This is the twelfth post of a series of profiles on GOSH community members who were featured in the GOSH Community Events Framework. You can access the framework, along with this profile in its original format, on the GOSH website at https://openhardware.science/gosh-community-events-framework/.
By Marcela Basch, independent journalist, Argentina. Twitter: @marbasch
Andy Quitmeyer is a professor, researcher, and adventurer studying the intersections between wild animals and computational devices.
With a background in engineering and digital media, he used to teach at the National University of Singapore, where he carried out academic research in digital naturalism, blending biological fieldwork and DIY digital crafting. He quit to start his own field-station makerspace in Gamboa, Panama: the Digital Naturalism Laboratories (the Institute for Interactive Jungle Crafts). He also hosted the survival tv series Hacking the Wild on Science Channel. In 2018 and 2019, he put up the Digital Naturalism Conferences, that had a first edition in Thailand and a second one in Panama. There he brought together over 100 participants from all fields to collaborate on finding new ways of interacting with nature, mainly investigating interactive tool-making in the setting of their own DIY biological field station. All of their work was published openly for sharing and remixing.
He got to GOSH through Hackteria. “I met them like 10 years ago. They’re great, do all kinds of cool biopunk stuff, DIY bio, awesome things. They helped connect with lots of other really great organizations, and then I heard about the GOSH meeting in Chile. I had also been following the people from Public Lab for quite some time, so it seemed to me like GOSH is a little baby of those two groups, Hackteria and Public Lab”, says Andy. “Then the Africa OSH Summit in Ghana came up, and luckily I got to attend that. It was really wonderful to meet all those people”. Some months later, he was part of the third Global GOSH, in Shenzhen.
Changing the culture of scientific secrecy
“I first approached GOSH more as an open source free culture advocate, mainly in interaction design, interactive media and interactive art”, remembers Andy. “A little bit later I started doing interactive media with animals and other non-human living creatures. I like the ethos of open source hardware, sharing and building upon each other’s work, using open source platforms like Arduino. This way I don’t have to reinvent how to make a programmable microcontroller, I can just use it and it’s wonderful, and then I can share my stuff and other people can use that and we can all help advance each other”.
“Not only is it very nice to make this hardware and software open source and share it with everybody, but ethically it should be mandatory”, states Andy. “It was disheartening when I started getting involved with many science people who were like: ‘okay we’re doing this secret thing, don’t leak any of my information, I don’t want to get scooped’. I thought that was just so silly! So it was really nice for me to find the GOSH community”.
“GOSH gets a bunch of people across many different disciplines, or even without any, with the same goal: sharing open science stuff. These people normally would never have crossed paths for any reason, except they’re both there and they both want to share. Being there and sharing is the key element. The openness gives everything a completely different vibe. It’s refreshing seeing people be like: ‘look at this cool thing’ rather than ‘look at my cool thing’.
Make, share, document
“In Ghana we actually got the people to go out to a nearby forest. We put down picnic blankets, I had my backpacks that turned into hacking gear and we set those up outside, underneath all these fruit bats that were flying around, and we just let people play around with sensors and test things. That was super fun”, recalls Andy. “Then at Shenzhen, I ran a workshop that was more about this design fiction, like drawing your ideal field tools or workstations or wearable field kits. It was pretty fun.”
“I try to share these concepts of openness and sharing. For the conference that I run, DINACON, we carry over this concept from GOSH. We have very simple open-ended rules for participating in our conference, where open-ended means you aren’t targeting a specific outcome. The rules are: you have to make something, you have to share it with others, and you have to document it”.
“I’m a big fan of punctuality, and planning out your sessions within the time constraints. That can become an issue of inclusion, because especially when you’re in a very open-ended atmosphere, where there is not one precise thing to be done and who knows what’s going to happen, people can be like ‘oh this is a very chill atmosphere, I was giving a one hour session but let’s make it two’”, warns Andy. “That can happen, but I think it interferes with people’s schedules and sessions. Think through the steps of your session, and be mindful of the time: you’re actually negotiating with lots of different people from very diverse backgrounds. If you plan your workshop for half the length of what you might think it actually takes, you have plenty of time for discussion, for probing around and you’re not hogging up anyone else’s session time, you’re not preventing the people from joining the other sessions they may have already signed up for.”
Help calm people’s fears
“If you’re facilitating a session, you need to block out time for yourself to pay attention to people’s emotions and behaviors on top of running the whole session. And try to be nice and open with them”, says Andy. “You should be conscious of who’s talking the most and try to encourage others. Try to shift the focus, to make sure that everyone’s getting a fair share. Just try to create opportunities and spaces for people to participate, but don’t put people on the spot and force them to speak”.
“I would have people asking “oh I don’t know anything about Arduino, is it okay if I join?”. Trying to help calm people’s fears can be important”, highlights Andy. “It’s just about being available to chat before the workshop and answer questions or concerns. I also suggest being very open to changes.”