The Luddite Aspects of Hackerdom: How to Build Time Machines to Alter the Course of History?

by maxigas

FSCONS, Göteborg, November 2nd, 2014

Hackers against technology


  • Some hardcore hacker practices
  • Progressive practices rather than overall trends
  • Desperate attempts rather than loud triumphs

NOT universal account.

Examples of practical critique of technology

  • Luddites
  • Amish
  • Unabomber

➔ Hackers are not only early adopters.

➔ Hackers are also sturdy refusers.


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 proletarianise the cottage industry
  • from craftsmen to factory workers
  • masters of conspiracy, security and privacy
  • more soldiers deployed against them than against Napoleon

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 critique 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

Hacker-only technologies

  1. N900: mobile phone with “free” operating system
  2. RequestPolicy: browser extension blocking third party requests
  3. BitlBee: IRC to other chat services gateway


  1. N900: reluctance against recuperation
  2. RequestPolicy: machine breaking
  3. BitlBee: consolidation in the face of counterrevolution


Nokia N900
Nokia N900


  • First viable free software mobile platform
  • Nokia against Microsoft, Google and Apple
  • Killed by Microsoft
  • Horrible bugs and old software
  • Hardware design faults
  • Suffering users




  • Breaking websites!
  • Against modern web practices (CDNs, pluggable services)
  • Nostalgia for the webmastery 1990s
  • Rationalised as privacy and anonymity enhancement


BitlBee propaganda
BitlBee propaganda
BitlBee on GNU/Emacs
BitlBee on GNU/Emacs


  • IRC: community-run, federated social network
  • Survived generations of technologies
    • ICQ, MSN, Skype, Gtalk, Twitter, Facebook…
    • never popular (backlogs?)
    • platform for hackerspaces & Anonymous
  • BitlBee makes everything look like IRC…
  • …but you still need an account!

Time machines

Time machines!

Time machines!
Time machines!
Time machines!
Time machines!
Time machines!
Time machines!

The irony of Luddite machinery

  • To break new machines…
  • …you have have 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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Let’s make 2015 the year of IRC!