Several North American hackers were inspired by what they saw when they visited the Chaos Communications Camp and Congress, in Germany, in the summer and winter of 2007. Some of those hackers used design patterns, observed and written up by German hackers, to explain to their friends at home what they’d seen abroad.
Obstacles are no match for determined geeks: in the year or so since then, tight-knit communities have formed in Brooklyn, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Toronto, among people who didn’t start out knowing each other. We’ve rented spaces, bought expensive equipment, and taught classes. These groups have been visiting each other, to learn more and to socialize. The Austrian and German hackers who inspired the spaces here have kept in touch with us as well, expanding our sense of warm, welcoming geek community.
By covering the ongoing story of these spaces, I want to emphasize both how they are exceptional and how, if we are lucky and work hard, they can become a new social norm. A self-organized collaborative space does not have to be centered around “hacking,” of course. Any other shared passion could be the basis for such a group. What we’ve found in our hacker spaces is that smart, creative, engaged people have a lot of overlapping interests, and it’s wonderful to explore the world with a diverse group of people.
Whether we live in cities or in suburbs, societal pressure on most of us in North America is to live in individual family units, but many folks are finding that this model is no longer a good fit. In the suburbs, a tinkerer may have the space to collect tools and work on projects in a garage or workshop, but no other people to collaborate with. In the city, people may share big ideas, but can only get together in a coffee shop to discuss them. The success of the current hacker space movement provides a solution to both problems, one where we can behave collectively, rather than individually.
By building non-traditional communities in cities where it is notoriously difficult to build any community, hackers are demonstrating the future of social organization. It’s fun! While we secretly figure out how to make our lives in the city more functional and satisfying, we learn and share and make things. We play. Everyone can play. This talk is your invitation!
I’m a doctoral student in sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center, a member of the hacker space NYC Resistor, and a blogger for monochrom. Over the years I’ve been an English major (at Louisiana State University), a doctoral student in Renaissance Studies (at Yale), an administrative assistant, a yarn shop owner, and a freelance copy editor. My first computer was a TRS-80 with a cassette drive for storage, while my most recent is a Thinkpad T41 covered in stickers. My best language is English; maybe someday I’ll catch up in German. I used to write erotica but now I mostly just hang out with people who do.