How the Hippies Changed the Course of DIY History

Photo by Bob Coyne on Unsplash

Makerspaces are communal areas where people with common interests (which often include computers, electronics, technology, and art) can gather to share ideas, equipment, and knowledge. By many other names, they began as a way for the counterculture movement of the 1960s and 70s to enable sharing of ideas by working together on projects outside of school or work.

In those days, those living alternative lifestyles (henceforth affectionately referred to as hippies) were attracted to new ways of living and working. Lifestyle experiments included new modes of social, political, economic, and ecological relationships. Hippies believed that these outlying niches could help relieve people from a monotonous way in which society adhered to its mainstream lifestyles. However, organizations everywhere were deemed to mimic and reproduce a form of patriarchal, economically oriented social order. Hippies continued to adhere to this view.

In the 1960s, many people were trying to create public spaces that would be different from both western capitalist societies and eastern authoritarian communist societies. Hippies were attracted to these public spaces because they offered a chance for change.

The move towards anarchy gained popularity because the ideals of the hippie movement had become irrelevant by that time. The hippies realized that they needed to do more than just follow the posters and songs promoting change, they needed to actually disrupt capitalism in order to make a difference.

Many hippies didn’t want to give up after their revolution began to fade away in the 1970s, so they created their own little worlds within the old ones. Hippy-minded people created spaces like these to let others experiment with new ways of living, working, and loving. And their pattern for success continued to impress upon capitalism throughout the dot-com era and beyond.

There were also initiatives emerging that ran aside the Pirate Radio movement that was a response to conservatism in the 1960s and 1970s. People within and alongside this movement wanted to build their own spaces outside of mainstream society where they could be themselves and have control over their lives. By whatever name they were called, makerspaces were a part of this larger counterculture, and they served as places where people could meet and share their skills.

Makerspaces by many other names offered people a laid-back, cool, and non-repressive environment where they could work if they wanted (well, at least as far as any space or environment embedded within a capitalist society can be described as laid back, cool, and non-repressive). Sociologists call these places “third spaces” because they break up the dualistic structure of places to live and places to work. This sort of way of living rejects a lifestyle shaped by these kinds of structures. In other words, it lets people work on technical and creative issues in a cooperative, non-repressive way that could lead to creative solutions.

In the 1970s, America’s middle class began to update and relaunch itself using countercultural experiences it had gained. The mainstream then took that knowledge and applied it to its own projects. Dissent became normalized. Rhetoric involving language of revolts and revolutions were often just reminders of a nostalgic struggle with the system that learned to assimilate their nonconformity.

There were a lot of disputes and disagreements in the early days of makerspaces, just as there are today. In the early years of the movement, it was often considered an alternative to the traditional workplace, where people who didn’t fit into the established rules could find their tribe and achieve something noteworthy. Makerspaces today are much more open and inclusive, and everyone is welcomed regardless of their political views or work ethic.

People were initially drawn to makerspaces because they offered a safe place where they could be themselves and discuss their interests without being judged. As capitalism began to influence the movement, these spaces changed and became more about solving individual problems than political ones. Larger technological revolutions receded into the past, and smaller ones replaced them.

Early makerspaces (by other names) were used to protest politics and corporate greed. However, now that many of these goals have been achieved, makerspaces are becoming more like regular businesses or clubs. They are no longer seen as a means to politicize things more broadly. The political scheme has changed.

Today, while it is not difficult to find a cause, it can often be difficult to find support among friends at your makerspace to support a cause. Maker culture has become a support network for educating children, learning new skills, or starting a business. Much of our innovation has evaporated. And our original counterculture of nonconformity and rebellion has been silently deleted.

In order for makerspaces to become an engine for innovation again, we need to understand how these environments generated innovation in the first place and what their limitations are.

Over the years, I have watched Dallas Makerspace grow and evolve, trying out new things, year after year, its organizational model a magnificent reiterative experiment in our own human nature. Of any other do-cratic organization on the planet, it is by far the largest. And it has produced a lot of useful data for posterity.

I want to hear what you think! In your opinion, what makes a makerspace a conducive environment for innovation?

Mark Randall Havens is the Founder and Executive Director of Dallas Maker Community (DMC), a nonprofit organized to bootstrap Dallas Makerspace, the largest all-volunteer makerspace in the United States. DMC continues reformed efforts to provide maker-focused marketing and makerspace leadership education to other maker-centric organizations throughout North Texas

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Mark Randall Havens

Mark Randall Havens

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Executive Director of Dallas Maker Community; Founder & Founding Director of Dallas Makerspace. https://markhavens.us