Down & Brown
since 1998

On Hackdays

If you have not taken the time to watch the four part series of Everything is a Remix, I encourage you to do so. This web documentary explores the remix, tracing its origins far beyond electronic music and considers its future, especially with regard to copyright and patent law.

Music is, at first glance, an easy media to draw threads of influence through decades of recording, recycling, reuse and re-invention. I love blues music. Tracing influences through towns, parishes, counties and states is part of what forms the story of the blues. Men and women who lived and worked together, shared ideas, stole ideas and made themselves legend.

Software, in the twenty-first century, enjoys the cross-pollination and exchange of ideas like music and many other great artistic and cultural forms.

The tech scene in Melbourne is exciting because of the organic flow of ideas. Ideas shared, stolen, reused, recycled and re-invented. We have a huge number of events and forums to meet, tell stories and swap ideas.

I've been lucky enough in recent years to work a couple of stints at REA, contracting through Cogent. REA has a fierce hack-day tradition. It enjoys huge participation rates and many folk look forward to it as a chance to collaborate and make new things.

Cogent also encouraged a hack day tradition too. Generously setting aside time for people to explore product ideas. Product! Make product! Invent! Create!

I love to make things. I consider myself a creative person. My creativity is inward and introverted 1 . I love to draw, sitting quietly and sketching. Or writing, again quietly, alone and inward.

But I have hated hack days.

Hack days are loud, ego-fuelled affairs and I find it difficult to get on board. Lame product ideas, boring technical explorations, "mudguards" (shiny on top, shit underneath) which might as well be wireframes all make up a landscape of fervent activity that constitute hack day. If you're on those teams working on those one or two really genuine good hacks, it is clearly a thrill and I can see the attraction. Beyond that, I guess I haven't really got it.

Re-reading what I wrote about Everything is a Remix 2 triggered a change in thinking. What if I considered hack days as an opportunity to remix existing rather than conjure new products from thin air.

Now I think I get it. At least for me, for now there's a way in. A way to look at the next hack day as an opportunity to take two or three disparate and existing things and munge them together and see what pops out. That I can get behind.

1. Apart from playing and performing music of course.

2. Wrote the first half of this post about Everything is a Remix about a year before this post.