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From bits to atoms — a review of Makers

Makers: The New Industrial Revolution

Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson

Like others have mentioned, this book is pretty repetitive and drawn out. It is written in the shadows of his previous two books, but Anderson doesn’t seem to mind — cross-promotion abounds. Probably the most ingratiating bit is his constant construction of catchphrases. He writes as if he is looking to coin another “long tail”, closing each section with a pithy little comment. In the end, he simply returns to his old form: “Welcome to the long tail of things.”

Through the wordiness, there is some significant content. Learning about the various types of small batch manufacturing tools and services like MakerBot and Ponoko inspired a bit of maker envy in me. However, Anderson is not satisfied with writing a how-to guide or evangelizing 3D printers, CNC machines and laser cutters. He spends a lot of time on “DIY culture” and even moreso on open source culture (something he has written heavily about before). Anderson has become somewhat of a Karl Marx of Open Source:

Open source is not just an efficient innovation system — it’s a belief system as powerful as democracy or capitalism for its adherents. (pp 93-94)

He further claims that the open source movement is less driven by commercial reasons and more by social ones.

It is interesting to consider the rise of opensourcism as a competitor to straight capitalism. I wonder where it falls along the spectrum with regards to Peer Progressivism? They do share some values, as well as historical roots. Though Anderson’s opensourcism is fairly business-focused. Throughout the book he intones: “give away the bits, sell the atoms.” (Would it be too crass of me to point out that Anderson charges $17.53 for the eBook?)

Anderson’s most valuable observation in the book relates the world of atoms to the previous democratization in the world of bits: this new industrial revolution is similar to the web in “ever accelerating entrepreneurship and innovation, with ever-dropping barriers to entry.” Like SPIN farming and other reactions to twentieth century-style industrial globalization, personal manufacturing will surely impact how and what people consume in the future.

If you want to hear more, check out Glenn Fleishman’s new podcast The New Disruptors, which delves into “profound changes in the economy for making things.” Episode 2 features an interview with Chris Anderson himself, talking about the book.