What on Earth is a Hackerspace?

August 31, 2010

Through my discussions one one blog or another, I’m continually quoted discussing hackerspaces. It’s a loaded term, one that I feel is misconstrued at best, and completely unknown to others. The hackerspaces.org wiki has the quick and dirty definition:

All photos from Flickr user opacity

A hackerspace or hackspace (also referred to as a hacklab, makerspace or creative space) is a location where people with common interests, usually in computers, technology, or digital or electronic art can meet, socialize and or/collaborate. A hackerspace can be viewed as an open community lab incorporating elements of machine shops, workshops and/or studios where hackers can come together to share resources and knowledge to build and make things.

The term “hacker” is used liberally here as a term for anyone involved in the DIY culture, as expressed globally through organizations such as Make, Craft and Instructables (among others). This term is often used interchangeably with the term “maker” to try to ease the stigma behind what it used to mean to hack something, like a computer.

But what does it even mean to be a maker, if not a hacker? In the last decade especially there has been a resurgence in the renaissance ideal of thrift and efficiency, furthered with the constantly evolving technologies.

What people rarely understand is the network that this concept creates. These spaces, however different their members or specific goals may be, they are still inherently deeply rooted in their communities. On July 31-August 1 Makerfaire was hosted in Detroit, with the hope that the DIY movement could revive the Motor City. The response from the makers was astounding; people from all walks of life and parts of the globe came to support Detroit and the movement. Hackerspace Pumping Station: One in Chicago, IL brought the Powerwheels Racing Series to Detroit, which brought in submissions of hacked-together child’s power-cars meant for a racing track and adult weight. The submissions were as varied as the spaces, and their members, making for a memorable experience that was later recognized and sponsored by Diehard Batteries.

An article in Wired explains the global impact of these spaces:

Hacker spaces aren’t just growing up in isolation: They’re forming networks and linking up with one another in a decentralized, worldwide network. The hackerspaces.org website collects information about current and emerging hacker spaces, and provides information about creating and managing new spaces. There’s also lots of information exchanged via IRC and a weekly telephone conference. They even enable extramural exchanges.

Beyond even the community level, there is a national network of support for members with the common goals of open-source education. The  majority of these spaces are structured as non-profits, with a goal of providing free or close-to free education on a number of topics, from soldering to sewing to cooking science. Members teach other members, members teach non-members and sometimes the non-members can teach the members. There are no restrictions as to what can be taught, and it is often recorded via Ustream or Youtube to further the education.

There will be more discussion on this at later dates, be sure. But this introduction is hopefully a good start to a longer, more thorough discussion on the implications of this branch of open-source education based on emerging technologies and a desire for efficient and accessible creative opportunity.

Photos from Flickr user Opacity under Creative Commons license
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One Response to “What on Earth is a Hackerspace?”

  1. em said

    nice i like the idea of making techy people unite and talk not just unite through a chat room or other social website. we are loosing the essence of speech… lets bring it back.

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