No matter how you slice it, the hacker scene is not a terrible diverse one. And yes, there are a few hackerspaces that are outliers. By and large there are a few certainties when walking into a hackerspace:
LEDs, lots of LEDs
Upper-middle-class white males
Is that a problem? Yes it is, according to the hacker ethic. To quote Richard M. Stallman:
The hacker ethic refers to the feelings of right and wrong, to the ethical ideas this community of people had — that knowledge should be shared with other people who can benefit from it, and that important resources should be utilized rather than wasted.
Unless you define “other people” as upper-middle-class white dudes and the rest of humanity as non-people, hackerspaces and hacker events clearly fail this ethic merely by their lack of diversity. Since I am a white upper-middle-class dude myself, I am not terribly likely to figure out the fix for this since I’m quite likely to be part of the problem. Nonetheless this is about sharing a bunch of half-baked, slightly-assorted thoughts on contributing factors to the problem.
Disclaimer: These are opinions. You may not like them. These things happen when you express opinions.
In 2007, at the 24th Chaos Computer Congress the first effort at drafting design patterns was attempted. At the CCC Camp that same year, hackers on a plane brought Americans to Europe en masse for the first time to experience a far more vibrant hacker culture than existed in the US, at that time. Americans returned, and two new American hackerspaces sprung up. The first of many new spaces. The first drops in what would become a worldwide deluge.
5 years on, I find that a lot of the excitement that I was wrapped up in in 2007 has gone. What was once new, and full of promise, is now very much real, and part of the day to day humdrum routine of life. Hackerspaces are now so common place as to afford the term an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary. Hackerspaces.org’s blog hasn’t been updated in a year. Because honestly, what is there to say that we don’t already know? The new hackerspace smell is gone.
At one of the earliest NYC Resistor meetings Bre said “This thing isn’t real until it’s been around for five years.” Bre was trying to make a point about how much can happen in five years and why we’d need to plan for the things we didn’t see as being immediate concerns. He was right, more right I think, than he could ever have imagined. In the next 5 years of Resistor’s existence we saw enough members move to California to start a space there. And others move to even more far flung regions of the world. We’ve seen members marry, have kids, and start companies. One of those companies exploding out into the world, and maybe exploding a bit inside of itself as well. I myself, ended up spending a couple years at NASA Ames working on a wildly successful Open Source project. Something I would never have thought possible at the time. And, now after three years in California, I find myself back in NYC taking stock of things.
I think I have a message for Hackerspaces. One that I think is of critical importance. An addendum to the Design Patterns. Something new, that’s worth saying. At the 5 year mark, I find that my definition of hackerspace has changed.
3.2 License. You hereby grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to Company and its affiliates and partners, an irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free and fully paid, worldwide license to reproduce, distribute, publicly display and perform, prepare derivative works of, incorporate into other works, and otherwise use your User Content, and to grant sublicenses of the foregoing, solely for the purposes of including your User Content in the Site and Services. You agree to irrevocably waive (and cause to be waived) any claims and assertions of moral rights or attribution with respect to your User Content.
However, by posting, uploading, inputting, providing or submitting your content to Thingiverse.com, you are granting Thingiverse.com, its affiliated companies and partners, a worldwide, revocable, royalty-free, non-exclusive, sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, create derivative works of, distribute, publicly perform, publicly display, transfer, transmit, distribute and publish that content for the purposes of displaying that content on Thingiverse.com and on other Web sites, devices and/or platforms.
What is less-than-awesome is the way both changes have been enacted by MakerBot Industries. It is one thing to publicly announce that you’re having to compromise on openness because building an open hardware business model is still pretty much uncharted territory and that you’re moving back to some enclosure and also stating what your goals for future openness are. It is another thing to do kind of omit it in the fanfare surrounding the launch of a new generation of your products, a new generation whose polish was made possible to a significant extent by all the people willing to put up with all the quirks, bugs and sometimes outright braindead engineering decisions embodied in your earlier generations, just because an open 3D-printing future is awesome.
On the 29th of November 2009 Malmö’s hackerspace Forskningsavdelningen was raided by masked riot police.
Armed with batons and pepper spray they stormed the social center where the hackerspace housed and confiscated computers and other technical equipment.
One of the people detained was a hacker named mackt. With a background in The Pirate Bay, for him the raid was yet another proof of society’s mistrust and lack of understanding of hacker culture.
After the incident he wanted to do something about the distorted image of hackers. He contacted the film collective RåFILM in Malmö and the idea was born to make a documentary that explains the political aspects of hacker culture beyond the simplifications and preconceptions.
The film will take them out on a long trip to the famous and infamous hackers and activists around the world, hackers that express themselves artistically and politically through technology. What are their motivations? What are the politics and activism hacker culture has shaped out? How does this impact our world? The film will feature unique encounters with people that usually elude the public. It will crash land in the middle of the conflict currently taking place between those who want to keep the technology and the Internet free and those who want to control it.
