“Some of it’s just because we’re adventuresome morons with the smarts to wear safety goggles.” - NYC Resistor
About six months ago, Bre Pettis (Makerbot CEO), Astera Schneeweisz, and Jens Ohlig released this book, called “Hackerspaces: The Beginning”. It’s a collection of anecdotes, advice and history from a vast number of hackerspaces around the world; it captures a specific point in hackerspace evolution, a point from which I don’t think things have strayed too much, though the movement has certainly grown since then.
Hackerspaces are an important, and new, type of space. What libraries are for knowing things, I’d say that hackerspaces are for making things – though there’s more to say than this, certainly. Having only been a hackerspace member for about a year, I’m no expert, but to me they fit in with some other public spaces we know (mostly libraries, but also bars and coffee shops). Hackerspaces are sort of a remix of a bunch of other spaces we know well.
- Libraries: Learning, reading, writing, certain community events (usually education- or research-oriented)
- Bars: Participating in community events, socializing, “riffing” on ideas, playing games
- Coffeeshops: Meeting people, talking about ideas more carefully, social, political and philosophical activism
- Museums and galleries: Observing, some forms of “direct experience” of history and philosophy
They’re definitely a place for socializing; many hackerspace members I’ve met say that’s the primary reason for their interest. But they’re also a place for talking about ideas, and on top of that a place for realizing those ideas, or some fragment of them. And, as the book makes clear, hackerspaces are also a place for all the other things as well. Many hackerspaces conduct classes and have some form of “game night”. Every hackerspace that I’ve been to is a de facto museum or gallery, in that members often leave their work out for inspection and there are lots of other artifacts basically everywhere. And, depending on their membership, philosophical and political activism can be an important part of a hackerspace’s output – I think Hive76 hosted at least one hackathon for Occupy Philly, for example.
The philosophical and political activism component grows, I think, out of something else that’s unique about hackerspaces – they’re an expression of a commitment to intellectual freedom, at the very least, and often of many other types of freedom as well (e.g. physical, spiritual, commercial). In the book we learn that members of the hackerspace Netzladen, for example, “range from political activists to intellectual literature nerds to the technological geeks and Linux wizards one might see in other hackerspaces.”