"Now That's Definitely a Proper Hack": Self-Made Tools in Hackerspaces

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This is the presentation of my CHI 2014 note: http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2556288.2557221&coll=DL&dl=GUIDE&CFID=485371586&CFTOKEN=18899613 …

This is the presentation of my CHI 2014 note: http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2556288.2557221&coll=DL&dl=GUIDE&CFID=485371586&CFTOKEN=18899613

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  • 1. “Now That’s Definitely a Proper Hack”: Self-Made Tools in Hackerspaces Jeffrey Bardzell | Shaowen Bardzell | Austin Toombs! Cultural Research in Technology (CRIT) Group! Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing Good afternoon everyone, I’m Austin Toombs and I am a PhD student in the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University, Bloomington. I work with Shaowen Bardzell and Jeffrey Bardzell in the Cultural Research In Technology (CRIT) group at IU. In this talk I’m presenting the work we conducted in a Midwest hackerspace.
  • 2. This work explores how the self-made tools fashioned by members of a hackerspace are ad hoc, fluidly shift between materials and tools, and symbolize the hacker who made them and the hackerspace as a group.
  • 3. 1 Culture of Making in HCI Our Contributions:! An empirical study of the ad hoc self-made tools made by members of a hackerspace. Which we use to juxtapose two discourses of interest to design research on making: tools and adhocism. 2 In this field we have seen a quickly increasing interest in the culture of making among HCI researchers. Our note contributes to this line of research with an empirical study of the self-made tools created by members of a hackerspace. We saw these tools as connecting two discourses of interest to design research on making: tools and adhocism. We found that juxtaposing these discourses can help explain some of the highly generative creative practices that take place in the hackerspace.
  • 4. 1 The hackerspace! • consensus collective • “flat hierarchy” • share knowledge, skills, and tools • hack, reclaim, and salvage Empirical Study The hackerspace I reference throughout this talk is a collective of individuals who share knowledge, skills, and tools and help each other hack, reclaim, and salvage. The space serves as both a productive place to work on usually individual projects and as a social outlet.
  • 5. 1 The hackerspace! • consensus collective • “flat hierarchy” • share knowledge, skills, and tools • hack, reclaim, and salvage Ethnography and Interviews! • Ethnography since September 2012 • I am a member of the hackerspace • Interviews about 18 tools • “Tool” defined by the participant Empirical Study I have been conducting an ethnography of this hackerspace since September of 2012. This has enabled us to begin to articulate an insider’s perspective on activities that take place there, and, more broadly, on maker culture. We quickly saw that the self-made tools present in the space are a source of pride for our participants, and are used to exemplify what it means to hack there. We dove deeper into this representation with a series of interviews that focused on 18 of these tools, where “tool” was demarcated by the participants.
  • 6. 1 Ethnography and Interviews! • Ethnography since September 2012 • I am a member of the hackerspace • Interviews about 18 tools • “Tool” defined by the participant Empirical Study Tools! • Prosthesis • Directed engagement • Symbolize the activity Adhocism! • Pragmatic • “Making do” • Hybridized and dialogical Tools & Adhocism 2 While developing this emic understanding of tools and the making process, we referenced literature on tools and adhocism to give us another angle for looking at our data. As a very quick and dirty synthesis, tools extend human capabilities, they help to focus our engagement with a task, and they come to symbolize the activity they are used for, and to some extent, the person who uses them. Adhocism, for our purposes, refers to a process that hacking seems to have a clear affinity with in both style and practice. It involves a pragmatic focus, a reliance on available materials by “making do” with what’s at hand, and inherently involves a hybridization of multiple perspectives.
  • 7. Self Made Tools... In our interviews about the 18 specific tools, we asked what the tools did and how and why they were made as opposed to purchased. Through the ethnography we saw the role the tools play in the ecology of the hackerspace and how these tools are described to other members and to visitors. Our note presents three of the themes we found about these self-made tools: they are ad hoc, they fluidly shift between materials and tools, and they represent the hacker who made the tool and the hackerspace as a whole.
