on the internet and, in theory, accessible to a lot of people, this certainly doesn't guarantee its accessibility in other senses of the word. A person who is savvy enough and has enough cultural capital to consider "data aesthetics," for example, can experiment with the making Ponoko provides; yet, someone like my mother cannot. Even more so, the raw technologies would perhaps have made it possible for someone like my mother to mass-produce her work by standardizing 3-D, lazer-cut parts; however, that process would likely shape her craft work into something else, something more co-opted and less clunky, less hers.