One of the buzzwords doing the rounds in the past few years is ‘personal fabrication’. The idea that in the foreseeable future we all will be able to fabricate our own stuff. And although the founder of the fablab phenomenon, MIT professor Neil Gershenfeld, is pretty nuanced about it (watch his TED talk on the subject), some are actually talking about upsetting the traditional supply chains for manufactured goods. It actually is one of the stated goals of the Global Village Construction Set project by Open Source Ecology. The heavily ajective-laden newspeak of their website, this is actually a cool project. Watch Marcin Jakubowski’s TED talk about it. Also read Far McKon’s rather thoughtful criticism of it on his blog. The snark in me prevents me from omitting that the Open Source Ecology are doing everything in imperial measurements. Which aren’t quite useful for your stated target audience: farmers and villagers in the developing world. Get with the program guys, use metric!
Other than that, I find any ideas on reducing our interdependencies a bit interesting. There are a few snags here and there. First of all, economies of scale matter. They matter a great deal. Actually, a lot of the activity in hackerspaces would be impossible weren’t it for the fact that China has become our global workshop. There is no way other than massive robot usage in which we can ever dream to meet the current price-performance ratio of the Chinese manufacturing base. Also, do not forget that current shipping all over the globe is probably one of the last things to survive through the permanent oil crisis we have just entered. Simply because the energy expended lugging that container full of stepper motors for your repraps from Shanghai to Rotterdam or San Diego is actually pretty low. A shame that those massive container behemoths burn really dirty oil for that. Not even the next leg, either inland shipping over the river Rhine or over rail from San Diego elsewhere in the USA (granted, electrifying US rail networks would be a big win and will be inevitable). It is the last hundred or so kilometers that are the really energy-intensive part of those steppers’ journey.
Personal fabrication only makes sense for niche products such as spare parts and when access to the world’s supply chains is not really affordable. Which indeed means the developing world, but perhaps also rural communities in a not so distant future in which the world has stopped shrinking and has expanded again because oil is not so cheap anymore.
All of this does not mean that the GVCS is not an incredibly interesting idea that doesn’t deserve support. It also doesn’t mean distract one jota from the fact that affordable CNC-machines and additive manufacturing will make craftmanship accessible again, without the five years minimum you have to spend to get a skillset need for say, advanced woodworking. In the past lots of us had great ideas that would require the collaboration of several disciplines and therefore execution would be difficult. Now that lasercutters,CNC-mills and 3D-printers are within reach of hobbyists and hackerspaces, these barriers are crumbling. Atoms may or may not become bits, but lasercutters are cool!
This weekend the 18th and 19th of February will be the second Global Hackerspace Cupcake Challenge.
Hackerspaces worldwide are challenged to bake, decorate and package a single cupcake and send it to another hackerspace. The receiving hackerspace will then open and judge on various topics including decoration, condition and taste.
It’s time to look back and look forward. If you’re anywhere near Berlin in February, you should join us. Please put Friday, February 3rd 2012 in your agenda.
We reserved a slot for a symposium and get-together at the c-base Hackerspace in Berlin. It will be an official partner event of transmediale.12. transmediale is an annual festival for media art and digital culture taking place for one week in February in Berlin, Germany.
Gathering protagonists from the DIY hacker movement who build spaces for people to make and build things, we will explore a phenomenon that exploded in 2007 and has been growing ever since. Be prepared for in-depth discussions on blinking electronics, tinkering, self-organization, spaces, hacking in places like Africa, Asia, America, or Europe, and a friendly outlook on things to come.
What to expect: We’ll start at 16:00 and make use of the afternoon at c-base, before an excellent line-up of DJs will finish off the gathering of the tribes. We want to put the emphasis on the exchange of ideas and no information overflow, but we want three talks or panels on the current state of the Hackerspace movement. If you have something to share, please send a short and sweet outline to firstname.lastname@example.org
Noisebridge, a hackerspace in San Francisco, as always is open to those looking for a space to work on projects, and resources to make those projects a reality. We’ve been seeing more and more groups coming through seeking aid for things related to the Occupancy. Together we’ve built out interesting ways to recharge car and cell phone batteries, provided internet at camp, had meetings about web presence, document GA minutes and more.
We want to let the participants of the Occupy Movement know that we’re here and open to them. We’ve also started a site called hackupy.org (graciously hosted off of Hackerspaces, thanks!). Hackupy are open hack nights at hackerspaces for Occupy related projects, and the site gives a listing of spaces which provide such nights. So far hackupy has been happening at NYC: Resistor and almost 24/7 at Noisebridge, and we look forward to seeing more hackerspaces jump in and provide time to those wanting to hack for excellence!