Bricolage is a podcast for makers, made in the united kingdom by dominic morow with new episodes more or less every week!

Engine of More: The Curator

Engine of More: The Curator

In a couple of my “utopian” segments I’ve mentioned “The Curator”. I’m going to expand on that role and idea a little bit now.

If I want to watch something, I can watch any of the 1.4 billion YouTube videos that are online, can’t find anything I like? I need only wait a minute for another 300 hours of new stuff to be loaded in. I can go to the cinema or the theatre or even put on broadcast television. No? A little shopping online or at any 2nd hand store or big box shop will offer me thousands of titles on DVD or VHS just to name two formats. Yet, why is it we often feel there is nothing to watch?

If you want to read something, I can choose any number of well written websites, Reddit comments in one of the 138,000 active communities, ebooks there are 600,000 on kindle, any of the 152,000,000 blogs (most of which haven’t posted since Jan 2017) or any of the 5.8 million pages on Wikipedia. Yet, there is nothing I want to read!

Maybe I’ll have something to eat. I could make almost anything just by finding a recipe and going to any of the 5 or 6 massive and diverse supermarkets in my city. I could even try something really different and go to one of the 3 or 4 huge world food shops some only a walk away. I can open my phone of course and have something delivered via Uber Eats of Deliveroo from any of the hundreds of vendors in my area. I could even dig out a paper copy of the Yellow-pages and telephone for something.

There is SO MUCH CHOICE… Often I don’t know what I want.

Let’s consider Netflix. How about I watch one of the movies on offer? All in I’m told Netflix has 6000 movies in the catalogue, they don’t serve those to you all at once though. Apparently they have made some 700 original productions, and I’ve been more inclined of late to watch those, which was’t really why I came to Netflix in the first place. More often than not, I sit looking at all the options (assuming I’m not binging something in particular) and am overwhelmed by choice, even the curated choice on Netflix. It’s limited AI curation (which I’m sure will get better) seems to always pick the wrong reason I watched something in the past. “Oh it say, I see you liked “Raising Arizona”… do you like films with Nicholas Cage in them… how about these??” I don’t really like Nicholas Cage and no thank you, what about showing me Cohen Brothers films and other quirky well made stuff?

In short, most of us here in the UK are lucky. We live in a world of abundance of choice.

When you go to a museum, if its a really good museum, you’re not seeing the whole collection… you are seeing a curated selection of the collection. A trained someone at the museum is trying to tell a story and they choose artefacts from often vast and sometimes large and in many cases, rather dull collections. The task of most museums is not in fact to provide loud families with somewhere to go in the rain, or even to host Mini Maker Faires, for the most part, their job is to keep, record and understand STUFF… things! If they get to show those things, they become a sort of story teller. They can choose to tell that story in hundreds and thousands of different ways of course, some compelling, some utterly mind numbing. Often the curator is working through an abundance of choice.

We see that same abundance of choice in the Hackerspace. We have near infinite choices we can make about how to fill our spaces. An abundance of tools, “useful” cruft, infrastructure and all the things we try and put inside a space.

Okay sure sometimes our choices are limited by means (or more likely by lack of ambition and creativity around fund-raising but that’s another story). Sometimes we are limited by practicality and often simply with the rules and stories we’ve made up and put in our own heads. A sort of group-think-cargo-cult of what we feel a Hackerspace is through observation of those that came before.

In a world of abundance curation is the key. Curation, curation, curation. I see an important role in the hackerspace of curation. This could be on a hackerspace wide or team based or even work-bench level. A person or people tasks with understanding and constantly adjusting what is on offer. We can not offer everything. It isn’t possible. We MUST curate. With limited space and limited resources and most importantly limited and valuable attention, curation and good curation at that is the key.

A really good hackerspace curator will find ways to understand what the group wants and offer them what they really need. They’ll be able to make tough decisions, on what to leave out as well as what to include. They will have little more authority than a scope that tells them their area of responsibility, which might include budgeting, objectives and how much space they have to use and the percentage of this which must be left open. They will have clear guidance on where they are expected to be creative and where they are expected to take responsibility with authority over a work area.

Let us call our curator Alex Hacker.

Why do I talk about responsibility? I think it’s important in communities and specifically in hackerspaces, that we get back to being able to say that I, Alex Hacker, made this decision and I am responsible for it. Where we have flat hierarchies and group decision making, we often have no one who is responsible for something. This is good if we want to hide and blame others or no-one for things and no one is answerable. This is bad if we want to achieve anything exceptional. I’m not saying I want to see members howling for Alex Hacker’s blood from a wrong decision. We need to respect the position and especially respect that someone has had to make and stand by a decision. Group overruling of a single persons decision dilutes this.

As ever I will try and write more about this in the future. I might speak to some curator friends about it too.

Today’s thumbnail is a set of swatches found at STEAMHouse in Birmingham.

Engine of More: Glossary

Engine of More: Glossary

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