My favorite period in the history of the pool and spa industry is the ’60s and ’70s. Granted, for much of that time I wasn’t even in elementary school, but nevertheless when I look at photos and read about what went on in those years, I feel a deep nostalgia.

The industry back then was bursting with energy, and that youthful initiative fueled massive innovations and business strategies that largely defined what the pool and spa environment looks like today.  

And even though today is just fine in many ways, the industry is a lot less creative and exciting than in those early years due to the economy, a maturing market and a relative lack of smart, hungry young people entering the field.

Recently, I was talking with a friend who described an interesting new trend. In cities across the United States, groups of independent engineers and experimenters have been forming small gatherings known as “maker collectives” or “hacker co-ops.” (In this context, the word “hacker” doesn’t carry any negative connotation, but keeps its original meaning of “electronics programmer.” That said, there are some groups, such as the highly controversial Anonymous, which calls itself a hacker co-op, but that’s not the type of organization I’m discussing here.)

Anyway, hacker co-ops pool their resources to rent garages or small commercial properties, and fill the area with all the equipment necessary to create (or disassemble and reverse-engineer) any project within reason. A given space might contain circuit boards, laser cutters, soldering irons, plastic fabricators, wires, wrenches, screwdrivers and a bunch of other tools. This allows members to design and construct original projects, from tiny customized robots to electronic art installations to homemade brainwave scanners.

Many of these co-ops meet regularly to talk about ambitious group projects or help members pursue individual ideas. Though some are seeking a patent or publicity, many simply participate for the sheer joy of discovery — a joy that, they’d have no hesitation in telling you, represents the true heart of geekdom.

Hearing this made me want to immediately join the fun, even though I have no interest or ability as an inventor.  Let’s hope that as technology continues to advance and we come out of this recession, the pool and spa industry will regain some of the passion and enthusiasm that was prevalent in its early years.