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The Best Of Hong Kong
Lifestyle News
By Leanne Mirandilla | April 29th, 2019

The director of non-profit hackerspace Dim Sum Labs, Michelle Poon has been no stranger to exploring ingenious solutions ever since her days as a design student. Last year, as the recipient of a Design Trust Feature Grant, she authored the book “The Field Guide to Hacking”. We spoke to her about the benefits — and trials — of building a community of hackers in Hong Kong.

Hacking is a state of mind

Anyone can be a hacker. It doesn’t take much to start. It takes unrelenting curiosity, a genuine thirst for knowledge, and a passion for… anything, because it is all about looking at something and thinking, “why is that?” and exploring that notion. In other words, a bit of an autodidact.

A hackerspace is a persistent space that plays host to a community that codes things, melts things, shares things, re-assembles and re-appropriates — all within the context of hacking, which is the intellectual exercise of exploring any object, system or method beyond its intended means.

Creativity can flourish when we allow ourselves to explore without the fear of failing. It’s part of the design process: fail x number of times, and re-iterate x+1. It’s important to allow people that environment, accessibility, time, and support.

Creativity and society

“The Field Guide to Hacking” explores the practices and protocols of hacking generated from the hackerspace community in Hong Kong. It explores general electronics, such as building and soldering circuits that can be useful for daily living (i.e. the Kilowatt Counter) or that are simply pretty cool (Uranium Marble Ring Oscillator); art and how projects and performances are used as social commentary; inclusivity and how sharing knowledge and opening access to the community includes breaking down technological, economical, and gender barriers; and science, demonstrating how hacking a system can be for the greater good (via The Bauhinia Genome Project, or Laser Quadrant for Coral Reef Mapping).

Hong Kong and creative community

Hong Kong is a very commercial, financially-focused culture, so in that sense, it makes it difficult to expand the community compared to other hackerspaces (i.e. Noisebridge in San Francisco, c-base in Berlin, the many different flavors, like FUZ, popping up around Paris). It makes Dim Sim Labs a kind of “ground zero” for hacker activity. On the other hand, we are in exceedingly close proximity to Shenzhen, the glorious component mecca. So we are socially and politically free to explore our creative endeavours, but with access to Chinese factories.

Looking to the future

All Hongkongers can agree that we are suffering a dearth of space for all people, full stop. This is an issue with real estate prices, developer tycoons and monopolies. Collectively, this entire city is hoping this will change.

But it’s important to stop being complicit in these imbalances and injustices; to not fail at supporting creativity and grassroots communities; to not fail by being apathetic; to not fail by being part of the systematic silence. Apathy is what makes us complicit in the degradation of communities.

 

From our Point of View series.