VIRTUAL virtual REALITY reality

I saw this on my Google+ feed (yeah, I actually use Google+ along with two of my friends)...

...and got all excited before realizing it's not for people who are building, designing, making, and hacking physical things like houses and furniture. Turns out the event is for computer programmers! Okay, so the term "design" is technically fair game.

From the Builder's Forum April 5 announcement (

"We’re asking people out there in the trenches really building stuff to crack a few beers with us and share what you’re working on."

An Actual Building Under ConstructionAn Actual Building Under Construction

Perhaps I find this amusing and slightly incongruous because today I had an actual meeting with people in an actual trench who were really building actual things. Don't get me wrong - I honestly believe that programmers, web/game designers, system administrators work hard. They just work differently hard than people in the physical building trades. Building code is not the same as building a wall. Making an iPhone app is not the same as making a coffee table. Working as a "systems architect" is not the same as working as an architect.

Des Moines has a fabulous energy developing around technology innovation. We have somewhat less innovation surrounding the creation and maintenance of our physical environment. I worry about degrading the language of physical craft by equating it to accomplishments in the digital realm.



As a mason's son, artist's husband, gardener, urban homesteader and overall very DIY person, I have nothing but respect for persons who work with their hands and create physical works. In fact, I've previously run a co-op space for artists, hackers, and makers in Des Moines' East Village. Market Day, an event I helped create and guide that my wife and a partner now run, is entering its third season. 40+ makers and crafters (including furniture, clothing, and more) sell their goods every month to crowds that frequently top 1,000. I'm as likely to spend my weekends helping friends build rabbit hutches and making art as I am writing words and playing with iPhone apps.

I disagree with your assessment that using the language the way I did in this event announcement is "degrading the language of physical craft". Technologists have a long history of using metaphors from the physical world for actions in the digital realm (software releases are often called builds, the "cut" action is generally represented with a pair of scissors, etc). I trust in the intelligence of my audience and yours to know a metaphor when they hear it or see it, especially when one considers the context of the announcement.

Encouraging persons who more frequently identify as "designers", "coders", or "developers" to think of themselves as "makers" and "builders" can inspire more craftsmanship in their end products and open their thinking to solutions that involve the physical/analog space as much as the digital one. I know of one attendee who's planning to show off their Arduino kit (hardware hacking), and another attendee working on a startup that marketing a locally produced solution for portable boxes/shelving to the tech, design, and startup crowd.

Colorful language inspires, and if using colorful language encourages more people to embrace innovation, attend my event, and share the products they're working on (digital OR physical), so much the better. If there's something you're working on you'd like to share, I hope you'll attend.

My email address and phone number are readily available online and I'd be happy to chat more offline if you have further thoughts.

Scott | Sep 16th, 2011 at 11:10 am

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