By G. Jordan Johnson
1. An enthusiastic and skillful computer programmer or user.
2. A person who uses computers to gain unauthorized access to data.
Anytime the word hacker is uttered, images come to mind of pasty, frail, eyeglass-clad boys and girls intently staring at computer screens and tapping away at the keys. Many associate the word with its second definition and think of misuse, illegal intent, unauthorized employ of one’s technical faculties; the result is a derogatory depiction of any who choose to don programmer’s apparel. However, as a self-proclaimed hacker and an avid fan of all things technological, it is my duty to educate those unaware of or misinformed about hacking.
I find it best to develop an accurate definition of hacking by use of structured examples. Enter Collexion. I was first introduced to Collexion when browsing the web for local Ruby programming groups during my return move from Boston, MA to Lexington. Finding the term hackerspace on their website was all that I needed to validate my query. For all intents and purposes, that’s what Collexion’s location at 109 E. Loudon Avenue is: a space where hackers convene.
That still doesn’t correct our course, however; we’ve yet to accurately define hacker. For that, I must give a personal interpretation. Not because I feel my word is the authority on hacking, but because there is simply no standard take on what hacking is — it is paradoxically defined by open and varying interpretations.
Hacking is a desire, a will even, to understand and challenge the status quo on what can and cannot be done. A hacker knows the functionality of a system, a program, a piece of technology, or anything else before it is even made public; the interest of the hacker is learning how those facilities and materials can be altered, improved upon, or reversed. A hacker has “an unstoppable desire to create, to take something apart…a unified compulsion to understand and to share those experiences,” according to one of Collexion’s own. I couldn’t agree more.
A trip to Collexion
It seems my web search ultimately took me to the right people. My enthusiasm only grew once I began to attend Collexion’s weekly meet-ups.
The first few times were enthralling. I showed up first during the assembly of a robot, one that uses prefabricated three-dimensional templates to print, out of ABS plastics, assorted items such as Green Lantern rings, Star Trek badges, and wire spindles. This first meet-up affirmed that this was a place for me; I immediately felt at home.
Collexion had me hooked. Its members, a determined and dedicated few, embrace the collective’s non-profit structure. There, presence and enthusiasm outweigh currency and concern. The group’s challenges lay more in keeping their space modular, their options as open as their software, and the doors forever rotating. Collexion’s space itself is humble, effective, impressive, whimsical, spacious. In that space, you’ll find a hospitable crew of willing, open-minded, intelligent, artistic, and industrious individuals from all walks of life; some programmers, some business owners, some students, and more. What might be considered simplicity in space and in folk, I would argue is truth and harmony; social standing and predispositions do not exist to create boundaries within Collexion. One member described Collexion as “pretty fuckin’ rad.” Again, I have to agree.
The Collexion space has also opened up for events not strictly deemed “hacker,” including music shows, film production, speakers, an artist collaborative, community events, gaming, camping trips, and even the occasional party. For as much as Collexion already produces, there’s plenty of desire to grow. The collective aspires to obtaining industrial screen-printing equipment, to compiling a member-submitted collection of books, to offering workshops and training conferences. With so much on the horizon, the group may need a larger space, especially as the number of new faces also grows, each adding mass to the equation.
With so much creative activity from Collexion’s member-base, it proves hard to capture what a group of hackers, teetering on the fringes of progressive knowledge, are doing and then report it.
There is only one way you may come to appreciate hackers, who they are, and what they do. It won’t come to you through the programs they help to create that infect your daily lives, nor through their innovations in advancing fields. For as many screens as we may put between ourselves and others, the purest interactions take place at the biological level. If you wish to understand who hackers are and what they do, then I suggest you go see for yourself.
[Editor's note: see our music page for a Collexion show preview.]
Collexion is located on the north side at 109 E. Loudon. Visit their website at http://collexion.net for more information, to join their IRC channel, and to check out the discussions in their Google group. Peruse the section for current and upcoming events.