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This post is in response to the article "The Hacker Hacked" by Brett Scott:


"In this context, the hacker ethic is hollowed out and subsumed into the ideology of solutionism, to use a term coined by the Belarusian-born tech critic Evgeny Morozov. It describes the tech-industry vision of the world as a series of problems waiting for (profitable) solutions."

I have mixed feels about this one. Brett's article is a good one, and has some key pieces of history, and proper shout-outs to the giants who's shoulders we stand on. Props Brett. I, however, think I'm just super biased and jaded, and all like "uh, yeah, obvs, duh." I'm a Hackademic, and perhaps a lil bit too familiar with much of this. At the same time, I'm *very* excited for the mainstreaming of hackery, and defanging the old "ski mask" tropes about hackers. I don't see this as a bad thing, or a risk, because of the fail-safe (we hope) of transparency. When SV startups think they are "disrupting" or "saving the world" by creating yet-another-shitty-app, they are going to get the "validation" they deserve when no one buys their product or contributes to their community. From what I can tell, Hackers don't want to solve other people's problems that don't need solving, they want to make progress.

I think we're seeing a super influx of /potential/ legit hackers, and as much as I love a good retelling of the story of Mel as the next guy, the old-guard elitism needs to leave room for the next gen to learn, even if they are starting from a softer more sterile place than the copper-age hackers did. I think that the thing that makes a hacker a hacker is that curiosity, to see how far the rabbit hole really goes, and to be unafraid to trace a thread all the way down the stack to see where it starts. Everyone has to start somewhere, and with the right exposure, even the "yuppiest" of webdevs can find their way to the core of empowerment. The transformation happens not because of the movies, or job prospects, or gadgets, but because of the autonomy. Learning to solve your own problems is a compounding virtuous cycle that ultimately causes you to question every other cycle not focused on rapid iterative improvement. You can get into that cycle whether you are building shitty-apps, or world changing FOSS code, the production process requires openness, and honesty. The important things are that the infrastructure remain neutral, and that copyleft licensing remain the standard.

We'll look back on IP policy of today the same way that the people who used looms to create textiles look back on hand-stitching, or the way that proponents of the locomotive regarded critics who said that speeds above 30 MPH would cause bodily harm. These machines and processes too, were at a time, a threat to the status quo, and subversive, and unnatural, and, and, and... but at some point they became the new standard, which is the era I reckon we are approaching--exemplified by recent developments like the Open Sourcing of certain closely held programming languages and environments, and bottom-line concerned organizations like Wal-mart and Capital One embracing open development practices, and even contributing back upstream in some cases. "Gentrification" and "appropriation" are great sensationalization SEO words, but words like "synthesis", and "merge commit" are more what comes to my mind when talking about the mainstreaming of hacking. Perhaps I'm not being romantic enough?

I'm not afraid that all the "real"* hackers are going to be displaced or that there is no longer a place for merry pranksters. When the source is open, and the platform accessible, and the pipes neutral, and the power transparent, tricking someone into doing something against their own interests is much more difficult. When resources are not allocated in an optimal fashion, it can be made clear, and whether you a suit or a rabble-rouser, waste is in no one's best interests.

(*: regular readers will recall my opinions on dictating hacker identity, and my heavy use of quotation marks here--you are a "real" hacker the moment you pop the hood and pick up the wrench, not when someone else tells you you are)


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