» «

all culture is hacker culture, part 2

On March 8th covering ,

I’ve found it pleasant to play around with the concepts of hacking, bricolage and tinkering as different words for a crucially important mode of human operation. It helps me to think about creativity and what talent really is.

The comments from my prior post on the topic have been helpful, including some made privately. Thanks, Hacker News, for the traffic spike.

Dexter Nyamainashe of Zimbabwe: Hacker Supreme

Mr. Nyamainashe grabbed my attention today (via BoingBoing) as exemplifying hacker greatness.

Most of the comments disagreed with my idea: “Nonsense — the vast majority of human culture is the antithesis of hacker culture“. This made me consider the terminology. The commentator didn’t elaborate, but I imagine he takes “hacker culture” to mean a culture in which transgressive ingenuity is valorized — perhaps as seen in subsets of MIT or the early days of the Homebrew Computer Club — and that he might say the majority of culture in all places is in the thrall of convention and fear, the “antithesis” he decries. If this is his meaning, I concede the point.

I should have said that hacking is a basic human process that is responsible for culture. The comments about Mozart and whether artistic creators are getting around obstacles could be grounds for interesting disagreement, but I’ll leave that for another time.

I still am lifting the term out of its original computers-and-networks context, which will annoy some, but I am in good enough company. Commenter Zach directed me to the classic Richard Stallmann Essay which I thought supported my idea:

It is hard to write a simple definition of something as varied as hacking, but I think what these activities have in common is playfulness, cleverness, and exploration. Thus, hacking means exploring the limits of what is possible, in a spirit of playful cleverness. Activities that display playful cleverness have “hack value”.

I can’t do better than “playfulness, cleverness, and exploration” to define creativity. Stallmann also emphasizes the transgressive trickster element, the creative destruction and insubordination to authority which ensures that the powers-that-be can never fully domesticate this destabilizing and dangerous force.

The “Nonsense” criticism above brings me back to my main line of interest — how difficult it is to maintain a culture, company, team, club, discipline or band in which “hack value” can flourish. Even with a well-intentioned dedication to remain open and encourage a hacker attitude, organizations become rigid, defensive and anti-hacker, which is how tech companies and creative movements dry up and die. There are forces in the psyche and in social structures that are threatened and push back. (Just ask Dexter Nyamainashe). This is the stuff of drama. I wrote a post about the movie Ratatouille touching on this theme.

Leave a Reply

Formatting: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong> .