  • 8. Self Made Tools... Are ad hoc In our interviews about the 18 specific tools, we asked what the tools did and how and why they were made as opposed to purchased. Through the ethnography we saw the role the tools play in the ecology of the hackerspace and how these tools are described to other members and to visitors. Our note presents three of the themes we found about these self-made tools: they are ad hoc, they fluidly shift between materials and tools, and they represent the hacker who made the tool and the hackerspace as a whole.
  • 9. Self Made Tools... Are ad hoc Fluidly shift between materials and tools In our interviews about the 18 specific tools, we asked what the tools did and how and why they were made as opposed to purchased. Through the ethnography we saw the role the tools play in the ecology of the hackerspace and how these tools are described to other members and to visitors. Our note presents three of the themes we found about these self-made tools: they are ad hoc, they fluidly shift between materials and tools, and they represent the hacker who made the tool and the hackerspace as a whole.
  • 10. Self Made Tools... Are ad hoc Fluidly shift between materials and tools Symbolize the hacker and the hackerspace In our interviews about the 18 specific tools, we asked what the tools did and how and why they were made as opposed to purchased. Through the ethnography we saw the role the tools play in the ecology of the hackerspace and how these tools are described to other members and to visitors. Our note presents three of the themes we found about these self-made tools: they are ad hoc, they fluidly shift between materials and tools, and they represent the hacker who made the tool and the hackerspace as a whole.
  • 11. Self Made Tools... Are ad hoc Fluidly shift between materials and tools Symbolize the hacker and the hackerspace We characterize many of the tools as ad hoc because they are created for a specific, pragmatic purpose using parts on hand. A quick example of this kind of adhocism at play is a tension wrench one of the members made after finding a piece of metal on the floor of the hackerspace. He says: “I had the steel around. Wanted a tension wrench now. Didn’t want to wait for one in the mail. So I just made it. ...There’s probably not a real good excuse for me to make that tension wrench, other than because it was fun. If I had to buy the metal it wouldn’t have been cheaper.”
  • 12. Self Made Tools... Are ad hoc Fluidly shift between materials and tools Symbolize the hacker and the hackerspace “I had the steel around. Wanted a tension wrench now. Didn’t want to wait for one in the mail. So I just made it. ...There’s probably not a real good excuse for me to make that tension wrench, other than because it was fun. If I had to buy the metal it wouldn’t have been cheaper.” We characterize many of the tools as ad hoc because they are created for a specific, pragmatic purpose using parts on hand. A quick example of this kind of adhocism at play is a tension wrench one of the members made after finding a piece of metal on the floor of the hackerspace. He says: “I had the steel around. Wanted a tension wrench now. Didn’t want to wait for one in the mail. So I just made it. ...There’s probably not a real good excuse for me to make that tension wrench, other than because it was fun. If I had to buy the metal it wouldn’t have been cheaper.”
  • 13. Self Made Tools... Are ad hoc Fluidly shift between materials and tools Symbolize the hacker and the hackerspace Another member, who builds his own Power Distribution Units, described how he decides whether to make or purchase a PDU based on how customized his project needs to be and on which process will be fastest. He looks for the path of least resistance. What’s key about these and other examples is that the members could just buy these tools, but they know that sometimes it’s easier or more fun to just make it. And knowing that they can make these tools is part of how they see themselves as hackers.
  • 14. Self Made Tools... Are ad hoc Fluidly shift between materials and tools Symbolize the hacker and the hackerspace “If I have it on hand, if I have most of the parts if not all of the parts on hand, then I will go ahead and build it myself. But if I have to go hunting, then I’ll just purchase something.” Another member, who builds his own Power Distribution Units, described how he decides whether to make or purchase a PDU based on how customized his project needs to be and on which process will be fastest. He looks for the path of least resistance. What’s key about these and other examples is that the members could just buy these tools, but they know that sometimes it’s easier or more fun to just make it. And knowing that they can make these tools is part of how they see themselves as hackers.
