This morning I gave the opening address at the annual conference of ALIA Queensland. The theme this year was “Library Hacks”.
Hacking’s such a funny term, still threatening and techy and futuristic, and yet also so familiar; the stuff of cheesy mid-90s techno-thrillers as much as today’s headlines about Wikileaks and massive DNS attacks.
The New Yorker tells us that the word originates in the house slang of MIT, way back in the 1950s:
The minutes of an April, 1955, meeting of the Tech Model Railroad Club state that “Mr. Eccles requests that anyone working or hacking on the electrical system turn the power off to avoid fuse blowing.”
Taking “hack” to mean tinkering with machines and procedures, not following the manual, I wanted to both hack the keynote and offer attendees an opportunity that wouldn’t exist at M.I.T.
So, we gave them craft materials, tinfoil and paperclips, food decorating kits, a basic electronics set…
…and Kinder Surprise Eggs.
These chocolate eggs contain a small plastic toy with instructions for assembly. They aren’t sold in the US, owing to food regulations.
We gave out one Kinder Egg for every two participants (although they could form larger groups), and set just two rules:
Make something useful or fun
Don’t follow the instructions
We wanted people to explore the possibilities of this everyday product, across art, craft, science, and food.
We wanted them to surprise us, to tinker with the materials, and think about “hacking” in a different way – and they did.
From giving the Kinder toys a creepy seasonal twist…
…to building dynamic catapult games which exploited the springy quality of the Kinder’s plastic capsule:
This was about social skills as much as craft and technology:
And smart devices came into play too, whether to get technical advice from overseas:
Or to turn the Kinder egg into a spooky photo-edited image:
The aim was for me to spend as little time as possible on the podium (we’ve had quite enough of enthusiastic white guys being the face of hacking and making, I suspect) and simply present an opportunity for conference attendees to get creative – to work in that uncomfortable, exciting, often rewarding space where you look at a situation, put the manual to one side, and just start to hack away at things.