Archibald Post 10: Sustainability Practices in Maker/Hacker Culture

Garnet Hertz and Jussi Parikka’s article on “Zombie Media” discusses a host of significant issues relevant to our course concerns: for example, adhering to the notion of media as Foucauldian archive, the twin roles of ‘artist-archaeologist’ and ‘t(h)inker,’ and the metaphor of media archaeology as circuit bending—an inaccurate remaking that is a process and a becoming in itself. Most significantly, though, I was struck by their claim that the field of media archaeology now requires “a more thorough non-human view” due to the contemporary global ecological crisis (429); this is another of our readings that thereby echoes Andrew Pickering’s “mangle” of human and machinic agents. Hertz and Parikka claim “that media never dies: it decays, rots, reforms, remixes and gets historicized, reinterpreted and collected,” a cycle that drives their research regarding the reuse of electronic materials. Their investigation into planned obsolescence—the argument that many products are designed with an intentionally limited useful life, the merits of which remain contentious even when leveled at corporate giants such as Apple—makes me question how often we reuse ‘dead media’ materials, particularly in media labs. Jenterey Sayers asks helpful questions with regard to the University of Victoria’s Maker Lab: “what materials [should] we use for fabrication, where [do] those materials ultimately go, and how should we think proactively about waste and repurposing?” (http://maker.uvic.ca/remaking/). Although Sayers interrogates the notion of material wastes in the specific setting of a maker lab, the principles apply across the board for maker and hacker culture – whether a makerspace, hackerspace, or media lab, all seem connected by an underlying objective to empower communities to learn how things work and reflect on the processes and purposes of media (old and new) in contemporary society.

I began trawling the web for maker and hacker cultures employing sustainable practices and came across Access Space, a UK community media lab that was built by volunteers from locally recycled computers that run free, open source software (http://access-space.org/). Its web page asserts that

At Access Space, people interested in art, design, computers, recycling, music, electronics, photography and more meet like-minded people, share and develop skills and work on creative, enterprising and technical projects. […] Access Space is an inclusive environment. As well as working with artists, academics, creative technologists, programmers, other professionals and students, 50% of  the participation in Access Space’s activities are from people in danger of exclusion and on the margins of society, including: people with disabilities, homeless people, ex-offenders, asylum seekers, refugees and people with mental health issues. Through Refab Space, Access Space engages with self starters and entrepreneurs as well. One of the strengths of Access Space is that it brings people from different backgrounds together. (“about”)

As an organization, Access Space is therefore extremely self-aware about the communities it embraces and the values that it actively fosters (incidentally, Access Space and the University of Sheffield have just jointly published a great study on “Barriers to women’s involvement in hackspaces and makerspaces” found at http://access-space.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Barriers-to-womens-involvement-in-hackspaces-and-makerspaces.pdf). In 2012 Access Space also expanded into a larger lab called ReFab Space which is intended to act as a more localized and better-equipped space for crafting and building. Concerning sustainability, Access Space and ReFab Space seem to have two major goals in mind: to enable communities to use their electronic media for longer by fortifying and repairing technologies, and to reuse old electronic materials to build new things.

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Access Space, with the recycled computers built by volunteers visible in the background

accessRefabSapce

ReFab Space

Matt Ratto’s article neatly ties together the relationship between the practical, social, and theoretical aspects of the type of work that can take place in environments such as the Access and ReFab spaces. He promotes ‘critical making’ as a blending of the hobbyist and scholar, a way to connect tinkering and theorizing in multiple processes; for example, material prototyping can extend individual reflection and serve as a focus for community discussion and problem-solving. In my own work analyzing digital literature, I’ve been concerned with various discursive approaches to reconnecting the material and conceptual, but I’m not too flash on the actual tinkering and making side of things. I’m looking forward to applying to join CU Boulder’s hackerspace, the Blow Things Up Lab (http://www.btulab.com/), to start implementing more material processes in future scholarly projects. For a non-techie like me, it’s the perfect chance to explore the affordances of different media that I tend to use with my blinkers on in everyday life, as well as tinker around with the small cardboard box of “dead media” that currently sits in one of my bedroom drawers. Explosions away!

 

Works Cited:

Hertz, Garnet and Jussi Parikka. “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method.” Leonardo 45.5 (2012): 424-30. Print.

Ratto, Matt. “Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life.” The Information Society: An International Journal 27.4 (2011): 252-60. Print.

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