  • 15. Self Made Tools... Are ad hoc Fluidly shift between materials and tools Symbolize the hacker and the hackerspace NOT happening in the space • General purpose tools • Brand new types of tools Framing these tools as ad hoc is also helpful in determining what kinds of activities are not taking place in the hackerspace. Members are not creating general purpose tools, and they aren’t making brand new kinds of tools. What they’re making usually exists somewhere else, but they make it because it’s more convenient, practical, or fun to do so.
  • 16. Self Made Tools... Are ad hoc Fluidly shift between materials and tools Symbolize the hacker and the hackerspace A common characteristic of regulars in the hackerspace is that they can intuitively shift between understanding a collection of materials as a tool and then again as a pliable collection of materials. One of the first projects that got me interested in these tools was one that involved a hacked network cable attached to an LED marquee. A more complete story is in the note, but this hacker took an existing cable and, based on his understanding of how the cable worked and how he needed it to work, changed it’s underlying physical structure to get it to do what he wanted. This example really blurs the space between tool and material. When we asked him what skills he uses over and over again in his making processes, he said: “something I didn’t realize [was] that other people don’t have such a good ability…sometimes just working with hardware, like say you need to make a case for something, a project or something, and I mean, taking some metal and just banging on it until it bends to your will...and then forms around what you’re doing.” This is something we saw a lot of makers taking for granted: that they can see these materials and tools as things to work with, as suggestive of possibilities, when not everybody else can. !
  • 17. Self Made Tools... Are ad hoc Fluidly shift between materials and tools Symbolize the hacker and the hackerspace “something I didn’t realize [was] that other people don’t have such a good ability…sometimes just working with hardware, like say you need to make a case for something, a project or something, and I mean, taking some metal and just banging on it until it bends to your will...and then forms around what you’re doing.” A common characteristic of regulars in the hackerspace is that they can intuitively shift between understanding a collection of materials as a tool and then again as a pliable collection of materials. One of the first projects that got me interested in these tools was one that involved a hacked network cable attached to an LED marquee. A more complete story is in the note, but this hacker took an existing cable and, based on his understanding of how the cable worked and how he needed it to work, changed it’s underlying physical structure to get it to do what he wanted. This example really blurs the space between tool and material. When we asked him what skills he uses over and over again in his making processes, he said: “something I didn’t realize [was] that other people don’t have such a good ability…sometimes just working with hardware, like say you need to make a case for something, a project or something, and I mean, taking some metal and just banging on it until it bends to your will...and then forms around what you’re doing.” This is something we saw a lot of makers taking for granted: that they can see these materials and tools as things to work with, as suggestive of possibilities, when not everybody else can. !
  • 18. Self Made Tools... Are ad hoc Fluidly shift between materials and tools Symbolize the hacker and the hackerspace Another member calls this ability “futzing,” and she uses it as the foundation for the workshops we put on for children. We really like giving the kids something they have to “futz” with, because we believe one of the biggest parts of being a maker is this kind of material sensibility. Through these tools we began to see making as an ability not just to create hardware, but fundamentally to see the objects in one’s environment as pliable materials, that can be shaped into tools or deconstructed into ingredients for other projects.
  • 19. Self Made Tools... Are ad hoc Fluidly shift between materials and tools Symbolize the hacker and the hackerspace “futzing” Another member calls this ability “futzing,” and she uses it as the foundation for the workshops we put on for children. We really like giving the kids something they have to “futz” with, because we believe one of the biggest parts of being a maker is this kind of material sensibility. Through these tools we began to see making as an ability not just to create hardware, but fundamentally to see the objects in one’s environment as pliable materials, that can be shaped into tools or deconstructed into ingredients for other projects.
  • 20. Self Made Tools... Are ad hoc Fluidly shift between materials and tools Symbolize the hacker and the hackerspace The final characteristic is that the self-made tools of this hackerspace support and represent the makers who made them, and help reproduce the maker identity within the space. These tools become inspirational stories that are shared with visitors to show them “this is the kind of people we are, this is the kind of stuff we do.” Members will point out that hacked network cable to visitors and say “Now that’s definitely a proper hack.” In this way, the tool takes on a symbolic power in the hackerspace.
