The main values of the hacker ethic were put on paper by Steven Levy in 1984, so almost 40 (forty!) years ago. Needless to say that the extent to which those values stood the test of time is quite impressive. When reading them, I was surprised to see how much these matched my own values, and the values I’ve regularly encountered in the cryptocurrency world.
Unlimited access to computers or anything that helps you understand the way the world works
The fact that “The world is full of fascinating problems waiting to be solved” is an idea that is well widespread in the scientific world in general. The idea that no energy should be wasted solving the same problem is somewhat less common, maybe because it’s so obvious, or maybe because businesses living on the non-disclosure of information don’t want you to think about it. Or maybe both.
I would also like to stress out the importance of having this curiosity, this constant urge to understand how everything works. This is the very thing that drives me forward in most situations and I put a lot of value in it.
All information should be free
To me, it’s a consequence of the previous point; and that’s where we see the consequences of what we just said: making all the information free raises the question of the business model of companies creating this information. On this point the debate is almost endless, so let’s just point to the Copyright debate we all had in weeks 5/6.
Mistrust authority, promote decentralization
This is probably where I have the most to say, maybe because I’ve been somewhat influenced by the Bitcoin and crypto world for the last few years, who knows. I can’t agree more on this point, and it’s something that applies not only in the field of IT, but more globally to our societies as a whole.
There are a lot of democracies out there that would – in my totally subjective opinion – heavily benefit from more transparency (ie. lower need for trust) and more decentralization.
I often bring up an idea raised by A. de Tocqueville in Democracy In America to mention the balance between security and freedom – to which we’ll come later – but another thing that he mentions is that when a democracy is heavily centralized, the people tend to lose interest in the government of the country, which is why decentralization is extremely important to avoid a ‘soft despotism’ state.
To mention the ‘mistrust authority’ part quickly, I personally think that the whole system has to be redesigned so that citizens can see how every euro of tax is spent, can take part in most decision making, and so on. If we want to re-establish trust into the system, we need either to make it fully decentralized (in a Bitcoin kind of way: fully democratic, without any central authority), which would be too much of a challenge in my opinion, or to make it fully (and I really mean fully) transparent.
PS. Coming from a country between Germany and Spain, of course I like to complain, especially about bureaucracy. There as well, a complete redesign and simplification of the whole administration is more than needed. Because yes, “the last thing you need is a bureaucracy.”
Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not other bogus criteria
Of course. Others will develop this better than I can do, so let’s just mention than again, this should apply outside of the hackerdom as well.
Computer can change your life for the better
I’m probably repeating common ideas here, but as any tool, it can be used for both good and bad purposes. But for sure it can change lives, and for sure it’s often for the better.
A few points about Himanen’s view on hacker values
To me, freedom is truly one of the most essential things to have. If there is no freedom, creativity is limited, caring is harder, and more generally any kind of ethics is harder to maintain as well.
To mention Tocqueville’s ideas a second time, democracies lie on a sort of scale at the extremes of which there are despotism on one side, and anarchy on the other. The slow but steady tendency to want more security and more equality (would need to be developed, but that would take too long) leads to a form of despotism, but the increase in freedom leads the tendency towards the other direction. An important detail being that, according to him, anarchy is much easier to avoid than what he calls ‘soft despotism’. Therefore, the fight for freedom is a constant need.
Speaking about creativity, this is the second most important value that unfortunately wasn’t directly mentioned in Levy’s version. Hacking is about creativity, it’s about thinking out of the box. When looking for a flaw in something, you don’t read things as they were intended to be read, but quite the opposite.
All in all, Levy’s values, completed by Himanen, are a good set of rules that everyone should consider (it doesn’t mean that they should agree with them of course, but only take the time to actually think about it). Like any ideal, it is hard (maybe even impossible) to reach, but it gives an idea of the direction in which we should try to go.