"Life is still. It is we who are racing by" Yann Martel (on his webpage What is Steven Harper reading)

The Hackers’ Code

Throughout our COMM 506 class, hackers and their role in the creation, re-creation and freedom of the internet, have been referenced. They are the unknown advocates for freedom on the net and supporters for transparency of information. They are often maligned in public media, partially due to the subversive element who create worms and viruses that disrupt our daily lives. But even these acts of “internet terrorism” (as they are sometimes described) may have their origins in the same ethics and advocacy that motivates activists in other realms, like Anonymous.

One envisions these individuals sequestered in dark basements, hunched over computer screens, the blue light from the screen illuminating faces that are pale from lack of sunlight, as they tap out code like 21st century telegraph operators, sending their Magna carta to the world. And then you actually learn about someone, like Byron Sonne or Julian Assange and realize they don’t fit some stereotypical hacker ‘norm’.

Byron was a happily married man with a myriad of interests, one of which happened to be testing the G20 Summit security measures. Assange, on the other hand, is a restless, globe-wandering crusader for freedom of and access to information. Two men who have never met (I assume) and yet follow similar paths in their challenge against authority and government censorship. What influences in their lives have coalesced to generate this rejection of rules and conformity? In the nature/nurture context there is nothing in their upbringings to demonstrate a link between their childhoods and their activism. One led a gypsy-like lifestyle while the other came from a typical middle income Canadian  family. If I were to guess, the only similarity is a profound curiosity about almost everything and their need to share what they learn with the rest of the world.

In 1984 Steven Levy wrote the book Hackers – Heroes of the Computer Revolution, where he defined six tenets that articulate the creed (belief system) that typifies a Hacker and the fundamental philosophy that motivates their activities.

The web blog where I found Levy’s principles, also referenced PHRACK, the official newsletter for hackers (ironically this link is blocked by the U of A filter system) and expands on the premises that motivate Hackers:

1] First, hackers reject the notion that “businesses” are the only groups entitled to access and use of modern technology.

[2] Second, hacking is a major weapon in the fight against encroaching computer technology.

[3] Finally, the high cost of equipment is beyond the means of most hackers, which results in the perception that hacking and phreaking are the only recourse to spreading computer literacy to the masses.

I think an additional point could be added – obsession with puzzles. Why puzzles? Technology is the ultimate puzzle – breaking codes apart and fitting the pieces together in a new way – and it takes a certain level of obsession to translate endless lines of code into some new technological form.

The cost of technology is no longer relevant but I wonder how much of this is due to the work of these “Guy Fawkes” who have spent hours mesmerized by the blinking blue light, breaking and rebuilding the web puzzle. How much of the freedom we take for granted in our web activities is because these silent champions have kept the channels open through their unending challenge against the authorities (both government and corporate) who seek to control and consumerize it?

For the complete blog – click here

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