|Hackerspaces and Technology||| Print ||
|Written by Akiba|
|Wednesday, 20 October 2010|
I recently gave a talk on hackerspaces at the New Context Conference in Tokyo . The theme of the conference was social media marketing so you can pretty much assume I was outside of my normal circle of electronics geeks. We were actually invited to participate by a member of CrashSpace , a hackerspace in LA, so I figured I might as well talk about hackerspaces in the context of a physical social network. Needless to say, I deviated from the theme pretty quickly.
I mostly talked about why hackerspaces exist, why they're needed, and what goes on inside Tokyo Hackerspace. Hackerspaces are really an interesting phenomenon that has kind of blown up in the past two years. This is a graph of the number of hackerspaces started over time from hackerspaces.org. 2010 isn’t finished yet, but it already looks like it will outpace the number of hackerspaces started in 2009:
Here’s a graph of the total number of hackerspaces:
If you look at the popularity of social networking sites and the popularity of hackerspaces, they've both grown tremendously in the past two to three years. One of the things that we were discussing is that hackerspaces as a physical social network grew at the same time that online social networks came into the mainstream. Here are the google trend charts for facebook and twitter as well:
Although not exactly scientific, these charts imply that facebook started taking off around 2008 and twitter in 2009. Hackerspaces really started trending upward in 2008 as well. From my experience in Tokyo Hackerspace, almost every member is on at least one type of social network and we keep in touch with each other when not in the space via social networks or the hackerspace mailing list. So actually, online social networks seem to complement physical social networks such as hackerspaces. This seems to contradict some opinions that online social networks make us more unsocial in the real world.
It's tough to say why this is so. I was talking about it with Lem Fugitt of Robots Dreams who thinks that hackerspaces tend to grow in areas that are moving to service-based economies. This is a pretty interesting theory and it implies that people don't get a certain type of satisfaction or fulfillment from just providing services, ie: working in HR or sales. I would tend to agree that building cool stuff is a bit more fulfilling than this type of work. However I’m not exactly sure if that’s the whole story about why there seems to be a concentration of hackerspaces in these areas.
Incidentally, I'm actually 36 (turning 37 this year *sigh*). In most developed countries, there's a higher chance that the hackerspace members spent more time around technology and computers as they were growing up. This was certainly the case for me since my first experience with computers was in elementary school programming in BASIC. That gives me close to 25 years of being around a computer as well as using, building, modding, working with, and programming them. This may not be the case in newly developed countries where access to computers for the general public are probably a recent phenomenon. This might result in not having a critical mass of tech-savvy people within a concentrated area. If this is the case, it would also imply that hackerspaces will only increase in number since computers and technology are now pervasive in many of these countries.
I’m hoping that this is the case and in the future, it will be easier to start a hackerspace. Hackerspaces face a lot of the same issues that startups or non-profits face: paying the rent, acquiring tools, getting members, organization, buying parts for projects, etc. There's actually significant churn for new hackerspaces because of the difficulty in reaching a breakeven point. All but the most popular hackerspaces are usually struggling for funds. If they’re seen as playing a central role to innovation, then someday, governments or private sector companies might be more willing to sponsor hackerspaces and at least relieve some of the financial startup issues.
Anyways, I’m looking forward to what the future holds for hackerspaces and I think that what we’re seeing is just the beginning. I can say that from my experience, being part of Tokyo Hackerspace has broadened my design views, expanded my knowledge of available tools, uncovered a bizarre interest in learning how to sew, and landed me on Slashdot. Quite an impressive impact on me for a rag-tag bunch of geeks...Updated 2010-10-20: Interestingly enough, CNN just posted an article mentioning that innovation happens best in groups: "What I'm saying is individuals have better ideas if they're connected to rich, diverse networks of other individuals. If you put yourself in an environment with lots of different perspectives, you yourself are going to have better, sharper, more original ideas," he told Salon. Link to the article.
written by Kevin Townsend, October 21, 2010
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