Luddite Aspects of Hackerdom

by Maxigas

IAMCR, Montréal, 14 July, 2015

Hackers against technology


“The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.” ~ Unabomber

Literature bias

Hackers are routinely pictured as…

  • developers;
  • innovators;
  • early adopters, etc.

→ But they are builders as well as breakers.

Correcting the bias

What if hackers are also…

  • conservative and nostalgic (Lindsay 2003);
  • strikers, boycotters and saboteurs;
  • late adopters or rejecters (Wyatt  2008)?

→ Accounts for the dystopian (cyberpunk) imaginary.

Relevant questions

  • What technologies innovators reject?
  • What technology it takes to reject technology?
  • How much technical expertise it takes to become a rejecter?

→ From innovation to usage centric narrative(Edgerton 2008).

Examples of practical critique of technology

  • Luddites
  • Amish
  • Unabomber

Agonistic relationship with technology.

Technologies of rejection

  • A parallel technological trajectory
  • Technologies developed to adapt old ways to new tech
  • Some elements recuperated (Hess 2005)


Frame breaking
Frame breaking


  • beginning of industrial capitalism (i.e. factories)
  • not against all technologies
    • against bad social effects of particular techs
  • technology introduced to proletarise the cottage industry
    • from craftsmen to factory workers
  • masters of conspiracy, security and privacy
    • UK deploys more soldiers than in Napoleonic war (Sale 1996)

Refusal of some technologies

  • Going against the foundational myths of modernity
  • Technological progress is sometimes social decline
  • Hackers as champions of the old school

Why hackers are in a position to criticize technology?

  1. technological expertise: “understand how it works”
  2. semi-autonomous culture: “form an independent opinion”
  3. historical perspective: “compare it to predecessors”

Case studies

The hackers’ technological repertoire

  • r0kets vs. mobile phones
  • Web 1.0 vs. Web 2.0
  • IRC vs. “social media” like Facebook

Sticking to pre-millennial technologies

Mobile phones

  • complete rejection
  • sticking to N900 (Maemo)
  • separation of GSM modules

→ Computer as the high point

Web browsing

  • Containerisation
  • Plugins blocking third parties
  • URL longeners

→ End-to-end principle and 1990s webmastery

Social media

  • Complete rejection
  • IRC as alternative
  • IRC gateways (BitlBee)

→ 1988 is the baseline

Conclusion: Time machines

The irony of Luddite machinery

  • To break new machines…
  • …build new machines!
  • Machines vs. machines

Why time machines?

  • Take you back in time
  • To the bifurcation where things went wrong
  • To start another future
  • …but you have to build them!

Where is agency?

  • Just because it is old it is not good.
  • But just because it is new it is not good either.
  • The political agency is from moving in time.



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