Steven Levy – Hackers, Heroes of the Computer Revolution

The word “hacker” has come to have a sinister meaning, but in the alternate universe we programmers live in, hackers are the Mozarts to the regular programmers’ Salieris.  In a broader sense, a hacker is someone whose approach to understanding a complex system – not necessarily a computer – is to immerse themselves in it totally, until they reach a level of understanding where their interaction with it becomes a form of play: Inspired.  Idiosyncratic.  Mischievous.  It’s this playfulness that sets them apart from the merely competent.

Steven Levy’s Hackers chronicles the rise and fall of the first hackers.  MIT students in the 60’s, who rebelled against the IBM priesthood, and attempted to use computers, these massively expensive military and business tools, for their own personal enjoyment.  The mid-70’s Homebrew club, which attracted people so desperate for computers that they were intent to have a “personal” one even if they had to invent it themselves – people like Steve Wozniak.

The hacker culture came with its own Hacker Ethic, which believed in decentralization and a free, non-profit flow of information.  This didn’t last, and it would be up to greedy bastards like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates to realize the hacker dream of a personal computer in every home.  But, as with the ancient Greeks, so with the Hacker Ethic: Conquered, it conquered, and today lives in a weird symbiosis with the corporate world and mainstream culture.

Now, we all live partly in a hacker’s world, partly by hacker ideals.  But true hackers are still rare.

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