Virtual Cultures

Hacking history I: US roots

Maxigas, 2017-11-20, Lancaster

Californian Ideology

Richard Barbrook

  • Transversal critique
  • Class War Games
  • Westminster University
  • Digital Agenda for Jeremy Corbyn

East Coast

  • Vietnam War
  • Nuclear holocaust
  • Acid trips:
    • Ken Casey
    • Grateful Dead
    • Stewart Brand
  • Whole Earth Catalogue
  • Community Memory project
  • Homebrew Computer Club
  • Ted Nelson: Computer Lib

West Coast

  • Abbie Hoffman
    • Steal This Book
    • Youth International Party (Yippies)
    • TAP mag (Technological American Party)
  • Phrack
    • Legion of Doom
    • Masters of Deception New York
    • Cult of the Dead Cow Texas

Fred Turner: Legitimacy exchange

a term that refers to the process by which experts in one area draw on the authority of experts in another area to justify their activities.

From counterculture to cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the whole earth network, and the rise of digital utopianism (2006)

An isolated scientific worker making an outlandish claim could gain rhetorical legitimacy by pointing to support from another field – which in turn referenced the first worker’s field to support its claim. The language of cybernetics provided a site where this exchange could occur.

Quoting Bowker: How to be Universal: Some cybernetic strategies, 1943-1970 (1993).

Hacking defined

Bruce Schneider

A hacker is someone who thinks outside the box. It’s someone who discards conventional wisdom, and does something else instead. … It’s someone who sees a set of rules and wonder what happens if you don’t follow them. A hacker is someone who experiments with the limitation of systems for intellectual curiosity.

Eric S. Raymond (ed.)

  1. A person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and how to stretch their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary. RFC1392, the Internet Users' Glossary, usefully amplifies this as: A person who delights in having an intimate understanding of the internal workings of a system, computers and computer networks in particular.
  1. One who programs enthusiastically (even obsessively) or who enjoys programming rather than just theorizing about programming.
  1. A person capable of appreciating {hack value}.
  1. A person who is good at programming quickly.
  1. An expert at a particular program, or one who frequently does work using it or on it; as in "a Unix hacker". (Definitions 1 through 5 are correlated, and people who fit them congregate.)
  1. An expert or enthusiast of any kind. One might be an astronomy hacker, for example.
  1. One who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations.
  1. [deprecated] A malicious meddler who tries to discover sensitive information by poking around. Hence password hacker, network hacker. The correct term for this sense is {cracker}.

Eric S. Raymond (ed.)

The term "hacker" also tends to connote membership in the global community defined by the net (see {the network}. For discussion of some of the basics of this culture, see the How To Become A Hacker FAQ. It also implies that the person described is seen to subscribe to some version of the hacker ethic (see {hacker ethic}).

It is better to be described as a hacker by others than to describe oneself that way. Hackers consider themselves something of an elite (a meritocracy based on ability), though one to which new members are gladly welcome. There is thus a certain ego satisfaction to be had in identifying yourself as a hacker (but if you claim to be one and are not, you'll quickly be labeled {bogus}). See also {geek}, {wannabee}.

Eric S. Raymond (ed.)

This term seems to have been first adopted as a badge in the 1960s by the hacker culture surrounding TMRC and the MIT AI Lab. We have a report that it was used in a sense close to this entry's by teenage radio hams and electronics tinkerers in the mid-1950s.

Hacker ethics

Stephen Levy

  • 1984: Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution
  • 1985: Hackers’ conference (Steward Brand)
  • Widespread popularisation of the term

Access to computers and anything which might teach you something about the way the world works should be unlimited and total. Always yield to the Hands-On Imperative!

All information should be free.

Mistrust authority – promote decentralization

Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race, or position.

Computers can change your life for the better.


Before I got involved in squatting, when I was a teenager, I was doing blue boxing and BBSs and ASCII art and we did not call our scene hacking or phreaking scene, but we called it H/P/A/V/C: Hacking Phreaking Anarchy Virus Cracking. (Darkveggy, Dijon, 2014-03-20)


Surfaces of emergence

Surfaces of emergence

  • Hackers @ MIT AI lab (post-war interdisciplinary research culture)
  • Phone Phreaks @ Mama Bell (semi-criminal underground)
  • Homebrew Computer Club @ California (hobbyists)

The social shaping of technology

  • What technology was available for these hackers?
  • How these hackers sought to change the technology?
  • What cultural factors were at play in these innovations?

(See Williams and Edge 1996 on SST.)

Richard Stallman

GNU project

  • “The last of the true hackers” (Levy)
  • GNU Manifesto (GNU is Not Unix)
  • Free Software Foundation

Four freedoms

  1. The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).

  2. The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

  3. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).

  4. The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

Ted Kaczynski: the Unabomber

Industrial Civilisation and its Discontents

  1. “The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.”
  2. “The industrial-technological system may survive or it may break down.”
  3. “If the system breaks down the consequences will still be very painful.”
  4. “We therefore advocate revolution against the industrial system.”


Barbrook (2007), Barbrook and Cameron (1996), Bowker (1993), Levy (1984), Raymond (1992), Turner (2006), Kaczynski (1995)

Barbrook, Richard. 2007. Imaginary Futures: From Thinking Machines to the Global Village. London: Pluto Press.

Barbrook, Richard, and Andy Cameron. 1996. “The Californian Ideology.” Science as Culture 26: 44–72.

Bowker, Geof. 1993. “How to Be Universal: Some Cybernetic Strategies, 1943-1970.” Social Studies of Science 23 (1): 107–127.

Kaczynski, Theodore John. 1995. “Industrial Society and Its Future.” Manifesto, newspaper article in The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Levy, Steven. 1984. Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. Anchor Press, Doubleday.

Raymond, Eric S. 1992. The New Hacker’s Dictionary. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Turner, Fred. 2006. From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism. First edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Williams, Robin, and David Edge. 1996. “The Social Shaping of Technology.” Research Policy (25): 865–899.