Communities

I’m currently working on a project involving a type of remote-controlled helicopter called a quadcopter. When I walked into Metrix this week, there was a quadcopter sitting on the table. A UW EE student was part of a group using it for a project, and we soon got to talking about what we each are doing. In a previous post I talked about how surprised I was to find people there with extremely similar interests. I am getting less and less surprised.

I showed a bunch of the guys there some impressive aerial video taken with quadcopters that  they had not seen before. They were wowed – I think I’m earning some street cred.

I also had a long, multifaceted conversation with Matt Westervelt, the owner of Metrix, about hackerspaces. A lot of the detail from the conversation will have to wait till the final paper, but I will talk about some of the main points here.

Many Hackerspaces aren’t run like a business. They’re quasi-non-profits, and often don’t have one leader who calls the shots, but instead decide things democratically and have committees that make decisions. Metrix is not one of these. It’s run like a business, and Matt owns it. This is not because Matt wants to make a bunch of money! Instead, he sees it as a way of structuring that helps the hackerspace be the best it can be. Money is good. Pay someone to man the shop from noon to midnight, and they will be there for sure, whereas with a volunteer you never know. Consequently, people know when the place is open, and will come. Have people pay for classes, and they will actually come, whereas if the classes are free, they can always just go next time.

Location is really important, more than the layout of the space itself, in whether people find it useful and come. Pick a location just because the rent is cheap, and people might not go because it’s far away. This relates to the Virilio reading for this week, where the author talks about how media erases distance. While this is true in a sense, we see with places like Metrix that distance still matters. Instead of the internet making face-to-face contact at a physical location irrelevant, we appreciate and love places like Metrix especially because in an age of techno-mediation, they provide something a little more tangible.

Matt and I spoke about the hackerspace meta-community, and through him I saw a perspective on not only hackerspaces, but arts- and community-focused non-profits that I had never really seen before. Reading the “We Know What the Problem Is” paper on oral history, I am definitely impressed with the power and importance of going direct to the source, to those who are already in the situation you are studying.

The “23rd and Union” project is an interesting example of taking all these stories we intuitively know are ‘present’ in a place, which give a place a sense of history, and bringing those to the surface. The history / story of 23rd and Union was surprisingly dramatic and violent, and thinking back on the other media projects we’ve seen, like Pine Point, I’m struck by how dramatic some of these stories are. Maybe this is the nature of stories – we find certain things interesting and proliferate them. I wonder if a similar project for a different location with more “everyday” stories would hold our attention.