dorkbot diyCHI

Essays

Tonight there is a dorkbot-boston as part of the CHI2009 conference.

“What do glitter and glue, needles and thread, batteries and wires have to do with Human Computer Interaction? What can makers and crafters teach technology researchers and designers about the world and technology? How can CHI researchers engage with Do-It-Yourself communities? This session will be a dialogue about the relationships between academia and DIY communities. It will include presentations from the workshop organizers and participants who will demo and discuss their own DIY projects and then use them as springboards for open discussions with the audience. Come to see some interesting projects and to share your own insights and experiences.”

I have the pleasure of making some opening remarks; it’s a little bit of “what is dorkbot,” but I’ll be mixing in some of the call-to-arms rhetoric I’ve used before with a DIYist slant:#### Opening Remarks for dorkbot-diychi 2009-04-07

Hello, Hello and welcome to dorkbot! I’m David Nunez, one of the organizers for dorkbot-boston.

Dorkbot is people doing strange things with electricity. We are technologists, artists, designers, scientists, and crafters who gather regularly to share ideas and support each others’ work.

A visionary artist named Douglas Repetto started Dorkbot in New York in 2000 as a way to connect with like minded thinkers and do’ers. Since then over 70 active dorkbot chapters have appeared all around the world from San Francisco, Seattle, and Austin to Tokyo, Vancouver, Melbourne, and Beijing.

I know we have some dorkbot organizers and participants from around the world today in the audience… if you would please wave or stand: dorkbot-seattle, dorkbot-tokyo, dorkbot-gotenberg…dorkbot-pittsburgh(?) are there any others?

So what is dorkbot?

Sometimes people try to place dorkbot along an art — technology — design continuum. I know I’ve been guilty of plotting a 4-quadrant graph in a fruitless attempt to construct myself and dorkbot into an easily digestible meme. What is dorkbot? I’m not even convinced its an interesting question, and I certainly don’t have a solid answer. Actually, if you were to ask random dorkbot people from any chapter you’d get wildly different answers. By design, the dorkbot founder doesn’t give us a whole lot of direction. Our common guiding motto of “doing strange things with electricity” is broad and ill-defined on purpose.

And paradoxically… but not really… this tremendous anti-pattern of ambiguity is why dorkbot has become such a vibrant movement. Each dorkbot chapter evolves in whatever direction its members need. Some chapters trend towards more fine art discussions while others embrace more DIY and tinkering content.

Because of this relentless grassroots position, the individual dorkbot communities feel a strong sense of ownership and are free to adapt to the peculiarities of different regions and populations. Douglas does offer a little bit of infrastructure; through his resources at Columbus University, we have access to webspace and listservs which some chapters use, but many do not. Otherwise most of us remain purely unfunded, and I don’t know of any groups that have their own venues. We’re volunteer led and user defined and we are sustainable only as long as somebody is willing to put in the very much uncompensated time.

The format of the activities themselves can vary. For example, in Boston, we meet every month and invite a few guest artists and engineers to demonstrate and talk about their current projects. We then ask audience members to bring forward any works-in-progress during a freewheeling peer-review session called opendork. It’s like geek show and tell. Chapters in other cities might host workshops or curate art shows.

In Boston, communication online is active but not overwhelming. We share a weekly summary of art and technology events and opportunities on our mailing list and members will often ask technical questions to the list and expect several answers within a few hours.

You can learn more and find a schedule of Boston gatherings at dorkbotboston.com and you can find all dorkbot gatherings at dorkbot.org.

It is useful to ask why these communities choose to self-organize. I’ve only been doing dorkbot-like things for about a decade and dorkbot itself only for a little over 4 years… (first in Texas and now here), so I can only offer a very anecdotal opinion.

To be honest, I can’t even say I speak for the members of dorkbot-boston, much less dorkbot itself, but let me give it a go because this is kind of ranting is what I love the most:

dorkbot / DIY Manifesto — my own take

a dorkbot gathering is a transitory thing. It exists as dorkbot only as defined by the people that gather in those bars, galleries, coffeehouses, and apartments all around the world. It persists in the conversations that happen during the events, but also afterwards online on mailing lists and in the new projects spawned from some new technique learned at dorkbot.

the community has a belief in the freedom to tinker – to tear apart our technology, our clothes, our food and even our bodies to use these raw materials to build something new and better… something only we could have imagined through the summation of our personal experience and curiosity.

Whether we use a soldering gun, software debugger, sewing machine, or welding torch, we tinker every day first for the pure love of making things with our hands and second for the joy we derive from showing our friends something new and interesting. We look at the world as a collection of parts that can be broken, reassembled and recontextualized for whatever beautifully strange ideas haunt our idle thoughts. We laugh at the artificial rules companies put on how we use their products and we willfully void our warranties to make sure we really do own the things we own.

We are the passionate hackers who believe that we must teach our foundational skills to each other and to the public. We insist that young students be encouraged to do undocumented, dangerous, and weird things with their toys, tools, and especially electricity because they will surprise us with what they choose to invent… the next Tesla is running around some primary school playground, both empowered and drowned by the staggering amount of stimuli streaming into her mobile internet device.

Let’s rip that cell phone out of her hand and and replace it with a welding torch and give her permission and love when she fails, learns, and tries again.

We will empower ourselves and our neighbors to make something delightful together. As we collectively add the results of our DIY experiments to the knowledge base we create speculative objects that help us imagine worlds filled with the small improvements we choose to build.

Sometimes we call this community a crafting circle, or hackergroup, or motorcycle club, or a quilting bee, or burning man, or progressive dinner, or diy bio, or barn raising, or sometimes, like tonight, we call it dorkbot and you are always welcome here.


Dorkbot is usually free and open to the public. Tonight, through the generosity of our hosts, we’re able to gather as dorkbot and share our ideas freely.

I will ask for your generosity, as well, and hope that you will grant me three favors.

First: I ask that you participate tonight. There will be opportunity for discussion and questions. The entire reason we’re here is for you to add to the ongoing dialog. If nothing else, be engaged and present for the next little while. You may learn something or nothing at all, but trust me when I say it’s always better when you are in the conversation.

Second: When tonight is over, I respectfully suggest that you have an obligation to relate what you’ve seen here with your colleagues, friends and family. Even if you hate everything about this evening and just want to share your curmudgeonly experience, please do have that conversation with somebody. And, if tonight inspires you to think about what being a maker of things really means, then please shout it from the rooftops or at least your blog. A curse of a thousand flame-throwing robots on you if you keep your thoughts to yourself!

and Third: If you at any point tonight think to yourself, “This is great! I wish it would happen more often” then please visit dorkbot.org and find the dorkbot in your own hometown. If there’s not one nearby or if you just don’t like what your city’s dorkbot is doing, then guess what? You’re it. I knight you as a dorkbot-overlord.

Starting a dorkbot couldn’t be easier. Invite one or more of your friends out for lunch and talk about the strange things you are doing with electricity. Do it once or daily or monthly at a bar or hackerspace or your living room. You can call it a dorkbot if you want. Or not. Tell us about it when it happens.

I will offer to you that you can email me or Douglas or any of the other dorkbot organizers for any advice or help as you get going. You’ll find there’s a wonderfully strange community out there really eager to hear about what you’re doing.

I’m also going to send around a couple clipboards for you to add your email address and hometown. Your info will be treated with respect, I promise. I’ll just make sure your local dorkbot organizer knows you’re interested in getting connected.

Thank you so much for being here tonight. and so with that, I declare the first dorkbot-diyCHI open!