When Cuba lost the support of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, its people were forced to rely on their own ingenuity to survive. Technologically, this led them to disassemble and re-engineer the ageing machines they had access to, and to put them to new uses.
Ernesto Oroza, a designer and artist, began collecting examples of this hacker’s art. This hacking was wholeheartedly encouraged by the Cuban government, which foresaw the forthcoming difficult times occasioned by Cuba’s status as one of the last communist states on earth. They published and distributed books providing tips on how things worked and how one could innovate to provide for your needs. Examples of such innovations were motorbikes made from washing machine parts, recharging unrechargeable batteries and steaks made from grapefruit rind.
The period, known in Cuba as “The Special Period in the Time of Peace”, was difficult, but marked a flowering of human inventiveness. Cubans learnt to look beyond the unitary presentation of many modern machines, and to see them as a collection of parts, many of which could be removed and repurposed. This is a fascinating insight into human creativity and “Technological disobedience”, or hacking.
As Winston Churchill once said, “When you run out of money, that’s when you need to start thinking”.