For tiny cat-shaped cookie consumption
"Hey, 3-D printers are actually super fun!"
I shouldn't have been surprised by this thought, which I remember occurring after a long stretch of designing, printing, and whittling excess plastic away from my cookie-mold cat. 3-D printers are extremely popular, and kids seem to love them in spite of their poor maintenance track records. I think what I was responding to was more of this internal sense of immersion in the particular motions and tasks and sensations occurring. I loved the noises the 3-D printers made, and the overconfidence of the guiding algorithms that led to plastic dragged all over the place. I loved the playfulness of this machine extending its hand out to me in physical space and trying its best to make something coherent and whole, and failing in interesting ways.
The machine mishaps also reminded me of the work of my favorite maker, Simone Giertz:
I love this idea of cloaking playfulness in seriousness, and finding ways to find that silly expressive spirit in all kinds of projects. In college, I remember reading a book by the composer/philosopher/rad human John Cage where he talked about play in Zen Buddhist inspired terms:
“What is the purpose of writing music? One is, of course, not dealing with purposes but dealing with sounds. Or the answer must take the form of a paradox: a purposeful purposeless or a purposeless play. This play, however, is an affirmation of life--not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply a way of waking up to the very life we’re living, which is so excellent once one gets one’s mind and one’s desires out of its way and lets it act of its own accord.”I really enjoy thinking about purposeful purposeless play. I also wonder if this idea of play might help provide an alternative path within making to the ideology that Rebecca Onion rightly notes in the photo of Obama gasping incredulously at a marshmallow cannon (I love her analysis of the machinery of war mixed together with the softness of a fluffy marshmallow, also :) ) Onion weaves a complex analysis of the way discourses of childhood, curiosity, nation-building, gender, and education (among others) converge in the way our culture upholds "young Americans" (young white boys) who enact a joyful commitment to science via youth "popular science" activities. I wonder whether John Cage was capable of pontificating in his way because of his considerable privilege within society, and how to reconcile productivity and play when resources are scarcer and inequalities are greater. This left me with a few tangles of questions:
- To what extent can an individual parenting style and attitude towards a child's development exempt them from cultural pressures to develop a productive member of society? What happens when families don't have access to the same community and educational resources to work towards that goal?
- How much of the political/economic rhetoric around STEM is compulsory?
- To what degree is making distinct from popular science? What are the important dividing lines?
- What would making in the service of purposeful purposeless play look like for a kid? Is this goal incompatible with the goal of training towards productive workforce participation? What are the pointless spaces of childhood today, literal or metaphorical, and how can we nurture and protect them?