We are delighted to be able to welcome Silvia Lindtner as a first-time speaker to the #rp17: her talk Ex Oriente Make will deal with how the Chinese industrial city of Shenzhen became the “Silicon Valley of Hardware”. Her research and teaching is focused on the interaction between humans and computers, technological innovation and maker and DIY culture. Silvia Lindtner also places a particular focus on the maker movement in China, the national manufacturing and industry development and the country itself.
Following her studies of Media Technology and Design in the Austrian city of Linz, she received her Ph.D. in Information and Computer Science at the University of California, Irvine. She then held a post-doc position jointly appointed by the University of California and Fudan University in Shanghai. Silvia Lindtner is now an assistant professor at the University of Michigan in the School of Information. She also lectures at the Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design.
In 2011, she co-founded the international and interdisciplinary research initiative “Hacked Matter” with two colleagues. The research hub investigates processes of technology innovation and grassroots movements in urban China, offering Chinese and international participants the possibility to network and collaborate through numerous events, workshops and publications.
A short interview with #rp17 speaker Silvia Lindtner:
What makes Chinese maker culture so special?
Just as in many other places around the world, there are enthusiastic open source hardware makers and tinkerers who already started setting up maker- and hackerspaces years ago, and who spread ideas of alternative technological societies. At the same time, there’s another type of making going on in China: the industrial production, manual trades, and repairs play a central role in many cities in China, but especially in Shenzhen. In 2016, Wired UK celebrated Shenzhen as the "Silicon Valley of Hardware". These two Chinese maker cultures blend together in Shenzhen, a city that became a kind of lab for makers and entrepreneurs – a place where it wasn’t just new technologies being produced, but where new professional identities could be experimented with.
“Hacked Matter” offers a space for various and diverse stakeholders to come together and discuss technological innovation – what prompted you to found the research hub?
Hacked Matter grew out of a collaboration with Anna Greenspan (NYU Shanghai) and David Li, the founder of China's first hackerspace (XinCheJian). I got to know them both during my ethnographic research in China in 2009, and we met up regularly to debate topics such as making, China, technology, the changes in the city, amongst other things. The idea behind it was to develop a collaborative and interdisciplinary research approach that took China seriously, as a region that has an influence on contemporary and future technologies. We also wanted to question widespread biases, such as China being the land of copies or cheap production, and confront others – especially participants from the West – with the fact that it is our own consumerism and continuous demand for better and cheaper electronics that is the root cause for many problems, such as pollution in China.
Can you give us a little teaser for your #rp17 lecture?
I’ll be focusing on how, in just three years, the industrial city of Shenzhen went from being the posterchild of cheap copies and low-quality production to being a laboratory of the future. A city that many, especially European and American makers and entrepreneurs, found hopeful exactly because manufacturing and manual trades still played a central role in the economy. People from the West feel that they see the future in a city like Shenzhen, because it is a place where they can not only realise technological ideas, but where they are also able to experiment with social processes and their own professional identity.
What makes you ‘love out loud’?
The women who fight by my side. The minorities who I get to fight for.
Photo credit: Jeffrey Bardzell