Tuesday, September 14, 2010

by hand

If you're surrounded by things you don't understand and can't affect, you're going to feel unhappy, or at least less happy than you would be if otherwise. Most people would agree with this, and yet there's a tremendous amount of disconnection between people and the thousands of objects, systems, and and in/conveniences of everyday life. This isn't a new thing; the 60s counterculture and the subsequent "Back to the Land" movement testify to alienation over the past generation at least. But I think people are beginning to adopt a more pragmatic approach. Rather than chucking all of modern civilization out and starting from scratch, we're trying to make everything around us more transparent and open to modification. This is reflected strongly in how we look at food and cooking, but also in more technical realms.

I visited Vienna's Metalab in July 2007, back when I didn't really know what hackerspaces were, but instantly grasped the idea. In fact, as I learned more I was surprised to find out that it hadn't started sooner. Today, they're all over the world, and you can find your nearest one on hackerspaces.org. They offer workshops and classes on everything from Arduino to welding to bookbinding, as well as a space to congregate and tinker. Some act as areas for freelancers to have a sort of office, and they work without an undue amount of centralized authority.

I also believe, though, that every system of behavior rests on a ground of culture. Seemingly 'free' systems, from classless hunter-gatherer groups to modern anarchistic communes, if they are to work, need to have strong cultural norms to prevent antisocial behavior. I'm curious, then: what is the ideal culture of a hackerspace?

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