Selling and owning information is a profession today. Journalists, PR professionals, consultants, and lobbyists base a large portion of their professional pride on the ownership of information. Naturally, they don't want to share their information unless they get something in exchange, and the things we give them in exchange are decent salaries and social status. Their professions are at risk of being fundamentally changed by information technology, and many of them are aware of this. How?
At MIT, the first hackers left their programs (in the form of long strips of paper with holes in them) lying in a box next to the computer. They did this partly so that whoever wanted to could examine them, but also so that whoever felt like it would be able to improve and expand the programs. This open-hearted attitude is an example of typical "hacker mentality", and has since then characterized almost all research and program development that has taken place over the Internet. This falls under Rule 1 in the chapter about cyberpunk: the hands-on imperative.
There are lots of programs that have been developed according to a principle called Stone Soup. This is one of the oldest - if not the oldest - methods in software development. The first hackers at MIT, in the 60'd, worked according to this principle. Today it works like this: a programmer manufactures the core of the project, a working program that provides the foundation for the end product (the stone in the soup). The programmer then puts the program on the Internet and tells all the amateur programmers out there: "Here's the program - if you find any faults and know how to fix them, then please do so. Then send the changes back to me."
The original programmer then assumes the role of editor, accepting suggestions and constantly adding to and modifying the program. The end product is then distributed for free. The PC programs Fractint and Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) are just two of the great mass of programs that have been created in this manner. Even if an amateur may not be able to accomplish a lot by him- or herself, he or she is still often an expert at something.
One of the first stone soup programs that was really successful was Tiny BASIC, a competitor of Bill Gates' Altair BASIC, which managed to stand out by being much better than Gates' BASIC, and free. (Guess if that was a thorn in the side to some people). Among modern stone soup products there are entire operating systems such as Linux, a project started by Linus Torvalds at Helsinki University, referred to by many as the most successful hacking project of all time), X-Windows, and the EMACS text editor, used in making countless textbooks and college essays. All of these programs are free.
The communications protocol stack called TCP/IP (Transfer Control Protocol/Internet Protocol), which is about to conquer the entire market for network communications, is also stone soup. (It is used to make computers "understand" each other when "talking" over a network - TCP/IP is to a computer as a telephone receiver and a dial is to a person). This protocol stack is judged by those who develop the Internet, and is constantly revised and improved as the "editors" send out RFCs (Request for Comments). TCP/IP is completely free, and no one has made money from its invention. It has (without any marketing whatsoever) become so huge simply because no one is fighting over copyrights or trying to keep "commercial secrets" to themselves. On the other hand, it's not hard to make lots of money from the knowledge of how TCP/IP works. The knowledge about the product is therefore of greater value to the market than the product itself. This is why some of the people who know TCP/IP are very secretive about their knowledge, in order to maintain a demand for consulting services.
The companies that are marketing their own communications protocols are naturally displeased about this. That's why they gladly disseminate lies which claim that TCP/IP is of poor quality - even that it's bad and worthless. The most common argument is "the more cooks, the worse the soup" - which means that a lot useless junk supposedly makes it into the programs. This is patently false. The discussion groups evaluate every proposed change before it is incorporated. It's a shame that such rumors are sometimes published in major newspapers and magazines (none mentioned, none forgotten). I prefer to listen to experts like Peter Schaeffer who know what they're talking about.
At the front of the defenders of this fundamental technological principle there are people like Richard Stallman, a former MIT hacker who referred to himself for a while as the last real hacker. He established the foundation for GNU as well as EMACS, and his point of view is that software shouldn't be subject to ownership. He is also an influential force behind the Free Software Foundation, which is an organization that primarily concerns itself with the promotion of free software. He has had many software companies up in arms over his method of copying ideas without copying program code, which is known as reverse engineering or simply deconstruction. It involves analyzing a program on an object (machine-code) level, noting its functions, and then creating a program that performs the same tasks. Stallman's productivity in this respect is so legendary that he is referred to as perhaps the greatest and most motivated hacker ever, and fully capable of doing the job of an entire development team on his own. He has also had an influential role in the organization League for Programming Freedom, which has as its mission the liberation of software from patents.
Stone soup software also has the advantage of being easily modified or analyzed in order to find out exactly how it works, since all documentation is accessible to whoever wants it. This is in contrast to software that's been manufactured by corporations, which lock source code and documentation in a vault and charge exorbitant prices to share their knowledge when a problem occurs. The intention is that the user should think that the program is so incredibly fantastic that only the in-house programmers (which are presented as some kind of wizards) are able to understand and improve the program. Talk about a monopoly on information.
