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When Colbert names it, it is a thing – makers not takers

“As a #maker, I’m sick of the low income takers out there always asking for more.” – Stephen Colbert

With a good laugh, this Colbert marks a trend we noted here at Difference Engines back in 2012 in “Mitt Romney or Silicon Valley Designer?”. There, we quoted Pinterest founder Matt Sharp as saying: “Work with really nice people whose goal it is to make things and not to take things. Because there are people out there who just want to take things.”

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Making is more than the proverbial putting labor into nature that supposedly creates value in classical political economy. This particular era’s American predilection for making marks some labor as more interesting, creative, and unalienated as the labors of those many manufacturing people in places like China. Creativity has become more than just a privileged name for everyday ingenuities. Creativity marks certain kinds of ingenuity as intellectual property and authorial attributions. Chinese hackerspace elites know this, as Silvia Lindtner’s work shows us; with the government, they work to evolve their country’s image from “made in China” to “created in China.” Creativity seems to have a race, and the sort of making that Colbert celebrates (and lampoons) is raced as well. What’s the difference between these makers and the makers who labor to create widgets? Makers doesn’t mean workers. Makers in these innovation discourses marks those who “build” whole new markets — or at least commandeer them by getting the intellectual property and commandeering the labor forces. Makers of markets — the blue ocean strategists and Schumpeterian creative destroyers — are are makers of the biggest rocks of all.

Modern, young girls love beat music, fast cars and …

Last year I took a group of students on a field trip to the Nixdorf computer museum in Paderborn, Germany. Just by accident my eyes were drawn to the poster you can see next to this post. It didn’t have an explanatory text, just a caption saying “job opening of the Nixdorf-Computer from 1968.“ So, what does the poster say?

Job Opening Nixdorf Computers, 1968

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Modern, young girls love beat music, fast cars and … a timely occupation.
Our company offers 15 to 22 year-old girls
the possibility to participate in the manufacturing of computers, the most advanced machines of our time.

How can you contribute? There are many parts of the manufacturing process that are even too complicated for our technicians [male] and hence can only be executed by skillful woman’s hands.

Drop by and visit us! We will gladly show you your future workplace.

By the way, no formal training is required — only calm hands.

I was puzzled by this poster. While it told me a familiar story about gender difference, it also complicated my views on 1960s gender stereotypes. There is the expected sexism, for example, addressing future workers as girls [Mädchen] instead of women [Frauen] and reducing female bodies to skillful hands. However, the ad also appeals to the technological interest of the reader by evoking a narrative of progress, frontier spirit and adventure. In addition, it claims that some parts of the work process are too complicated for the male technicans. Even today German women are usually constructed as lacking interest and skill in technology. Hence, this poster was a surprise to me.

job opening at Nixdorf ca. 1968

Display at the Computer Museum in Paderborn, Germany

Of course, the world of computer manufacturing wasn’t as glamorous as it is promised here. These jobs usually had no opportunity for advancement, were paid badly and did not offer the security of a long-time employment.

Yet, I am wondering, who is driving the “fast cars” that the “girls” are supposed to be obsessed with? I doubt anyone who worked on this job could afford a car back in those days. Apart from that, in 1965 only 1/5 of the women had a driver’s license in Germany.