We live in a built up world. We survive on the detritus of prior generations, we are an augmented species. We are tool designers and tool builders and tool users. And of course some of us pay a bit more attention to the tools, old and new, that help us become what we want to be.
A gearhead is a user, but a gearhead is a special kind of user. The closest thing we talk about is a 'prosumer'. A gearhead is an aesthete of tools. Look at Gilligan in the opening theme of Gilligan's Island. The mate was a mighty sailing man. See how proud he is of that rope and his gear? That's a gearhead.
There are dysfunctional gearheads too of course. The most common of which is the fanboy. A fanboy says that Stanley Clarke is the greatest bassist on the planet, which may be true, but he doesn't know why and he doesn't know how Stanley plays. He just knows what he likes - that's his side of the story and he's sticking with it. Fanboys are cool, if you're not put off by obnoxious people. At least they care.
Hackers are gearheads who take things apart and put them back together again. They (we) are fascinated that a solution exists and they want to figure out how. The hacker is never satisfied just making something work, they want to get inside the black box and figure out how to make it work better, or make it work differently, or even figure out a way to make it stop working altogether. A hacker tries not to trust anything if he can't figure out where its brain is. That's a Harry Potter metaphor for you. DJs who scratch and mix are hackers. Cooks who mess with recipes are hackers. Even kids who pull the pickles out of their hamburgers are hackers.
Yes I like threes and I like hierarchies. Makers top off this one. A maker takes an idea and fabricates a solution. A maker builds a tool or a gadget or a song or a poem or a shed or a shim. Makers want to put their names on things they've built - they are bridge builders. They want to own the process and come up with a totally new way. Sometimes makers are combinators. Annie Hall's style was completely made up. Who knew? Wallace and Grommet are makers. Makers can be, but are not always perfectionists. They're about form, but more about function. They are enablers. Oh, yes and obviously on Gilligan's Island, the Professor is a maker.
When I think about the distance I've traveled over the past two and a half years in my career, I have had to come to grips with a new set of folks. And within LAMP and Open Source I've had to move from mere gearhead appreciation into hands on hacking and scrutiny. I've done a little making as well.
Tangential to Neo-Victorianism and Steampunk, I think that the direction of young people is towards these archtypes, with a combination retro and junkyard motif. A lot of things that are manufactured for consumers who are not as aesthtically demanding as gearheads will fail to suffice. Most will be hacked beyond recognition, and those that survive will be the projects of makers.
In some areas, makers of this new sort are completely outclassed. Nobody with a 3D printer is going to make a gun barrel worth beans. Bitcoins will never become real currency even at the level of frequent flyer miles. But in other areas, makers, especially bespoke makers will have a very broad canvas of designs and technologies to draw from. My favorites among these are makers in the automotive sector of the economy. Shops like Deus Ex Machina, the motorcycle builder and ICON, the Toyota truck builder.