Imagine the stone soup principle
being applied to a piece of text, like the one you're reading now. If
I had access to an Internet server, I could put this document in hypertext
form (which is a kind of text invented by Tim Berners-Lee subsequent
to an idea put forth by Ted Nelson, in which consistent subjects
or general keywords are electronically linked in order to allow the reader
to quickly jump to different points in the text) and put something like
this at the end:
It's all free. Anyone could get the document off the Internet. I don't profit from it except for gaining knowledge, and no one else does either. If my document became popular and reached a wide audience, a few experts would (with some luck) contact me with corrections and additions. Not much, but just enough to cover the subject on which that person is an expert. Then, I could assume the role of editor and collate all of this information, put new links in the hypertext and facilitate searching and notices of updates to the text. I would feel that I was doing something useful, but I wouldn't be able to earn a living doing it. After a few years, my document would become an entire database covering almost every aspect of computer culture, more comprehensive, editable, and thorough than any national encyclopaedia, and furthermore it would be written at the grassroots level by people who love what they do.
So why don't I?
Answer: first of all, I don't have the time or energy.(1) Second, it is not a matter of solving a technical problem like those in a computer program; this text is multi-faceted and highly subjective. It bears the mark of my own values and judgments, and I want it to remain as such in the future. Every word is written by myself and no one else. Call it pride. Further, it has a beginning and an end, and it is possible to critique it as something coherent and static, not as something that is constantly morphing. It is possible to form a clear view of the text that lasts a few days, and this is the advantage of the statically fixed text versus the ever-changing one.
If this were a practical problem of a technical character within any of the natural sciences or medicine, the situation would be radically different. Such hypertext documents are created around the world as we speak. They grow together, forming a world of information, accessible to anyone, anywhere, who has access to the Internet. It's known as the World Wide Web (WWW). By extension, the human hypertextual heritage will grow into a mass of information of such mammoth proportion that it will be impossible to get one's mind around it. It will be like a library of memories for all of humankind. Hypertext is also changing more and more into program code, which erodes the distinction between regular, literary text and computer programs. The professions of author and programmer blend together. This is what multimedia is. The tools used to create multimedia products are not called computer languages, they're called authoring programs.
Some authors of fiction have adopted the idea of publishing their creations for a wide audience, on the Internet. Since fictional writers generally want their works to be read and only incidentally to make money, this is a natural step. The first well-established author to put some of his work on the Internet was Stephen King, on September 19, 1993. Many other authors thought this was a great idea, and published some of their older books on the Web. In Sweden, Lars Fimmerstad was the pioneer in this aspect, with his novel Välkommen Hem ("Welcome Home"), and shortly thereafter Ola Larsmo followed in his footsteps with his short story, Stumheten ("The Speechlessness"). The more established an author is, the more conservatively he or she approaches electronic publication. To a certain extent they live off their book sales, and feel threatened by a form of publication through which they cannot yet get paid.
This progress within media is in step with the trends in organizations, which are being transformed into networks - loosely connected associations without staff or representatives, established for the purpose of answering one single question or solving one specific and well-defined problem (making stone soup), and that have so far stayed connected through mail correspondence and phone calls (exchanges of information). Do not confuse a "network" with a "computer network", even if many "networks" employ "computer networks". Your local bridge club is a "network", and the Internet is a "computer network". A common denominator of all networks is that they distribute information of some kind. (Confusing?) Mnemonic device: bridge club = a network of people, the Internet = a network of computers.
So what's the point of all this?
Well, it is that network documents will quickly become so numerous that it will be impossible to get an overview of them. Therefore, it is (as always) necessary to go through a long and hard learning process, or hire a consultant, to access a specific piece of knowledge. A typical consultant is a watch group that cover some specific area of interest, which we usually refer to as the technical press, only in this context it's electronic. The need for specialized journalism therefore exists in the information society as well. At the time of this writing, such journals cannot get paid for their information services, but a system is under development. That means that you will be able to buy information about anything using your own computer. Naturally, you don't pay with cash, but with numbers.
These technical journalists will basically become the first people to earn their living solely by processing information; they'll be the first ones to enter into the total information economy. The other papers will follow, one by one. Some newspapers, such as Aftonbladet/Kultur (a major Swedish evening paper) have anticipated this, and are preparing themselves for the entry into the information economy by experimenting with electronic editions. Other papers remain content with simply publishing electronic complements to their printed material. (In the experimental stage, all of this is free! Grab the chance now that you have it, because it won't come back). In addition to this, and as a natural consequence of it, we'll get a huge number of electronic fanzines(2), due to the amazing simplicity and cheapness of making an electronic publication. (The hacker culture has spawned hundreds or maybe even thousands of such magazines.) No printing costs, no contracts, no advertisers, just information and motivation. Culture without biznizz.
speaking, journalists are experts at information trading. It's probably
the only profession that even before the time of computers made a living
solely by producing and processing information. Journalists do
not think that information, and therefore knowledge, should be
free and universally accessible. On the contrary, each journalist (at
least each specialized journalist) jealously guard "their" information
sources, not revealing them without very good reason. The journalist is
just as conservative and stingy as the elitist and sectarian hacker groups.
