Hi. My name is Anne. I make stuff with words.

I know designers who would never agree that writing or speaking is as valuable as making things. Thinking about how much that bothered me, this afternoon I posed the following question on Twitter:

"Why is making things with words not included in the 'maker movement'? If computation/code can be material for design, why not words too?"

I got some great responses – thanks everyone! – and I’d like to round up some of them here. (The time stamps will be out of order because I didn’t put this post together in one sitting – sorry.)

Anthropunk (Sally Applin) provided an academic take:

"@annegalloway It is. See anthropunk.com"

"@annegalloway also our talk about Meta Making, Culture Making and the Making of Making at 2011 @makerfaire fora.tv/2011/05/22/Sal…"

Many were along the lines of Kio‘s and Erin‘s comments:

"@annegalloway when I started dating Bre and hanging out at his hacker space I would intro self thusly: hi I'm Kio I make stuff with words."

"@kiostark @annegalloway I am so with you on this. Wordmakers and thingmakers unite."

Giovanni and Roberto brought up the matter of labour:

"@annegalloway Not only that, but I'll take into my grave the conviction that writing is a form of manual labour."

"@gtiso @annegalloway Word. Wordsmithery."

"@rogre @annegalloway it's also, in the vast majority of cases, literally manual labour."

Tom took up the matter of code as dialogue,  à la “how to do things with words“:

"@kissane @kiostark @annegalloway Code is just dialogue for digital actors."

And last, but certainly not least, Barry took up my question with more rigour and dedication than I think I was prepared to deal with this late on a Sunday! For example, he suggested that writing has more in common with art than design, because design is a problem-solving activity and writers don’t use design methodologies. And, if I understood correctly, he took issue with me lumping code in with making because the Maker movement deals in hardware hacking, distinguishable from general DIY. For Barry, again if I understood him, the desire (i.e. my attempt) to mush all these things together only results in making all DIY equal and flattening it all into some kind of generic creative practice.

My first thought (and repeated concern) was that we were talking about separate, and maybe even incompatible, things. I mean, the main reason I asked my question in the first place was because I don’t think that Maker culture should only celebrate the creation of physical objects. There is something elitist and exclusionary about that that doesn’t sit well with me.

Alternatively, Sally Applin’s recent talk at Maker Faire focusses on making knowledge and making culture as part of, along with, the things that makers make–this is the basic premise of all social and cultural studies of science and technology (my own academic field)–and how that necessarily includes words. But my concerns go beyond this too, I think.

I’m interested in words as materials for making, and in the written word as an artefact or thing that has been made. I’m also interested in why words (or the written word as distinguished from books) are generally not considered part of “Maker culture.”

Barry’s point was that Maker culture is specifically concerned with hardware, and since I think this definition is generally accepted then words-as-materials have no place there. If Making is about problem-solving, then creative writing has no place there either.

But maybe Glen is getting closer to what the most important difference is; the goals of Making rely on language but not as an expressive force or aesthetic move:

the goals of making do not focus on expression

So, does this mean that if the primary goal of (creative) writing is expression, the only way it can be incorporated into Maker culture is to use words explicitly for problem-solving, or the production of (cultural) solutions? How, exactly, does that differ from aesthetic goals–and especially if we do not distinguish between aesthetics and ethics?

I’m afraid I’m too tired now to continue but I’d really love to hear what others think!

What have I missed? Did I get anything right? What’s next?

P.S. My favourite response to my question came from Peter. (Thanks @meetar and @kissane!) To be honest, I’m not sure how it relates to my question (something about design and repetition and stories and iteration and…) but I love this game review so much I’m going to repost the entire thing and keep thinking about it for days and days and days!

“Infinity Blade is a game about iteration, about retreading old ground, about the small changes that surface across endless repetitions.

It operates around a simple conceit: the God King, the game’s strange central figure, has seeded a bloodline of warriors. A warrior approaches the God King’s fortress, fights his way to the throne room, and dies at the God King’s blade. He never leaves the castle. His son comes to avenge him, and the process repeats.

Each repetition ends the same way: with a son, wearing his father’s armor, carrying his father’s weapon, approaching the place of his father’s death.

The gameplay is predictable. Each bloodline is a series of fights. Each fight is a series of gestures. The enemies are variations on a theme. The spells are incremental improvements. We do the same things, over and over.

Infinity Blade may be a commentary on the grind of gaming, the relentless churn of killing and harvesting to gain new equipment so that we can kill and harvest more effectively.

But to continue playing is to live the same life a little bit better, a little bit smarter, a little bit longer than the time before.”

Beautiful.

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