[Noisebridge-discuss] Fwd: Bartleby the Noisebridger

aestetix aestetix aestetix at gmail.com
Tue Jun 23 02:48:09 UTC 2009

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: *Hagbard Celine* <hgbdceline23 at gmail.com>
Date: Fri, Dec 21, 2012 at 03:14hrs
Subject: Bartleby the Noisebridger
To: aestetix <aestetix at gmail.com>

aestetix! good to hear things are well! would you mind forwarding this new
piece on to that hacker space email list?

hail eris!

I've been active in the scene for many years. I have toured across the
country, and in recent years, around the globe. In my journeys, I have
encountered a wide diversity of hackers, each motivated by different
desires, but each equally worthy of his or her own captivations. When I came
to San Francisco and happened upon Bartleby, it seemed this was a story that
must be shared.

To give some context to what at first seems like a fantastic place, I must
describe the hacker space called Noisebridge. Started by intelligent geeks
with good intentions, Noisebridge blossomed quickly from its early days as a
geek El Dorado tucked away in a Mission slum, to a thriving honeypot
breeding the best and brightest in the Bay Area.

Before exploring Bartleby's character, it's important to understand the
culture which created him. A welcome haven for creativity, Noisebridge kept
an open door policy, a clean slate to break away from Rousseau's chains,
encouraging a mutual learning environment for people of all sorts. Many
events and projects, detailing all walks of life, spanning many cultures and
countries, all at some point passed through. However, those of us of some
experience are aware that everything which rises must converge. An
environment which caters to such policies will ultimately run afoul of
trouble. As the basket of apples is spoiled by the one sour fruit, the
arrival of Bartleby erupted in controversy such as the scene has rarely

There are many ways to take a room and pinpoint an unwelcome guest. Perhaps
he makes poor conversation, interrupts that of others, insults and mocks
without warning, or starts fights. In the geek culture especially, foul odor
remnant from weeks of nonbathery, poor hygiene, and unwashed clothes all
suffer as contributing factors. But, it seemed, none of these malfeasements
attached themselves to Bartleby.

He arrived, no luggage in tow, as a typical Californian seeking to advance
himself. He made multiple visits a week, and contributed significantly to
the organization, even hosting his share of classes and events. For a short
novelty period, the flock of Noisebridgers loved him, pampered him, and
never asked his background. They appreciated his hard work, and didn't
notice when he slowly stopped contributing.

Slowly, week by week, his visits turned into a self-granted internship.
Whenever a Noisebridger showed up, Bartleby was around, doing nothing. As
more classes and events filled the tiny space, his steam slowed, and he
passed his torch to others. People arrived who had heard of his positive
reputation, and would buy him food and drink, but he never seemed to work.

Eventually the board members noticed the social tension that had arisen.
Prompted by a few members regarding his constant presence, the president of
the establishment approached Bartleby, and asked, very politely, if he would
like to soldier a circuit for arduinos. He offered an entire laundry list of
project ideas, and even suggested Bartleby could take his finished product
home to show his roommates, a subtle hint that perhaps he was overwearing
his welcome.

Bartleby sat and listened very closely, studying the president's face and
body language. When the suggestion had been made, Bartleby folded his hands
together, looked around the room, and took a deep breath. He looked into the
president's eyes and, with a soft, gentle voice, said "I would prefer not

The president retreated in utter shock, not because his suggestion had been
so bluntly punted aside, but because of the manner in which Bartleby carried
himself as he spoke. Bartleby wore a strange sense of confidence, spoken
like a man who belonged at Noisebridge more than the president did. The
president was no master of social etiquette, but he knew this challenge was
not normally in the book.

A week went by, and the problem remained. More members complained about the
presence of this man, who for all intents and purposes now contributed
nothing and simply took up space. But he had been ratified by the collective
as a member, so until his dues stopped being paid, he could remain. The
president took note of this and, one day before the weekly meeting,
approached him again.

"We are starting a new class, and would like you to teach it," offered the
president. Surely this would at least justify the man's longterm stay. “As
you are undoubtedly aware, we have had a lot of new members arrive, and
think it would be excellent if you would help teach them why Noisebridge is
such a great place.” As he said this, he pointed to an elegant sign on the
wall, stating the motto: “Be excellent to everyone.”

Before Bartleby could answer, the president brought over a collection of
books and an outline. “Some people just need a little prodding in the right
direction”, he thought. This particular strategy had been thought through
carefully, and even included a list of interested new members, who were
willing to show up at any time. But as before, Bartleby took a deep breath,
sighed, and in his gentle voice, said “I would prefer not to.”

Rather than setting upon the scene with outrage, which would not be
excellent, the president scurried back to his desk to reconspire. By now,
they had run out of options. If they could not turn him into a productive
member, and couldn’t make him leave, there was only one choice left: to move
the space.

Noisebridge had already been discussing moving for some time. There was a
lot of pressure because of the influx of new members, and the general
consensus was that the space was too small. The president was well aware of
this, and realized that this was the only way to “fix” Bartleby. As when in
a science fiction a space commander may travel by moving the entire universe
around his stationary ship, so, though the president, moving Noisebridge was
the only effective way to lessen social tension.

The next morning, ads were placed, and scouts were issued. By mid-day, there
were reports of several places, and by sunset a new lease had been signed.
In the course of the next week, the members worked together to migrate lots
of heavy machinery and computer parts.

Later that year, fully set in the new abode, a new member found an old CD
with a label that read “Bartleby”. He went to one of the more senior
members, and thus began the ritual telling of this tale. We’re still not
sure what happened to him. There is a rumor that when a dotcom startup moved
into the old Noisebridge hole, they thought he was a hobbit and kept him in
a room under the stairwell. At one point they even brought him out as their
mascot. But as time passed, so did the company, and the rumors came less and
less frequently. The final rumor, in recent years, involved him being taken
by creditors when the startup lost funding. Now, many years later, he has
become legend in some parts, transformed by lore into giants and golems, but
we shall always know the true story of how Noisebridge came to move.
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