For the public good is one thing - but even journalists have to
eat. It's about protecting one's intellectual property. The truth is that
the fourth state, just like the government and the corporate world, also
consists of personal contact networks and hierarchies in which string-pulling
ability is very important. Even journalists are totally ignorant of hacker
ethics, which to a high degree influences their reporting when it comes
In the long term, CD-ROMs will run into problems. It will soon be very easy to copy the disks, so why should I buy the paper, the encyclopaedia, the dictionary, or whatever, when I can copy it off my neighbor. Once you try to protect the information from being copied, you can bet your ass that some hackers will come around and crack the protection and copy it anyway. Online services don't really suffer from this problem.(4) Some prophecy the total disappearance of disks in favor of online services, but this is unlikely to happen soon. The need to own the physical form of something, like a compact disk or a print magazine is still strong in our generation.
Others say that mass media will disappear. That depends on how you look at it. Mass media as it is today will certainly go away, but we will also equally certainly get a new definition of mass media. Print publications will most likely remain until we find a way to make electronic information as portable, but that day will come.
The magazine called The Whole Earth Review has aroused public interest in electronic media in the USA. The popular magazine Wired, which I mentioned earlier, is one of the publications that have received a boost from the progress at the electronic frontier. This paper has become extremely popular, not least due to its youthful layout. It has paved the way for several similar magazines across the world, such as Sweden's Z Mag@zine and Hallå, which have apparently gotten their whole business idea from magazines like Wired. They write about the Internet, BBSs, everything falling into the category of media and information technology, and fashion and trends. Both publications have (intentionally) refused to acknowledge the existence of the other. Both are currently out of print, but Hallå is restarting soon.
Other American magazines that seem to be great sources of inspiration for this type of media are RayGun and Gray Areas. MONDO 2000 is a tad too provocative for the more distinguished circles, as it has a rather conspicuous air of hippie and yippie philosophy. Some people are irritated by these magazines, since they write mostly about each other (media writing about other media, journalists about other journalists, etc.) Seeking a cause for this, one would most likely conclude that media products are changing due to the entrance of information technology. Text and images are becoming easier to edit and distribute, and the purpose of journalists is under re-evaluation, etc. It's also not surprising that journalism is of interest to journalists. With the role of media as the "fourth state", critiquing itself is probably necessary function. To spice it up, the subjects are often things that are exciting in real life. Preferably hacking, of course. They're the ultra-hyped spearhead of the "information revolution".
The hackers don't think these magazines are anything special (as the publications seem to think themselves sometimes), but rather refer to them bluntly as hacker-wannabes - trying to write as if they're something they're not. Sweden, for example, is full of Schyffert-wannabes, Guillou-wannabes, and Bildt-wannabes. (As for myself, I'm a Visionary-wannabe ;). The frequent use of trite terms like cyber, powerful, IT, and (insert latest catch-phrase here) is a common denominator for hacker-wannabes, plus that they use Macintosh computers. (Translator's note: HEY! What the hell do you think I started translating this text on?).
The tendency of aggressive competition among hackers is similar to the brutal reality of everyday journalism, and this is probably the reason that these magazines inherit hacker culture and ideals. Few of these journalists seem to understand the friendly, non-American part of hacker culture, which is not as interesting since it's not as illegal, contains much less confrontation, and built more on friendship than competition. This is of course not so strange, since journalists love conflict and in many cases spur it on. (Conflicts inspire great headlines, and attract readers.)
The entire network has been built using the stone soup principle. Every problem that occurs is posted on discussion groups, after which anyone who wants to may suggest a solution. The users are very eager to help, and usually there are a number of proposed solutions. The proposals are evaluated in the discussion group, and the one that's considered to be the best wins. The result is documented and then distributed as a de facto standard. This technocratic method of problem-solving is radically different from the market model. In a market economy, companies compete for the best solution. Each company has an R&D division that develop a solution, which is then marketed. After that, consumers judge the products by buying the one that suits them the most. The "bad" solutions are thrown out as the companies that fail to get enough market share discontinue their productmaking and buy patents from the successful companies, or, at worst, go bankrupt. In this manner it is suggested that the best product always survives.(5) (Translator's note: it's also highly circular, as the "market" judges the "marketing and marketability" of a "marketed" product).
