Hackers: Yesterday and Today
// Posted by Allison on 01/24/2012 (2:02 PM)
While reading the chapter “Taking the Whole Earth Digital” in Fred Turner’s From Counter Culture to Cyberculture I was intrigued to discover conflicting attitudes towards hackers of the 1960’s and today. Referencing Steven Levy’s book Hackers: Heros of the Computer Revolution, Turner takes the reader through the history of hacking which first originated at MIT in 1959 with undergraduates working on computer donated by the Digital Equipment Corporation. Turner describes two era’s of hackers—the “hardware hackers of the 1970’s” and the “young game hackers” of the 1980’s. The hackers of the 1970’s were interested in making computer more usable and less guarded. The hackers of the 1980’s grew up with the sprouting of computer accessibility. They were interested in hacking games and making them more user friendly. Games such as, Spacewars, was routinely passed on among people in the hopes that someone would be able to make a change for the betterment of the product .
The interesting dichotomy is that today, hacking is often used for malice, not for the betterment of science and exploration. Just yesterday the Wall Street Journal published the story about a Kuwaiti billionaire’s e-mail being hacked into and published publically online. Turns out that this man, Bassam Algahanim, was hacked by his brother whom he is fighting with over how to divide of billions of dollars in joint assets. While hacking is often used with immoral intentions, this article does describe that hiring a hacker is relatively inexpensive therefore, hiring a hacker is not just for the wealthy and powerful.
Yesterday Reuter’s also published an article about Senator Chuck Grassley’s Twitter account being hacked in disgust of Grassley’s support of the PIPA/SOPA acts. The hacker didn’t tweet in disguise of Grassley, but wanted to reach his supporters in the hopes of encouraging them to speak out against PIPA and SOPA.
In addition to being surprised by how beneficial hackers were, I was also interested in how carefree people were about sharing their information. The freedom with which information was passed along did pose a dilemma. Stuart Brand describes that “on the one hand, information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is lower and lower all the time” (Turner 136).
We still have this struggle today as we have seen with PIPA and SOPA. It has become incredibly easy to access resources, despite copyright laws. The debate continues—should we charge fees for this information because of its value or should we let the people have access to it in order to gain a better knowledge at no cost?