the hacker ethic

Interesting, of course, is the reason for the hacker’s attack on Snyder: his support for a commercialized Internet. This leads us to pick up Steven Levy’s Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. Hackers is a sort of seminal popular work on the early history of personal computing and the computer hobby, its several hundred pages describing the passion of the new electronic reality. It was Levy who was responsible for popularizing what Snyder only touches upon: the "Hacker Ethic," a loose collection of libertarian and techno-utopian principles which seemed to percolate out of the computer hobby in the 1970s and form the basis for notions such as Snyder’s, that of the existence of a "true nature" of hacking.

Levy is also clear about the origins of the term "hacking" early in the book. Of the first "hackers" at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology he writes:

...[T]he word "hack" had long been used to describe the elaborate college pranks that MIT students would regularly devise, such as covering the dome that overlooked the campus with reflecting foil. (23)

Although mail bombing is a pretty serious "prank," nothing Levy describes in his book seems too out of place in current descriptions of hacking culture. Throughout Hackers he tells us that there is much shadiness in hacking. Levy tells us that Apple’s first product was a "blue box" for circumventing long-distance telephone calling charges, and that Bill Gate’s first commercial software product was pirated extensively by computer hobbyists, much to his chagrin. Levy paints Steve Jobs and other early personal computer developers not just as hackers in the "classic," utopian sense, but also as "dark side" hackers engaged in quasi-legal acts.