[hackerspaces] RANT!: SO VERY frustrated with lack of local activity :( Warning: some negative energy present - sorry

Matt Joyce matt at nycresistor.com
Sat Nov 26 22:29:08 CET 2011

NYC Resistor has not been a stranger to people slacking off.

The reality is, people have lives outside their hackerspace.  Sometimes
that means they need to spend more time with family, or more time with
their girl / boyfriend / anything in between...

Sometimes it means that work is just drilling someone and coming home to
work some more is the last thing they want to do.  Sometimes it's just
people not feeling very creative.  And much like is being discussed in the
thread on depression, a hackerspace is the sum of its parts.  When a few
members aren't firing on all cylinders the whole space begins to feel it.
That's what being part of a community is all about.

So, I know that some of the stuff NYC Resistor tried, and I've seen similar
stuff elsewhere... is setting some deadlines, and goals to work toward.
Hack Friday, awesome august, interactive parties... every time one of these
events is planned a few people really run with it.  They get themselves
riled up, and they work hard so that when that event rolls around they are
going to have a good time.  And that will inspire others.  Maybe not at
first, but when they unveil their work... boom.  Inspiration.  Kick in the
pants.  What have yah.

Hackathons are great too.  But the idea is to get some of your members
together and go as a team.  Kick butt while meeting other folks who are
also kicking butt.  Make some new friends.  Attract some new members.  Etc

I myself moved away from NYCR over a year ago.  Now I find myself in the
realm of Hacker Dojo.  Sadly, I also find myself working for an employer
that just loves to make use of me.  And less sadly, I love to be used by.
=P  So for the year and a half I've been in silly valley, I've only been to
a couple hackathons, and most of my side hacks have been done at my apt
rather than at the dojo.  This is in part because the dojo is more of a
software / web dev hack space.  In part because many of the members there
are more focused on startups and business goals.  But mostly it's because
when I get back to my apt and stow my bike, I am too damned tired to wander
the less than a mile I have to go over to the dojo.  Some nights I don't
even eat dinner.

So, would an active group nearby get me off my ass?  Would it make me push
back on my work load a little?  Hell... tying back into the depression
thread... would my general lifestyle be better off if it did haul me out
and about more often and put me in more contact with more people.  I don't
know.  There's a good chance I simply couldn't sustain it.  But it's hard
to say.  I myself find myself depressed by the lack of cool stuff going on
at the dojo.  With 300 members, and plenty of amazing stuff going on there,
I feel like maybe...  just maybe its me, and not them.  I came from a
different hack space.  And, my approaches to things don't quite jive with
theirs.  For instance I don't like having to go before some form of
arbitrary review board before doing something.  I don't like that I can't
leave a project around while I work on it like I can at home or could at
more hardware oriented spaces.  I mean at NYCR four or five folks would go
out on literally the spur of the moment... buy a slot machine and proceed
to hack it ( for months ).  Or rip apart an old teletype.  So on and so
on.  These are things that aren't easy to do at a space like the dojo.  And
so they don't happen.

There's a lot of reasons for slacking.  Sometimes it's cultural.  Sometimes
it just happens and you have no one to blame but yourself.  Sometimes it's
perfectly natural.  And sometimes it's maybe you wishing for an ideal that
isn't very realistic.

So ...

    In answer to your question regarding whether or not you should start a
new space, the answer is, maybe.  From what you've written it seems like if
no one is showing up anymore it's not really a cultural issue... unless
those folks not showing up are supposed to be doing something or are
preventing you from doing something.  There is always going to be turn over
at any space.  NYC Resistor has an alumni approaching 20 people would be my
guess.  But active membership probably between 30 and 40.  The space has
changed a good deal since it was started 3 years ago or so.  NYCR has been
lucky to find great people to keep the space growing and wonderful.  But
plenty of great hackerspaces have disappeared into the myths and legends of
usenet just because their members went running off into the future and the
space just couldn't follow.  One of the most important things a hackerspace
can do, is reach out to and find new people and let them grow and change
the space into something new.  And that can be hard.  You may not like the
results.  But, that's okay too.

   I don't think you need a new space unless something about your current
space is creating an issue.  It doesn't sound like it is.  It sounds like
you are just looking for a way to attract old and new members back to your
space and be awesome again.  I'd suggest hackathons, parties built around a
creative theme, or some cool new classes.  That's on you not the space.
And, maybe it just isn't going to happen.  Some cities just don't have the
people necessary to get the space off the ground.  Maybe you want to work
then with a museum or library to try and get the next generation interested
in the STEM stuff that will give them some hope.

   Before NYCR bounced up I got some ex-nyc2600 folks together to run some
events called "make:nyc"  We basically just tried a whole bunch of
different things to get random people to show up and ENJOY themselves.
What seemed to ultimately work best... was challenges.  Stuff like bridge
building, zeppelin building, building catapults out of balsa wood and
rubber bands.  Fun engineering problems that ANYONE could get into and
deploy as simple or as complex a solution as they want.

   Bug labs used to help us by lending us their own office space to host
this stuff.  We'd have kids from local engineering colleges and lawyers,
and actual kids, and hackers, and what have you show up and some were
scowling and angry it wasn't everything they had hoped but a lot of people
kept coming back.  Many of them are now NYC Resistor members or part of the
surrounding community ( which is sometimes virtually the same thing =P ).
I think widget was a member long before he became a member.

  So that's one thing that might work as a way to excite people and draw
them in.  NYC Resistor itself drew people in with microcontroller study
group.  Hell the mailing list from that ancient effort is now a rather
large albeit fairly quiet mailing list where engineers in NYC and the
tristate area ask the occasional question about a part or issue... or just
announce some opportunity.  You never know what your successful model will
end up being when you go into these things.  And you need to be adaptive to
what your community wants, not what you want.

Just some stream of thought here I guess.  No great manifesto =P  I think
Bre has a couple of those that may be relevant.


On Sat, Nov 26, 2011 at 10:20 AM, Mars Saxman <mars at redecho.org> wrote:

> On Nov 26, 2011, at 6:58 AM, B F wrote:
> > I'm a founding member of a crafts group
> > and wrote the bylaws for it (which, unfortunately, are rather
> > inapplicable to a makerspace).  These bylaws essentially set up a club
> > within a club.
> The bylaws may not be applicable but the organization sounds a lot like
> what we are doing here at Air Light Time & Space. We have an "inner club"
> we call "the board" or "the LLC", which bears financial responsibility for
> the space and makes legal decisions. This group has no defined officer
> roles and manages itself via consensus. Then there is an "outer club"
> consisting of all the regular dues-paying members, who get a key and the
> use of tools and facilities, and agree to follow the shop rules. We don't
> pretend that this is a democratic system, but of course the board is very
> keen on keeping the space full of happy, dues-paying members, so in
> practice we pay close attention to what the general membership wants.
> We started organizing a year ago and opened our space in February, so we
> are still quite a young organization, but we like this management style so
> far. Things get done, the do-ers are basically in charge, and we don't
> waste a lot of time on process. It's great to hear from your craft group's
> experience that this style of organization can succeed long-term. One thing
> I realize from what you've described is that the ALT&S board is probably
> too small. It hasn't been a problem yet but over the long term we should
> probably make more of an effort to look out for particularly active,
> enthusiastic, self-starting members and recruit them onto the board.
> -Mars
> _______________________________________________
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> Discuss at lists.hackerspaces.org
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