Ideas come from all sorts of interesting places. However, an innovative collective moment is giving way to a new form of idea generation. They are called Hackerspaces. Chance are you might have walked past one recently and not even have noticed it. They are garage esq little workshops, tucked in between diners and jewelry shops on Main Streets all over.
Take HeatSync Labs, where tables are littered with computer chips, pens, pads and tools while the room is vibrating with the chatter of would-be inventors hoping to change the world — or just make cool things. They are part of a growing global movement of so-called hackerspaces.
“It’s all about sharing what we know with one another,” said Mitch Altman, 57, founder of a similar setup in San Francisco called Noisebridge. “It’s centered around community and education and a place where people do what they love doing and hopefully make a living from it.”
This new concept began to take shape in the U.S. after Altman and other Americans attended a 2007 computing conference in Germany where panelists spoke of their own hackerspaces. Altman returned home, met with fellow tinkerers, rented a space for Noisebridge the next year.
“I didn’t want it to end,” he said.
Around the same time, similar workshops were opening up across the country — NYC Resistor in New York City, Hack DC in Washington, D.C., and The Hacktory in Philadelphia — while dozens more have popped up since. More than 1,600 are now operating around the world, according to hackerspaces.org, a website dedicated to the effort.
At HeatSync, which opened in 2009, Larry Campbell, 49, is working on a nuclear fusion chamber, while Ryan McDermott, 27, tinkers with an electric keyboard programmed to make the colors dance on an LED strip in preparation for Nevada’s annual Burning Man alternative arts festival.
Campbell, a network engineer, hopes his device will “change the universe” by turning hydrogen atoms into helium.
Hackerspaces are clearly changing the landscape of idea generation. No longer do inventors have to hide in their garages alone. They can gather publicly, and collectively work with other like minded individuals to solve problems both big and small.