[Noisebridge-discuss] burnout in community projects where ROI is low

Jake jake at spaz.org
Sun Oct 13 23:19:16 UTC 2013

note: ROI stands for Return On Investments, and refers here metaphorically 
to rewarding results people get from investing their time and energy into 
community projects.


regarding the burnout question, i believe it is directly based on results 
vs. effort as percieved by participants.  (ROI)

If people work on a garden, for example, and they see that the work they 
put into the garden yields nice foods and plants, and it's worthwhile, 
they will continue to work on it.  Some people will give up easier or 
harder than others, but most people will give up if for example the garden 
is continually getting vandalized or eaten by deer or whatever it is, and 
they are unable to find or coordinate a solution.  It's a dead end.

In a community, a failure like this is probably a result of lack of 
willingness to solve the problem as opposed to lack of resources / hands 
to solve the problem.  For example, 10 people building a deer fence 
together is easy, but getting 10 people to agree to put up a deer fence 
can be a problem if they have competing ideas about how to solve problems.

So the example of noisebridge, to me, is that while noisebridge was 
awesome for a while, eventually as we became more popular (and as Occupy 
popularized using noisebridge as a streetkid occupation) the garden 
stopped yielding nearly as much fun and productivity, and required a lot 
more cleanup effort and social drama (which can be very taxing), people 
who value their time and energy stopped participating.

this increases entropy, which decreases the ROI for everyone 
participating.  So it's a self-increasing cycle.

I identify the main cause of this problem at noisebridge as a lack of 
willingness of the membership to acknowledge the complaints of excellent 
users of the space, failure to take these problems seriously, and 
lack of willingness to make changes to improve the situation.

i believe the reasons for this bad attitude at noisebridge come from 
multiple factors, including:

1. software people don't understand the effect of entropy on the 
hardware-hacking potential of a hackerspace, and fail to respect the pleas 
of their fellow hackers due to a lack of empathy or caring.  This may be 
similar to the experiences of female users of the space, who express 
problems with harassment and are probably told (by males) stuff like
"I don't get harassed, so i don't see any need for any changes"

2. hackers in general tend to enjoy playing devil's advocate, taking the 
opposite position of the majority and defending it, which results in total 
logjam and lack of consensus as people seek to bolster their sense of 
identity by defending something just because it's a challenge accepted. 
(in this case defending the status quo)
Cooperating in a community requires the ability to shut up and listen, 
acknowledging that other people can be right about things, and that it's 
okay to agree with everyone once in a while.

3. privelage guilt, where people don't acknowledge the role of hard work 
and self-discipline in their own success, and worry about denying 
opportunities to other people with access to less resources, because they 
fail to see that hard work and self-discipline are more important than 
access to resources.  (in other words, wanting to leave the door open to 
the homeless because you think that homelessness is the only thing keeping 
people from becoming hackers when it's actually a very small factor today)



On Sun, 13 Oct 2013, Praveen Sinha wrote:

> Hey Josh,
> Thanks for the followup from the conversation last night.  I like your take on (passive vs active) it, and particularly like the last 2 questions that you
> asked.  I'm tempted to fwd your email to nb-discuss.  
> The burnout question also concerns me -- and not just burnout but also life change (moving, children, etc), and how we can design our communities to be
> resilient over 10-20-30-40-50 years?
> Was stimulated by all the discussions last night :)   Hope to see you around more!

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