Hackerspaces: green in a way you never considered

Ok, so I’m not here to talk about the Noisebridge of the above video–not specifically anyway. You see, my partner, Mike Devito, and I have become fascinated by Hackerspaces. They’re springing up all over the country, and all over the world for that matter. We’ve been stopping by the one right in our capitol of a backyard, HacDC in Columbia Heights. When we first visited, I thought we had the wrong address because lo and behold we were standing in front of a church. It turns out there  are a bunch of community spaces in the attached partitioning behind the church–3 floors of various community organizations, the HacDC co-op being one of them.

HacDC takes up two rooms on the top floor, then has a space in the basement to store the rest of their old electronics and other ‘junk’. They have two single bathrooms labeled ‘Pirates’ and ‘Ninjas,’ the Pirate side with an emergency pirate costume, and the Ninja side with a legitimate Japanese sword. On room is dedicated for classes, books, and workspace, while the other serves as machine shop/parts storage. Useful and ancient junk overflows from the 100+ boxes lining the walls. And by ancient, I mean 20 years old. By our technology standards, that’s basically prehistoric.

What we discovered is that Hackerspaces’ Do-It-Yourself mindset can be surprisingly green. This is partially because Hackers just don’t like to throw anything out. They much prefer to tinker and repurpose materials, which sometimes involves quite a bit of dumpster diving for old electronics. Repurposing is better than recycling, states their Hacker’s Manifesto. The history of e-waste facilities tends to be a pretty hazardous one. A lot of hardware technology involves mercury or lead (especially circuit boards), and when these get to the dump they essentially turn into poison. By salvaging and repurposing our old electronics, Hackers prevent many hazardous materials from being dumped. That is, until they run out of space and need to dump the materials they’ve been tinkering with to make room for incoming stuff.

The Hacker’s Manifesto, courtesy of iFixit.com

And the space is open to anyone interested in hardware, software, design, and/or electronics. Seriously, anyone. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had ZERO experience in ANY of those areas before. It’s a matter of interest and curiosity, and people will help you out (or have you help them out). The idea of these hackerspaces is that we shouldn’t feel entrapped by the technology we choose to use. By understanding how something works through taking it apart, a tinkerer becomes more conscious of what he or she owns and thus can make more informed consumer purchases (then maybe repurpose those for a new object).

Hacking isn’t for everyone. There IS a learning curve involved, and oftentimes is just easier to go buy something new. But the hackers would say to the modern technology consumer: (1) ‘careful with your wastefulness’ and (2) ‘where’s the fun in that?’


–Ellie McCutcheon (@emcc126)


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