Daniel Hirschmann – Technology Will Save Us
Natasha Bird meets super-geek-come-superhero Daniel Hirschman, to chat time machines, resourcefulness and how much sellotape is enough sellotape…
Technology is great. Without a pocket-sized Insta-portal to the filtered and framed world, how would we know that our cheeseburger really is superior to all other cheeseburgers? Eating would be an entirely less smug process. And we can’t have that.
Unfortunately, though, we’re so horribly addicted to disposable consumerism, that most of us take technology for granted. Which means, if the smartphone breaks mid-journey, we’re reduced to the level of stupefied children, staring blankly at a lifeless iPhone screen, marvelling incredulously at the ephemerality of existence.
As much as I’m loath to expose my own blithering idiocy, it seems appropriate to tell you about the time I spilled a bottle of acetone over my MacBook Pro.
If my lack of tech savvy hadn’t already made itself apparent by the very fact that I had an open bottle of acetone within a metre of an Apple product, you’ll be assured of it by what I did next.
In a moment of incredible “middle class problems” buffoonery, unable to find a bag of rice (for moisture absorption), I thrust my laptop into a bag of quinoa. Yes, you did read that right. And the quinoa, being significantly smaller than rice, slipped through the gaps in the keyboard and joined the acetone in a fun game of “how thoroughly can we fry the circuit board”.
I’m not suggesting that with a bit more Tech-Ed, I would have been able to rescue the hard drive and magic a new laptop out of old batteries and clothes hangers to put it into, but I might have been ever so slightly less imbecilic in the heat of the moment.
Enter Daniel Hirschmann, founding partner of Technology Will Save Us, an organisation which both designs and builds gadgets and invites you, the consumer, to learn about what goes into your favourite devices, brainstorm new ideas and take part in the creative process.
Puzzle Radio by Technology Will Save Us & Yuri Suzuki
With a company name like that, it’s easy to imagine Hirschmann as some sort of geeky superhero – travelling the globe on a Google+ compatible spacehopper, covered in motion sensitive LEDs, bringing technology solutions to those in peril.
This isn’t actually too far from the truth. Thankfully, he doesn’t have that cloying Big Bang Theory know-it-all-nerdiness. Instead, he’s funny, inclusive, committed to self-ridicule, and sweetly effusive in praise for his quietly amused wife, to whom he plays a dedicated fool. But perhaps most importantly, he displays an infectious zeal for what he does.
And, quite frankly, who wouldn’t? The man runs what is, essentially, a big toy store – only, he gets to design the toys, organise massive toy-design play dates and, well there’s the part where he gets to pocket some of the profit. Yah, I’d prefer to be an accountant too.
“I started TWSU together with my partner in life, crime, mother of my child, or baby moma, as I like to say…she doesn’t like it so much…please quote me on that, she’ll love it,” Hirschmann starts.
“We set it up because there was a bigger conversation around technology in general, and how much is lacking in our education.”
“There is a lot of geekery out there for everyday people and so we wanted to try and help people have access to it, giving them a really easy way to jump into technology experiences.”
“We want to encourage people to play, code and invent. That’s our major mission.”
With the above as their mantra, they’ve devised some fun ways to engage tech-obsessives and closet-geeks alike.
For the more simple-minded, in which category I’ve no problem lumping myself, along with the other five year olds, there are easy, but gratifying tasks. Entering their Vyner Street workshop, Hirschmann’s colleague Michael Johnston handed me some wires, a light bulb and a lump of play doh. Let there be light!
For the more advanced, visitors to the studio can learn to code their own games consoles, make speakers out of balloons or, as they’ve recently posted on their site, a Dr Who inspired Tardis speaker. They’re always open to new suggestions and will happily help you strategise a way to make your invention a reality.
To say that technology is the future is no massive revelation. In the last decade, we’ve gone from Nokia 5210s and cord-phones, to social media on-the-go and making landlines all but obsolete. And that’s to say nothing of 3D printing and all kinds of astounding computerised medical advances.
“We are not going to suddenly lose technology. There’s no way we can avoid it in our lives,” says Hirschmann.
This in itself isn’t a problem. It’s brilliant. Human beings are very clever, well, some of them, and we can give ourselves a pat on the back for that.
There are some drawbacks though. The laziness epidemic being one of them.
“I am from South Africa originally,” he continues, “ and I come from a world which is all about being incredibly resourceful with what you have.”
“In the developed world – I hate saying that, it’s a terrible way of putting it, but it’s the truth – we don’t have that same impetus. We think, ‘oh, my phone has died, I’d better get a new one’, as opposed to, ‘oh shit, how am I going to fix this thing.’”
‘That’s why hacking is a really positive thing. Ignore all that Anonymous and Lulzsec stuff that happened a couple of years ago. The original ‘hacker’s approach’ to life is about having a ‘can do’ attitude. Every single person on my team is a hacker, with a hacker’s approach. That means that they don’t see a barrier as a stopping point, but an opportunity to find a way around it. It’s about re-igniting that sense of resourcefulness that human beings used to be famous for.”
“Thinking of something as ‘throwaway’ is the commercial approach, but what if people began thinking ‘hey, I made this, I can fix this, I can reuse it or give it to someone and imbue it with new life?’”
We’ve talked a lot about superheroes. If you could cherry pick from all the best comic books, what powers would you choose?
I mean, I’d love to be able to fly, but then if you’re going to be able to fly, you’ll also need to be invulnerable, because you’re going to get hit by stuff. In which case, you might as well be able to fire lasers out of your eyeballs… oh wait…
And then that raises the whole question of which global superpower wants you to be their friend. Will the Chinese court you, will the Americans try and capture you? That would suck.
I know, X-Ray and Thermal vision. I’d want to be able to look into any thing and see exactly what was happening. It would help you to identify bad design. You could see where something was short-circuiting.
If you could invent anything, regardless of whether we yet have the technology for it or not, what would it be?
Time machine. Get rid of Hitler. That’s obviously the first thing you’d do. You would…right?!
Actually, like in Elysium, the idea of being able to put somebody in a bed, or a machine that scans them for illness and flaws and then fixes them.
There’s actually a company doing a tri-corder, like from Star Trek. A device that goes “BEEP BEEP….oooooh, radiation poisoning!”
I mean, at some point we’re going to solve death, at some point that’s just going to happen. But by then we will also hopefully be exploring space…
Who presents the biggest challenge?
I teach workshops with ages ranging from 85 all the way down to six. The children need attention, but the adults can be pretty difficult to cater for too sometimes!
Everybody just wants to open things up and have a look at it.
Before you’ve finished your first sentence, they’re all “Ah cool, look, this thing turns, oh look, whoops, did I break that?!”
It’s all about knowing when to put things in front of people. We’ve learnt to seal things with a lot of tape.
Learn, play, invent at one of the Technology Will Save Us workshops, or buy one of their amusingly packaged kits and try your hand at home.
WORDS: Natasha Bird