As I write this response to Gabriella Coleman’s fascinating work on the hacker communities that develop Free and Open Source Software, and engage with the question of the political role of such collectives, Edward Snowdon has become the latest protagonist in a protracted and deep struggle for “information freedom” to surface into the public consciousness.
Whilst the cases differ, the underlying sensibilities—and logics—of these various social actors overlap. As Coleman begins to explore, strong ethical commitments to a liberalism based upon freedom of speech and citizens’ right to privacy underpin a core element of these various collectives of “information activists” who are responding to a range of corporate and state violations of such values during an era of unprecedented, and expanding, rates of production and distribution of data and information. Continue reading
I work with programming, I like making things, I believe that information should be free, I use open source software, I put working code above a fancy slideshow, I think computers can help to make the world a better place and that people ought to have the chance to use them. So I consider myself (in some way) a hacker. The problem is that if I say that, most people would get the wrong idea and think I am involved in some shady activity. An example to illustrate this is when the university wrote about the Green Hackathon events which I co-organize and where developers and researchers meet to create prototypes and solutions for sustainability problems. The article wrote about how we were “white hat hackers” and made clear that we were “not out to break into your bank account or steal government secrets.” So how did that disparity of meaning happen between what I mean as hacker and how media uses the term? Continue reading
When I received Coleman’s book, the first thing that I did was check the bibliography to find out exactly what kind of hackers we were talking about. Turning to the back, I was surprised to see some seemingly missing entries. Paul Taylor’s amazing ethnography of hackers, Hackers: Crime and the Digital Sublime, was oddly missing. Tim Jordan’s Hacking: Digital Media and Technological Determinism gets a nod, but none of his other books that talk about political activism and hacking are mentioned. What this told me was that we were dealing with socially acceptable (for the most part) hackers rather than the shadowy hackers that concern the rest of the world. A cursory glance at the table of contents suggests that this book focuses heavily on the free / open source software (F/OSS) movement (which it does), but this also illustrates the differences among groups of hackers. This distinction will serve as the focal point for my remark as I consider the question “Hackers: Freedom Fighters or Danger to Society?” Continue reading