Hacker havens are ad-hocracies

hacker's workbenchWhen the going gets tough, the geeks gang together; Wired reports on the spreading global phenomenon of ‘hacker spaces’ – community owned and operated workshops full of tools and parts that provide a home away from home for the technically-minded.

At the center of this community are hacker spaces like Noisebridge, where like-minded geeks gather to work on personal projects, learn from each other and hang out in a nerd-friendly atmosphere. Like artist collectives in the ’60s and ’70s, hacker spaces are springing up all over.

Interesting throw-away comparison – is the increasing ubiquity of technology making it into a branch of the plastic arts? Or did that happen a long time ago, with no one in the arts being willing to admit it?

There are now 96 known active hacker spaces worldwide, with 29 in the United States, according to Hackerspaces.org. Another 27 U.S. spaces are in the planning or building stage.

Located in rented studios, lofts or semi-commercial spaces, hacker spaces tend to be loosely organized, governed by consensus, and infused with an almost utopian spirit of cooperation and sharing.

Uh-oh, the U-word…nothing good ever comes of utopias, does it? Still, one man’s utopia is another man’s logically structured system of governance:

Many are governed by consensus. Noisebridge and Vienna’s Metalab have boards, but they are structured to keep board members accountable to the desires of the members. NYC Resistor is similarly democratic. Most of the space — and the tools — are shared by all members, with small spaces set aside for each member to store items and projects for their own use.

“The way hacker spaces are organized seems to be a reaction against American individualism — the idea that we all need to be in our separate single-family homes with a garage,” says White. “Choosing to organize collectives where you’re sharing a space and sharing tools with people who are not your family and not your co-workers — that feels different to me.”

Things may differ in continental Europe, but it sounds pretty different to this British citizen, too; it’s not just the US that developed a knee-jerk reaction to anything that smacks even slightly of communism. That said, I’d be overjoyed if someone set one of these places up in my town – if nothing else, it would be nice to geek out in company for a change. [image by Justin Marty]

We’ll leave the final few comments to Chairman Bruce Sterling:

These enterprises really have the look-and-smell of a post-Meltdown Transition Web.

Indeed; Bicycle Repair Men for the noughties, you might say.

Let’s hope the inhabitants stay clear on the concept, and don’t start whacking each other in a mafia-style street struggle for tech turf.

And you people email in saying I’m negative…

3 thoughts on “Hacker havens are ad-hocracies”

  1. You know what they say, managing developers is like herding cats. I suspect these only work because of the hacker’s innate dislike of being “managed”, because the personality type attracted to them is the type that’s also too lazy to “manage”. But all it will take is one person who thinks things need to be “organised” and “structured”… and it’ll all fall apart. You see it happening in other groups, such as writing workshops. They happily operate by consensus, and then someone starts running things….

  2. I think that people are over analyzing things when they talk about it being a counter to individualistic culture. A belief in individualism doesn’t mean that you can’t work with other humans. I have been to a hacker spacer in Somerville, MA, and it isn’t some anti-individualist Marxist utopia. It is a bunch of folks with a common interest sharing resources and hanging out while they work on their on individual projects. If anything, I would say that these places are hubs of individualism. The members tend to be unique characters with a unique interest who do their own thing. The point of the club is to pool capital to buy and share expensive resources that would otherwise be out of reach.

  3. I think the rough-consensus of the hacker community works because for most day to day activities the stakes are pretty low, and it’s ok (and possibly productive) if decisions take a long time. That’s probably not widely translateable outside of the hacker world.

    The other thing that makes the ad-hocracy work, is that hackers are totally fine appointing/defering executive authority when timeliness or strategic oversight is needed. “benevolent dictatorships” and all. Again, not a bad thing, but hard to formalize, and I guess I”m trying to say that the existance of ad-hoc-top-down elements doesn’t negate the general bottom-up nature of the cultural structure.

    as it were…

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