I recently read an article by artist/informatics researcher Garnet Hertz titled “Arduino Microcontrollers and the Queen’s Hamlet” that offered up some interesting tidbits. The first was the Queen’s Hamlet, or Hameau de la Reine, itself. Built in 1783 at Versailles for Marie Antoinette, it was a kind of sanitized version of a working farm that allowed the Queen the diversion of playing peasant without the inconvenience of actually getting her hands dirty (the servants handled all the real tasks). A little Disneyworld in 18th century France.
Hertz uses the Queen’s Hamlet as an example of “hedonized” production. The farm tasks were undertaken by the Queen not because she lacked for milk to drink, but for the pleasure of playing “rustic”. Hertz cites technology historian Rachel Maines and her book Hedonizing Technologies: Paths to Pleasure in Hobbies and Leisure in drawing a distinction between utilitarian and hedonized production. As people’s economic circumstances have improved, formerly utilitarian chores like gardening, cooking, and sewing have been transformed into leisure activities performed not out of necessity, but rather in pursuit of pleasure.
What of the Arduino, then? Hertz calls it a “hedonized technology” and ties it to a broader critique of the MAKE Magazine, weekend (maker) warrior, consumer hobby culture. His critique is reasonable and all the more compelling because he does not claim that these developments are without value. Even if you buy an off-the-shelf Arduino kit (as I did, full disclosure), by using it you are learning something about physical computing and perhaps questioning the “black box” mindset of throwaway consumer electronics culture. Hertz opines, "Arduino’s synecdochical symbolization of the electronic DIY movement isn’t a negative thing: as a fashionable accessory of nerd culture, the Arduino is useful in its role of re-introducing some of the basics of homebrew computing that predated the personal computer" (p. 45). First off, he gets points for managing to use the adjectival form of "synecdoche". That aside, his main argument is that hackers/makers should maintain an engaged and critical stance toward DIY production and culture, and that hacker/maker culture is much larger and more diverse than O’Reilly Media. Hertz is suspicious of the modern day Queen’s Hamlet.
Hertz comes across as snide at times, but I believe it is a sign of the depth of his investment in the idea of “critical making” and the wider benefits it may bring. He concludes by writing, “a critical making that combines engaged thought with technical construction is our path into meaningful personal, social and civic engagement” (p. 47).
Hertz practices what he preaches and has produced some very cool and thoughtful stuff that can be seen at his site. Here’s a good interview with him on this and other topics from We make money not art.
Hertz, G. (2011). Arduino microcontrollers and the Queen’s Hamlet: utilitarian and hedonized DIY practices in contemporary digital culture. In Proceedings of the 31st Annual Conference of the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture (ARCADIA). Stoughton, WI: Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture (pp. 44-47).
Maines, R. P. (2009). Hedonizing Technologies: Paths to Pleasure in Hobbies and Leisure. JHUP.