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a man slumped on his desk, from 'The Sleep of Reason Produces



hacker spaces and recessions

It’s awful to say that there are parts of recessions that I rather like. Maybe it’s just familiarity: I came of age in the early eighties, and left college in the 1990-1994 recession. My sense of what’s important gets confused in upturns: everyone is talking all at once about matters that I just can’t get excited about, but I feel somewhat silly for even thinking they might be wrong. Then the recession comes, and all my clever cynicism is (selectively) rewarded. In a recession, the signal to noise ratio seems greater. It’s easier to pick out promising ideas, and it feels better for the soul if you can express optimism when everyone else needs some extra.

I bumped in Jake Applebaum today, and we talked a little about NoiseBridge, the San Francisco Hacker Space that he is helping to launch. It’s a little surprising that SF hasn’t had one before, but I think that’s partly because there are lots of informal, ad hoc spaces, and also because during boom times, there’s little need. Every start-up has a tiny piece of what you need to make a hacker space, and won’t give it up.

The timing to me seems perfect, though. It’s a good time to pool both resources and ideas: gather together everyone to work and talk together about their projects, and co-operate on relieving some of the burdens of getting ideas off the ground. I’ve already thought about how, given that I’m probably going to be moving into an even smaller space myself, how I could deposit some of my most valuable textbooks at NoiseBridge: saving me space, and increasing their use. A lot of people will be wanting to broaden their skills, or spryly cross over to wherever there is a demand for hackerish minds (I remember well the great Perl hacker bioinformatics migration of 2001), so crossover technology like a chemistry lab and dark room is useful.

Something I noticed about the old recessions – the eighties, the nineties, the noughts, was that technology became a route out of poverty and dead-ends: there’s a huge proportion of system administrators and programmers who never made it through college, or high school, and found themselves in Silicon Valley, being airlifted to a sustainable life by one another’s efforts. I imagine this will happen again in this recession too. If we hunker down to build what comes next, it’ll be good to do it in a place where teenagers can help lead the charge.

Now I’m thinking of backspace on the banks of the Thames: an engine that seeded excitement behind a bunch of art and business projects (especially those that could not decide which they were). Is there a new hacker space imminent in London, Edinburgh, Manchester or elsewhere? I think it’s about time. Plenty of city business spaces going spare and empty, soon! Lots of advice available!

2 Responses to “hacker spaces and recessions”

  1. Andreas Fuchs Says:

    As a hacker from Vienna who has recently moved to London, I strongly agree with this message. I hope that there are more people in the London area that feel this way: It would be excellent if we could build a hackerspace, not only so that we can have fun there and meet excellent creative people, but so that everyone can learn how to do great stuff themselves. (My email address is on the site linked from my name, please get in touch if interested.)

    Disclosure: In Vienna, there’s, a very active hacker space of which I’m a founding member.

  2. Michael Zeltner Says:

    I’m up for helping as much as my calendar allows it :)


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My employer has enough opinions of its own, without having to have mine too.