So, What is the Hacker Ethic Anyway?

I figured I would take this time out to help inform others what this ethic is.  An error correction from the previous entry though: Information being free is important, but not the very first part of the Hacker Ethic.  Let’s take a look at it:

Access to computers — and anything which might teach you something about the way the world works — should be unlimited and total. Always yield to the Hands-on Imperative!

I forgot about that part, and it is the first and one of the most important parts of this code of ethics that I have found to be quite fascinating.  The Hands-on Imperative, as coined into popular culture by Steven Levy and defined by others is really quite simple: hands-on.  What use is analyzing something all day long if nothing is done with it.  If something can be improved, do it!  If something can be tweaked, go for it!  This part of the hacker ethic works hand in hand with the next part.

 All information should be free.

Information is power, thus no one authority should wield control over it (think about the disaster that would create).  That means that every man, woman, and child (and penguin) should be allowed to read this information, examine it, and through the Hands-on Imperative, tweak and improve the information by adding to it or correcting any errors.  In programming at MIT back in the 1950′s, 60′s, and even 70′s, one of the most common problems involved in computer technology was the fact that RAM (Random Access Memory) was rather limited, so the less code a program had, the better.  Through the Hands-on Imperative and the idea that all information should be free, code bumming was born: the act of causing a program to complete the same task using less lines of code than the last programmer.  It was a competition throughout the ninth floor of Tech Square.  The next part of the hacker ethic is a big one, and one that causes a lot stomachs to churn.  I’ll explain in a moment.

Mistrust authority — promote decentralization.

Take a look at companies like Microsoft.  The organization is quite complex, which is one of their problems to begin with.  When a group or a company becomes too complex in size and scope, it becomes more difficult to get things done.  This is why the proliferation of Free and Open Source Software is becoming more popular as well.  When there is essentially no central authority saying what can be pursued and what can not and must not be pursued, then it becomes a simple task of choosing a task, working on that task and completing that task.  One example would be the individual who wrote drivers for 235 USB webcams for Linux (GNU/Linux in some circles… prepare for a future entry explaining why some people refer to it as such).  Sure, there are the main kernel developers who can refuse to cooperate with you, but that doesn’t stop individuals from compiling their own custom kernel.

 Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race, or position.

A gender neutral statement if I ever saw one.  It was once commented that I was 24 in this blog by another poster.  Problem is, under this part of the Hacker Ethic, I was judged by bogus criteria.  Age, race (there is only one as far as I’m concerned: human!), and others…  Everything can look pretty on a piece of paper, and it’s easy to puff yourself up to look like a great person who would more than qualify as this or that.  However, to demonstrate that you have actually done something creative computer-wise is of more value to the Hacker Community as a whole than to simply claim you can with a shiny new degree (that says, “Please hire me!  I’m employable!”), your own looks, and position on the social totem pole.

 You can create art and beauty on a computer.

In the past, coding was considered an art, and to a very great extent is still considered today to be as such as opposed to an exact science.  This is what caused the good ole’ Ninth Floor Tech Square MIT hackers to disdain authority: not being allowed to touch a computer themselves.  They saw themselves changing the world through coding software, and some of the feats were astounding.  Playing sound through a computer was proven to be quite possible back then.  Today, art and beauty on a computer has taken on a different meaning of sorts, but the fact that people out there can in fact create marvelous things on a computer only encourages others to do themselves.  This brings us to the final part of the Hacker Ethic.

 Computers can change your life for the better.

Very true.  As an example, I bring your attention to what has happened in my life.  It’s been one constant theme: I’m useless, no matter what I do.  That’s how I felt throughout my whole life.  I was made fun of throughout grade school.  I tried fitting in, and I was trying too hard…  However, once I began to actually understand how to use a computer, I began to feel liberated.  Once I learned how to use Free and Open Source Software, I started to truly feel free, and was thus inspired to start this online magazine.  For once, I felt like I was of some use to the people of this world.  There are people diagnosed (misdiagnosed?) with ADHD, yet stick ‘em in front of a computer instead of doping them up on medication, and look at what they can accomplish.  It’s truly magnificent.  I know somebody who is now troubleshooting/repairing computers who had problems with high school.  They’ve come a long way, and are probably about to go into a lucrative career after finishing secondary education.  Without computers, he would have either wound up in an institution or dead from a drug reaction, suicide, whatever…

To conclude this post, I know there may be people wondering, why I am linking to a person who doesn’t appear to care for me at all?  Simple: I am giving them credit where it is due.  I did look at their portfolio and they do seem to have quite a bit of talent with graphics.  Also, I know there are others out there who would rather see Pete do some more tutorials and helping people improve their computer skills.  I know I would.  He does have talent.  That much is clear.  I only hope he keeps utilizing it for great things and not letting it go to waste.

2 Responses to “So, What is the Hacker Ethic Anyway?”

  1. lcafiero says:

    A very insightful and informative post. Not only that, my hat is off to you for showing a high degree of maturity to link to someone who has been less than civil in his dealings with you (despite the fact you can’t get to see his work through the links above — I had to back into them, but they are very impressive indeed).

    Keep up the great work.

  2. It’s worked fine on my end, which is quite odd. Then again, the comment ordering on that particular blog has a blog.

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