I was in Mexico City for work recently, and I had a chance to explore two very different takes on teaching technology.
First, I went to Aldea Digital, a huge technology expo set up in the Zócalo, Mexico City’s main square. (Yes, I finally made it to the Zócalo.) At first glance, I thought it was a kind of trade show, but it aspires more to showing Mexico’s citizens how technology can transform their lives in even the simplest of ways. The backbone of Aldea Digital is made up of the learning sessions: You could take a class on getting started with email, learning how to use social media, or introducing children to computers. Our guides told us that the most popular session showed how to use smart devices for more than just phone calls and photos. After the expo was over, participants could register for continuing education online through Khan Academy.
Despite the practical content, it was hard not to be overwhelmed by the glitz of it all. Aldea Digital’s centerpiece was the server powering the expo, which generated 100 gbps to power the 1200 computer stations and all of the sessions and exhibit booths. The lily was gilded by things like F1 race cars and art on loan from Museo Soumaya and a Salvador Dalí impersonator to talk about said art.
The person behind Aldea Digital is Carlos Slim, the Mexican business magnate who currently ranks second on the list of richest people in the world between Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Like Gates and Buffett, Slim has been allocating a large part of his wealth to philanthropic causes through his Fundación Carlos Slim Helú. (The Foundation also funds Museo Soumaya, which Slim founded.) Aldea Digital is as much a celebration of Slim’s generosity as it is a tech expo: it was hard to escape the Foundation’s signature logo when roaming the tents, so you were always aware who had financed it all.
One block away from the Zócalo was Hacedores, a makerspace operating on an upper floor of a shopping plaza called Pasaje Catedral. The people at Hacedores are trying to bring the American/European maker movement to Mexico, and in the four months since they set up this shop, they have created a Willy Wonka Inventing Room for makerspace activities. There are stations for a whole variety of maker projects, from 3D printing and laser drilling to DIY microscopes and wearable technology.
Hacedores offers classes, but also leases space to makers to work on projects. They are branching out to include makers classes for tourists, giving visitors a chance to learn about Mexico through makers projects.
They use as many open source resources as possible, but they court corporate sponsors as well. Intel and Stanley are two of their biggest supporters. They also work with smaller companies like 3D printer makers Proyectil and biology maker kit makers DIY.bio. They are looking for sponsors for additional stations to extend their wearable capabilities (so if you are a sewing machine manufacturer looking to sponsor the maker community, give them a call).
I was impressed by both places; Aldea Digital was definitely dressed to impress, but Hacedores was just as dazzling. Aldea Digital was glamorous, yet practical: you could go to a session to learn how to use apps to improve your health. Hacedores was humble, yet forward thinking: you could learn to make a bag with solar panels sewn into it to charge your iPhone. Frankly, I preferred the more down-to-earth Hacedores, but both offered endless possibilities and enough substance to back those possibilities up.