  • 21. Self Made Tools... Are ad hoc Fluidly shift between materials and tools Symbolize the hacker and the hackerspace “now that’s definitely a proper hack” The final characteristic is that the self-made tools of this hackerspace support and represent the makers who made them, and help reproduce the maker identity within the space. These tools become inspirational stories that are shared with visitors to show them “this is the kind of people we are, this is the kind of stuff we do.” Members will point out that hacked network cable to visitors and say “Now that’s definitely a proper hack.” In this way, the tool takes on a symbolic power in the hackerspace.
  • 22. Self Made Tools... Are ad hoc Fluidly shift between materials and tools Symbolize the hacker and the hackerspace A bicycle generator built by another member is similarly symbolic. This tool is shown off to visitors as often as possible, and is presented regularly within the broader community at various events as an example of alternative energy, but also as an example of what can be made at this hackerspace. These tools show off who the makers are and what they can do, but are also representative of what it means to be a maker to others. As one member said: “...some people have an intimidated state of mind and they think, "Oh man, it's hard to build your own stuff," and seeing somebody who doesn't know what they're doing at all build their own stuff and being successful might be inspirational. …”
  • 23. Self Made Tools... Are ad hoc Fluidly shift between materials and tools Symbolize the hacker and the hackerspace “Some people have an intimidated state of mind and they think, "Oh man, it's hard to build your own stuff," and seeing somebody who doesn't know what they're doing at all build their own stuff and being successful might be inspirational.” A bicycle generator built by another member is similarly symbolic. This tool is shown off to visitors as often as possible, and is presented regularly within the broader community at various events as an example of alternative energy, but also as an example of what can be made at this hackerspace. These tools show off who the makers are and what they can do, but are also representative of what it means to be a maker to others. As one member said: “...some people have an intimidated state of mind and they think, "Oh man, it's hard to build your own stuff," and seeing somebody who doesn't know what they're doing at all build their own stuff and being successful might be inspirational. …”
  • 24. But…are these really tools? So I have a lot of examples of the artifacts we looked at, but a question we kept coming back to was “are all of these actually tools?” In some of the examples it can be hard to see why we would call them that. There are a few notions of tool at play here. Two of them are: the understanding held by those who claim that what they made is a “tool,” and the definitions of what it means to be a “tool” from literature. Common to both of these is this ontological fluidity that an artifact becomes a tool only when it enters into a particular kind of use, and that tools symbolically express tasks and identities.
  • 25. But…are these really tools? Two notions: So I have a lot of examples of the artifacts we looked at, but a question we kept coming back to was “are all of these actually tools?” In some of the examples it can be hard to see why we would call them that. There are a few notions of tool at play here. Two of them are: the understanding held by those who claim that what they made is a “tool,” and the definitions of what it means to be a “tool” from literature. Common to both of these is this ontological fluidity that an artifact becomes a tool only when it enters into a particular kind of use, and that tools symbolically express tasks and identities.
  • 26. But…are these really tools? The emic understanding we developed empirically Two notions: So I have a lot of examples of the artifacts we looked at, but a question we kept coming back to was “are all of these actually tools?” In some of the examples it can be hard to see why we would call them that. There are a few notions of tool at play here. Two of them are: the understanding held by those who claim that what they made is a “tool,” and the definitions of what it means to be a “tool” from literature. Common to both of these is this ontological fluidity that an artifact becomes a tool only when it enters into a particular kind of use, and that tools symbolically express tasks and identities.
  • 27. But…are these really tools? The emic understanding we developed empirically Definitions from literature Two notions: So I have a lot of examples of the artifacts we looked at, but a question we kept coming back to was “are all of these actually tools?” In some of the examples it can be hard to see why we would call them that. There are a few notions of tool at play here. Two of them are: the understanding held by those who claim that what they made is a “tool,” and the definitions of what it means to be a “tool” from literature. Common to both of these is this ontological fluidity that an artifact becomes a tool only when it enters into a particular kind of use, and that tools symbolically express tasks and identities.
