The early history of computers and the Internet seemed almost predestined to shake up the political landscape. In comparing Turner’s assessment of hacker culture to what Shirky identifies as the core capabilities offered by new media, we can see a streak of the counterculture at the very essence of the new media environment. Whether this was on purpose or a fluke of history, the very foundations of the Internet made it the perfect tool for overturning the social order.
The seed of online rebellion can perhaps best be seen in the hacker ethic itself. Two of the six values which Turner references (citing Levy) fundamentally challenge the traditional social order, namely that all information should be free and that authority should not be trusted. He traces these ideas from the 1960s counterculture to the figures who were central to modern computing. With this backdrop, it is perhaps unsurprising that the tools that these individuals designed were fundamentally decentralizing.
In assessing the state of new media, Shirky reveals the radical changes enabled by social Internet tools. While these tools may seem to share few outward features with the precursors designed by Turner’s hackers, the principles of how they change the communication environment could scarcely be more similar. Specifically, the societal shift from media published by select gatekeepers to a “publish then filter” approach is a story of tools designed to promote free information and to distrust authority.
Juxtaposing both Shirky and Turner, we see the clear echo of the hacker ethic in modern social media. That ethic enables ordinary individuals to spread information in ways that were previously reserved for a select few. In both Shirky’s examples and in more recent developments like the Arab Spring, those capabilities have demonstrated the capacity for radical social change. One can only wonder if the hackers themselves imagined this possibility at the time.
Indeed, we may wonder what imprint can be seen of the designers versus the users in the adoption and affordances of online tools.