Do you remember the first time you heard about the maker movement? I do. I recall reading an article (Wired maybe?) about this group of weirdos who defied categories. Some of them were really into electronics, some were crafty and loved to sew and some were just wonderful weirdos who loved to mash things up to see what came out. I remember thinking, "That's me!" I think a lot of us had a similar revelation at some point, that we finally found our tribe. It's what brought us together in communities to share our passions and continue to learn about new things.
Every circus barker knows that if you can get a small crowd together, other people will show up just to see what the crowd is forming around. So other people started paying attention to this whole "maker movement" thing that was happening. Some of them were just casual gawkers who wanted to see what the crowd was so interested in. Some dipped their toes in and moved on. Still others saw an opportunity to fix things that they saw as wrong. These are people that Joel Leonard calls Sheldons named after the character on The Big Bang Theory (a show I have to admit I've never watched).
Apparently, Sheldon is a character who likes to correct the technical mistakes of others around him as a way of feeling superior to others. You know this guy. He's the guy that points out your coding error in an imperious tone to make you feel like a total dummy that you didn't do it right the first time. He's the guy that intentionally asks absurd questions that he knows you will not have an answer to (probably because no one has an answer). He just wants to see if you'll respond and make a fool of yourself, so he can feel superior. Sometimes these people are called gaslighters and unfortunately, they show up in makerspaces.
They seem mostly harmless. A bit annoying, sure, but harmless. The problem is, the more you are around these people the less you want to be around these people. If you have one in your space they can drive other people away. Nobody wants to feel like a dummy if they don't know the difference between an .svg and a .png or a plasma cutter and a CNC mill. The more these people stalk a space, the more they drive others away, AND the more your space earns the reputation of being a place for this "kind of person."
So, what do we do? We want makerspaces to be for everyone (at least, I do, and I don't think I'm alone). How do we handle these Sheldons? I don't have an easy answer that will help you to get these people in line, but I do have a couple of things that I have tried in the past with varying degrees of success. The first thing I try is to engage these folks in a job, task, project that puts them outside of their own comfort zone. Call it guerrilla empathy training. I think being uncomfortable and outside your comfort is a good place for all of us to be, so I get these people involved in a task that requires them to rely on other experts for assistance. It can be a bit risky, but if they can lend their own expertise while leaning on another person it sometimes works out okay. The other thing is to continually model vulnerability and asking for help. I often tell folks that I am not an expert in any of the things that I do. I'm not an expert, but if I work alongside someone in my space I know that we can figure out most problems. Finally, if they are just persistently a jerk, just tell them. This is uncomfortable, but some folks lack a subtlety gene and just need to be told that they are scaring other people away and this is a place where all people are welcome.
I would love to hear how you all handle these folks in your spaces. I want everyone to love makerspaces as much as I do, so if you have a secret for handling these folks share it so we can all get better. Happy making!