Monday, August 9, 2010

Making Meaning

Making Monday

M.I.T. has a long, proud tradition of hacking, which specifically means the creative and non-destructive rearrangement of matter and space.

In April, hackers suspended a lounge under the arch over entrance to the Media Building. At first glance, it might seem like random college hi-jinks, but hacking at M.I.T. is generally the expression of a fundamental maker need: to make meaning.

April, 2010. The lounge is on the underside of the arch.
[This may seem a bit esoteric, but bear with me.]

Meaning is the significance we attribute to things that enables us to distinguish among objectively indistinguishable objects.

That's a lot to digest, so try on an example: What is the difference between driftwood art and fire wood? They are both pieces of wood. What makes one worth keeping and the other worth burning? It's the meaning we attribute to each piece of wood: firewood has no significance while the art piece might remind us of something.

Making is fundamentally about creating meaning. Each conscious, purposeful act that transforms raw materials (whether actual or virtual) infuses the thing being made with significance. Even the simple act of stacking stones distinguishes those stones from the others on the ground because the stack doesn't arise naturally but can only be produced through purposeful action.

So what does this have to do with hacking at M.I.T.? By making something surprising and counter-intuitive like the upside down lounge, the students, like the microscopic whos in Dr. Seuss's Horton Hears a Who, are changing the significance of the official environment to shout metaphorically, "We are here!"

In an ultimate sense, every act of making, every iota of meaning, of significance, is another shout of, "We are here!"

 Image: Bill Longshaw /