Activist Culture Hackers Monochrom have posted an interesting bit about how initially countercultural “hackerspaces” have become the Punk Rock of their day. That is, they are open and democratically accessible in concept only. They make the valid charge that the white, male, middle-class “nerd” has thrived in these conditions at the expense of true accessibility.
The conclusion needs a lot of work – there is no statement of process about how to enact radical social change in what should/could be a catalyst of radical social change. But the ideal expressed that these workshops came out of an anti-capitalist (read – anti-greed) grassroots and that they have badly lost their way is incisive and timely. What was originally conceived as a social condenser straight out of Marshall McLuhan’s dreams became … well, a bit of a treehouse for making throwies.
The true spirit of hackerspaces is to democratise something that should be accessible to all, but is usually limited to the functionaries of power. That is – access to tools and complex technologies, and the terrains these open – the internet, electronics, digital fabrication, etc…
But there are terrains just as important surrounding much older tools and technologies… The physical terrains to which nonprofit bicycle building workshops offer access. With this incredibly simple-tech*, the opportunities for those who would often never have access to these tools – and thus modes of transport – are multiplied.
Safe and unencumbered physical access to all the parts of the city will someday be understood as a basic human right. Probably around the time that as a society we abandon the backward thinking, anti-safety, exclusionary, encumbering, and environmentally devastating personal motor vehicle.
The focus will then be able to move on to ensuring safe and unencumbered digital and electronic access, but right now a bicycle can change someone’s life a hell of a lot more and faster than a throwie can. Let’s hope we get there soon, and let’s thank the nerds for keeping the laser cutters warm for us while we do.
*I am getting to the point where I reject the notions of “high-” and “low-” tech in favor of “simple-” and “complex-” technology. High Tech is a stylistic flavor of Post-Historical Eclectic architecture. Let’s banish it there…