hacking central to
One could well explore
how "hacking" has been central to what has emerged as "computer
culture" in North America, and central to the beginnings of the personal
computer industry in the late-1970s and the growth of the Internet a decade
later. In this case, I mean both the broad ("manipulation of technology")
and more narrow ("illegal activities using computers") senses
of the word.
We must recognize from what conceptual point we are beginning our journey.
The construction of the term "hacking" needs to be examined
to some extent, within the context of computer culture and outside of
it in popular and journalistic discourse. For our purposes here, we could
leap from the popular conception of "hacking" as the embodiment
of computer techne or even spiritual power, with a clear recognition
that this implies a moral ambiguity with which we might become uncomfortable.
of computer power over the past forty years have included an element of
hubris in any manipulation of the technology, not so much representing
an approach to computers in particular, but in technology in general.
Recent films which have focused specifically on what would be identified
as "dark-side hacking," starting with War Games in 1983
through Sneakers, The Net, Hackers and The Matrix,
have presented a more Faustian dynamic of the consequences of excessive
and morally neutral techne. Regardless, both types of representations
create a connection of "hacking" wherein the hacking ability
is portrayed as essentially magical, a question of acumen as opposed to
opportunity or social skills which are not generally considered part of
the hacking within popular discourse.
On the other extreme, we could look somewhat critically at how "hacking"
is constructed within the more specific computer culture, particularly
within the culture of programming, both formal and informal. We can recognize
a distinction which is often made within computer/coder culture between
"hacking" in the sense of writing code and developing solutions
writing code or manipulating the computer, and "dark-side hacking,"
the illegal activities using hacking techniques. There has been much defence
in recent years of a "pure" definition of hacking which precludes
dark side hacking, but this has not caught on within popular discourse.
In part this may be
the case because "pure hacking" and "dark-side hacking"
are harder to delineate than might be originally thought. It would appear
to share a common ethical origin Steve Levy’s "hacker ethic,"
which could be used to both justify and limit a wide range of activities,
legal and otherwise. The founders of Apple Computers, Steve Jobs and Steve
Wozniak, began business together by selling "blue boxes," home
made electronic devices used to make free long distance telephone calls.
Their next product was the Apple I computer.
Pirating, the distribution
of commercial software illegally, also seems to have at least the origin
of its ethical justification in the 1970s hacker ethic; Microsoft’s first
software product, an implementation of BASIC for Altair computers, was
also the first heavily pirated commercial software.
Within critical theory,
one can turn to the work of Michel
de Certeau for assistance, and in particular his work on usage and
consumption can be applied to the activities of hackers, as well as the
writings of Rosanne Stone and
Andrew Ross. Stone in particular
writes about the invasion of an early "virtual community" called
the Tree; Ross is attempting to place hacking within a cultural context.
My main concern here will be to determine whether hacking is simply practice,
or the construction of place, or the construction of practice using conceptions
It might be useful when
examining any hacking construct to notice where notions of hacking converge
and rebound, creating a construction of hacking which, while in a clear
hacking tradition, is often also something new.