Monday, April 11, 2016

Building with Makey Makey

In light of last week's reading, New Opportunities for Interest-Driven Arts Learning in a Digital Age, this week we explored a tool that allows us to combine the arts with the digital: Makey Makey. This is a board that you hook up to your computer, and then you hook various conductive objects (e.g., metal items, food, water, even graphite patches drawn on paper) to the board with alligator clips, and these objects become keys for your keyboard or replacement mouse buttons. Since the hooked-up items work just like buttons on your keyboard or mouse, they work with anything on your computer, but we were encouraged to use them to interact with Scratch projects. I think this allowed us to strengthen the connection to our interests.

Since I'd used a Makey Makey with Play-Doh, food items like bananas, copper tape, and graphite before, I decided to look around the MILL during make time at the end of class last week to find other potentially conductive items. I noticed a jar full of metal bobbins and had an idea--why not hook up several sewing-related metal items? After all, sewing is something I'm interested in these days! Beside the bobbin, I found a needle, needle threader, and pin, and now I had enough items for all four arrow keys. I temporarily lamented the fact that the MILL doesn't have any pincushions to hold the needle and pin, but I found an alternative: a sponge paintbrush. Here are all four items, with the needle and pin lodged in the paintbrush, each one in an appropriate position for the arrow key I planned to hook it up to:

Hooking them up to the Makey Makey ended up considerably messier:
I then thought it would be clever to find a sewing-related Scratch project with which I could interact using these sewing-related metal objects that were now arrow keys. I searched the Scratch website until I found the Rainbow Sewing project, which features a needle that, when you put the "pen" down and control it with arrow keys, "sews" a line of rainbow "thread" onto the fabric-like background.
I found that the Makey Makey had trouble detecting when I was touching the pin and needle, and I had to squeeze them rather hard for the computer to react as if a key was pressed. They might have been too small to make an adequate connection to the circuit, or perhaps they were made of impure metal and were not conductive enough. Nevertheless, I managed to "sew" the following word on my screen (almost) entirely by using the sewing-related arrow keys:
I made a few mistakes because touching pins and bobbins is a little less precise than pressing arrow keys! But ultimately this experiment worked out, and I'm quite pleased.
I'm grateful this class and my lab's research in general has encouraged me to document my projects, such as through the photos and descriptions I post on this blog. The reading this week emphasized how important it is for youth to do the same with their art projects, and how we need to work together with youth to develop platforms to make it easier for them to do so. Scratch is nice because it is open to the "publication" of "draft" projects and works in progress, but it could be even better. It could have space for youth to journal the sources of their ideas, their design decisions, etc. One thing we have to keep in mind is that currently, online "success" is measured by the number of views/ likes/ shares a post gets. A work in progress is not likely to get as many of these as a completed project, so we need to find some other way to motivate the posting of works in progress.
While it did not turn out being relevant to my project this week (though it certainly was in other weeks!), I was glad to see that the reading emphasized the extent to which media properties inspire young people to make art, whether it's fanfic, fanart, or fan videos like machinima. Since I've been deeply embedded in online fandom for many years, I know this is true. A favorite movie, TV show, or anime can motivate deep dedication and tons of creative and critical work. My only concern--and this concern is shared in the reading--is that this kind of work tends not to be acknowledged in society. My favorite fan writers, translators, and artists do this entirely as a hobby. They need to seek income elsewhere. This is partially because copyright issues prevent them from making money off of a media property they do not own, but also because there's this unproductive attitude that fan work is not "serious" and that media posted online should be free to consume. I think we're missing out on a significant contributor to our economy by not properly acknowledging and paying for the real work these fan writers and artists do. In addition, a financial incentive would encourage more people to express themselves through digital art and share online.

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