Earlier this year, while leading creative workshops in Europe, I somehow found myself perched at a maker's week that a friend was attending held to the stunning backdrop of the French Alps. A few gems of nuggets and plush pioneered the week of creative builds aptly themed "Make It Playful!" Select students from MIT were interviewed and invited to attend a week of breakout builds with the goal of reimagining everyday objects into more playful, interactive experiences. I decided to take part observing and facilitating amongst a team of talented tinkerers at the intersection of our physical and digital worlds.
This maker-space held something raw and palpable in the air---pioneering new inventions like a musical wobbling pen that draws glow cats in the sky based on frequency of sound-waves, rocking disco chairs that relax to the beat, a meditation sandbox that soothes the mind in miniature, metaphorical doors that speak. All around tables were strewn with teams of two to three, facilitators and mentors conversing, sketching out designs, cutting led strips, assembling Arduino kits, fusing copper wires that otherwise snaked around floors and tables of cardboard, masking tape and putty. Hosted in a makeshift Fab Lab, this space oozed with chaos rather than order. Next to the main floor sat an adjacent wood-shop and photography room for those curious for more. Meanwhile, few seemed to notice the giant wizzing robot grinning from ear to ear, and I couldn't help but smile.
The week was chock full of play. Teams were building and tinkering, and the week culminated in a three-day hackathon and demo day finale with champagne festivities to bout. One after the other, participants presented their once ordinary objects transformed into interactions that delight.
What set this event apart from others I have attended in the past was its more wholistic, multidisciplinary approach to an all-too-often narrow and insular, software-driven approach to creative problem solving. Do society's greatest challenges have singular software-based solutions as savior, or might there be grander perspectives we may be overlooking with such an approach? Rather than taking a more traditional top-down 'expert' approach to problem-solving with delineated boxes of 'right' and 'wrong,' this happening benefited from blurring the lines across disciplines allowing connection and synthesis to bubble up on its own accord. The projects that stuck evidently were not driven by software alone, but by a careful conversation, negotiation and exploration of multiple disciplines that traditionally do not seem to offer common ground.
Creative forms of play act as revolutionary catalysts that disrupt our most entrenched systems. While experts in a field may certainly offer a good basis in setting a bright path, may we not forget that some of our greatest inventions have emerged from small moments of surprise, a meandering off path, exploring across wide swathes of possibility, to create new and better tools (with joy).