  • 28. But…are these really tools? Adhocism! • Impure amalgamation • Sometimes redundant and inessential • Open, suggestive, and rich in possibility The emic understanding we developed empirically Definitions from literature Two notions: In the note, we rely on Jencks and Silver’s account of adhocism to help unpack why some of these artifacts felt like tools to the hackerspace members, even if most people would not agree. The ontological fluidity of “tool” can be understood as an impure amalgamation, laden with the redundant and inessential, and yet open, suggestive, and rich in possibility.
  • 29. Conclusion Our definition A self-made tool is that thing that emerges in a pragmatic situation as an extension of the self used to solve a problem, but which sometimes resists permanent reification into a “real” tool—partly because it can retain the impurity of the ad hoc. These are tools because… The definition we’ve come up with is that “A self-made tool is that thing that emerges in a pragmatic situation as an extension of the self used to solve a problem, but which sometimes resists permanent reification into a “real” tool—partly because it can retain the impurity of the ad hoc.” So we argue that even though they may not look like traditional tools, these self-made artifacts are tools because they give rise to new ways of acting with a purpose. The hackers’ habituated ability to see objects simultaneously both as wholes and as deconstructable assemblages of pliable materials supports a creative sensibility for how to “invest the world with meaning” both with existing tools, and with the ad hoc re-invention of tools. We argue that the reproduction of this creative sensibility is one of the primary purposes of the hackerspace.
  • 30. Conclusion They give rise to new ways of acting with a purpose ! They help the hackers shape the world with meaning Our definition A self-made tool is that thing that emerges in a pragmatic situation as an extension of the self used to solve a problem, but which sometimes resists permanent reification into a “real” tool—partly because it can retain the impurity of the ad hoc. These are tools because… The definition we’ve come up with is that “A self-made tool is that thing that emerges in a pragmatic situation as an extension of the self used to solve a problem, but which sometimes resists permanent reification into a “real” tool—partly because it can retain the impurity of the ad hoc.” So we argue that even though they may not look like traditional tools, these self-made artifacts are tools because they give rise to new ways of acting with a purpose. The hackers’ habituated ability to see objects simultaneously both as wholes and as deconstructable assemblages of pliable materials supports a creative sensibility for how to “invest the world with meaning” both with existing tools, and with the ad hoc re-invention of tools. We argue that the reproduction of this creative sensibility is one of the primary purposes of the hackerspace.
  • 31. Acknowledgments Jeffrey Bardzell | Shaowen Bardzell | Austin Toombs! Cultural Research in Technology (CRIT) Group! Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing NSF IIS Creative IT Intel ISTC for Social Computing Our anonymous reviewers The Cultural Research in Technology Group Jeffrey Bardzell Shaowen Bardzell Colin Gray and our participants Thank you for listening
  • 32. Ethnography Sustained interactions in the field. ! Participant observations ! A deep understanding of a particular phenomenon from the perspective of those in the space What I look for in Bloominglabs during a participant observation: • What everyone is working on or what they are talking about. • Interactions with specific tools • Which tools are ignored • Who asks questions and who do they ask • How they represent their projects • When people need a hand on a project, I jump in and participate and observe how other people participate. • I listen in on how people describe the space to new visitors. And I give a lot of the tours of the space myself.  • When events take place, like Makevention or the workshops we've done with Wonderlab and the library, I'm there participating alongside the other Bloominglabs members because I am a Bloominglabs member, just as much as anyone else is, and that’s at the heart of Ethnography.
  • 33. The Tools Lock picking tools Lock picking games Hacked network cable Bicycle generator Power distribution units Home made radio antennas Attachments to commercial tools Safety equipment Storage solutions Bubble etcher LED hydroponic farms Educational kits And more…