Hackers: Cultural Rebels and the Information Age

Prior to reading From Counterculture to Cyberculture by Turner I really didn’t have a clue on how social media emerged to become the huge presence today that it is in almost everyone’s lives. As I constantly check my e-mail and tweet the first thought that comes to mind I never thought about how or why these online social interactions in which I partake in were created.

In his article, Turner addresses how Stewart Brand set out to bridge the gap between counterculture and cybernetics through his Whole Earth Catalog, which offered an “alternative vision of technology as a tool for individual and collective transformation” to computer engineers and programers (Page 105). Turner explains the vision that Licklider as well as others had about computers as a human-machine which would become a communications device and “be of use to humanity as a whole” (Page 109). I believe it is fair to say that the vision that Licklider had is now the reality of today.

A common theme in the article was the spreading of information through computers in order to help advance human knowledge. Some of the central players in the spreading of information were people called hackers, who in the article were described as “those who figured things out as they went and invented for pleasure” (Page 117). One of the ethics that these hackers abide by was the idea that all information should be free. This idea made me recall an article I just read online the day prior about a man named Aaron Swartz who was an online activist and hacker himself who recently committed suicide not long after being the target of a hacking investigation. Swartz become a target of a government investigation was the result of him downloading massive amounts of articles from JSTOR over the MIT computer network then dispersing them online for free. Near the end of the article Turner sheds light on the debate that many hackers have on whether or not they should share the information, code, etc. that they use to create programs and social media websites such as Myspace and Facebook which Clay Shirky addressed in Here Comes Everybody.

This raises the question on whether information should be available free for all in order to help augment human knowledge? Or in the current state of the economy is it fair for authors and developers to charge people for their work in order to gain profit? What is the best way for a person to market their information or software?

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3 Responses to Hackers: Cultural Rebels and the Information Age

  1. emnrich says:

    I really thought this post was interesting in light of our discussion in class today (1/14). I think your argument that the hackers contributed to the formation of the Internet based on passion and interest in technology alone supports the argument for free use of information found on the Internet. The hackers played a vital role in the foundational formation of the Internet and its purposes, and it was their intention to provide the programs they created for free since they made them purely out of creative passion. Therefore, I definitely think that some of the strict regulations on the sharing of information on the Internet should be lifted, if for no other reason than to respect the intentions of some of the Internet’s founders. Further, in specific regard to the conversations we had in class today, a lot of the points you make in your post remind me of the “hippie’s” standpoint on the purposes and use of the Internet. I think you sum it up well in your post: that the hackers coded and created a program with intentions that mirror the ideology of the hippie culture. Really interesting take on the Turner piece!!

  2. liarosen says:

    I also found this post to raise an interesting point, which relates back to a comment that was made in class on 1/14: the modern meaning of the word “hacker” brings a new dimension to this debate of online intellectual property. I find that today, “hacker” has a negative connotation—we often associate this term with those who wreak havoc online by breaking through security walls, stealing information etc. When the Internet was initially taking shape, however, “hacker” did not have this meaning. It referred, rather, to those who tinkered with programs and software to make the computer and Internet what they are today. That being said, in today’s society, I think people are more likely to feel the need to safe-guard their information and prevent “hackers” from taking information that they feel is strictly theirs. Though I understand why that concern exists, I think, to a certain extent, some free-flowing information online is necessary in order to continue to develop stronger tools that fit our needs and desires as society continues to evolve. Without some degree collaboration and exchange of information, we could ultimately find ourselves stuck in a rut, and not innovating to our fullest potential. We should be careful not to lose sight of those who brought us many of the Internet’s creative features.

  3. maddock35 says:

    In accordance with both your post and the preceding comments, I was glad to see your blog focused on the hackers, who I consider to be the unsung heroes of computer development. My assumption prior to the start of this class was that computers were created by the few, technical minds with the resources to create something as complex as a computer. What we come to find out is that a lot of the innovation of the computer industry is due to these hackers typing away after hours in restricted labs. They then began sharing their creations and ideas, at no cost, with other hackers from all around the country. The innovations and other information used to create the computers and online networks we have today were made possible by the free sharing of information. In this respect, I would conclude that information should be free. However, if artists and other creators have a much lesser monetary incentive to create and share their work. Ideally, artists create because they enjoy it and they want to share their views and opinions with everyone. Realistically, this may be how artists start out, but they need to pay their bills somehow just like the rest of us. Should they be forced to give away their hard work for free? I do not think that is fair to them. So to answer the prompt, I think a majority of information should remain/become freely available, but there is some information that warrants protection. What that particularly information may be is another problem.

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