Ex Oriente Make: The future of maker culture is made in China
How is it possible that in just three years, the industrial city of Shenzhen was transformed in the global tech imaginary from a place known for cheap copies and low-quality production to a laboratory of technological futures and a "Silicon Valley of Hardware"?
- Silvia Lindtner
In this talk, Silvia Lindtner examines how Shenzhen transformed into a laboratory where technological futures are prototyped. She will show how Western elites, more specifically American and European entrepreneurs, makers, artists, and designers turned to Shenzhen as a region that appeared hopeful and promising for their professional futures exactly because it concentrated aspects of manufacturing and informal economic development that constitute the past in the West. Shenzhen, in other words, is a city that allows Western elites to see the future.
Similar to developments in other parts of the world, China has witnessed over the last 7 years a proliferation of ideas around open source hardware, hobbyist tinkering and DIY making. Since 2008, China's open source hardware businesses like Seeed Studio and hackerspaces like XinCheJian have become well-known in international maker circles and are considered exemplars of China's own take on the global maker movement. At the same, China evidences another culture of making: industrial production, repair, and professional craftsmanship in electronics are central pillars of the Chinese economy, with Shenzhen, a city in the South of China, constituting its hotbed. Shenzhen produces more than 90% of end-consumer electronics in usage worldwide. Just a subway ride north of Hong Kong, the city has over the last 3 years attracted a flurry of maker-related technology enthusiasts, who see Shenzhen as providing the social, economic, and cultural tools to prototype a maker approach to industrial development. Prominent western news media outlets have picked up this story of a renewed Shenzhen, as visible in a 2016 Wired documentary that celebrates the city as "Silicon Valley of hardware." Two maker cultures, one driven by international tech elites and the other by a history of industrial production, converge in Shenzhen. It is here where Shenzhen was turned into a laboratory for makers and entrepreneurs to not only prototype and tinker with new technologies, but also with their own professional identity and the future of the tech and creative industries.