The problem is that the winning solutions in a market economy aren't always technically superior. They might as well be the best marketed or cheapest products. For example, reflect on how the VHS video system beat the technically superior Betamax system. (According to legend, this was ultimately due to the fact that the VHS format was marketed by the adult video industry . hmmm.)(6) (Translator's note: How about Windows...). This would never happen in a technocracy like the Internet. A technocracy doesn't allow marketing or arbitrariness to send a good idea into the wastebasket of history. It's pretty typical for the universities to build a technocratic network, since their main goal is always technological progress.
In a market economy, it is the carrot of personal gain and wealth that drive the businesspeople to develop better and better products. In a technocracy, it's personal commitment, fellowship, and the desire to advance knowledge that drives the developers. With the Internet, this attitude towards research and product development has spread across the world, and sometimes it generates solutions that completely beat out those of the market economy. It's not a planned economy, since there's no single authority that finances and evaluates the products. It's a technocracy, based upon individuals in voluntary cooperation.
In addition to the university researchers, who thanks to secure personal finances are able to dedicate themselves to solving Internet problems at work, many people employed at regular market-driven companies have started developing solutions to different technical problems on their own private time. The desire to show one's competence in a technical field, and to be accepted as a skilled developer among others on the Net, has been enough to motivate these people to develop technical solutions. Call it the joy of working or professional pride. (Yes, these still exist even in our time).
Whether technocracy is a threat or a complement to a market economy is hard to predict. Perhaps we're entering a form of knowledge economy. It is, however, clear that with internationalization and the ability to work in small interest groups across great distances, we have found a so-called "nonprofit" force that enables us to perform practical work and have fun at the same time. Group fellowship is the same as that among the hackers, who have long been exchanging experience through letters, BBSs, copy parties, and the Internet. The only difference is that one form is more "respectable" than the other.
As I suggested earlier, it's possible to detect an anarchistic ideological heritage within technocracy. Peter Krapotkin thought that society should be run through the cooperative efforts of independent groups. As opposed to Charles Darwin, who thought that races (and by extension, society) evolved through competition, Kropotkin emphasized the important role of cooperation in the building of a society. The Internet technocracy is in some ways proof that free groups independently set up cooperative relationships without governmental influence. The virtual society is anarchistic, in this way. At the same time, there is an aspect of Darwinism, in that only the best solutions survive. The difference is that this happens as a result of mutual agreement and doesn't affect any people or companies in a negative manner.
Digitized text is of course
a competitive advantage during re-printing, and my proposal could hurt
the competitive power of a certain company. Another company could (if
my system was applied) steal the text directly from the publisher and
publish the same book as a new edition, which would lead to a loss for
the first company which had paid to have someone enter the text in a word
Naturally, this wastefulness is actually a good thing according to our classical yardstick of the public good. GNP increases, and people get something to do (work). One should, however, ask if people fare well from this. We're living in a time in which the quality of life is measured by socioeconomic number-juggling. Is it a good idea to create problems to make jobs for problem-solvers? To provoke crime in order to employ crime attorneys and investigators?
The technocrats on the Internet, spearheaded by League for Programming Freedom, hold the view that good knowledge should not be subject to patent. The companies, however, do. There's already been open conflict between idealists and profit-hungry corporate people. I've already touched upon the negative rumors spread about "stone soup software". Another example is the fighting over a compression method known as LZW, which is simply a modification of a public-domain method called LZ2, which originated at Jerusalem University. Basically, companies can possess so much chutzpah that they take out patents on methods, developed by idealists, which were originally intended to be public domain. Companies also have the time and money to sue
Another direct example of the difference between market-driven and idealistic thinking is the way various commercial firms are fighting over email services through the Internet. Swedish Telia has had a taste of technocracy. The background is as follows: Telia has no problem getting access to the Internet. The problem is that Telia wants to decide how certain Internet addresses should appear. It's always a good thing to be able to butter up your customers with a custom, easily memorized number (Like Swedish Railways' 020-75 75 75) Sadly, Telia is not in charge of these things on the Internet. The principle is that all commercial domains on the Internet should have the -COM suffix, as in COMmercial. Instead, Telia wants to give companies the 400NET prefix, which happens to be the name of their commercial electronic mail system.
Bernt Allonen at Telia says this in Z-mag@zine, 1/95: "It's time for the Internet to leave the sandbox the Internet is in need of strict rules and operators that guarantee performance." With this he's probably tried to say that the Internet should be market-driven, like a company - as opposed to the reality of its current operational mode, namely non-profit/academic - with all its implications, like rigid bureaucracy, market planning, and little hierarchies in which the golden rule is: kick downwards, kiss upwards.(7) Mostly, he would like to see Telia assuming total control of Internet distribution in Sweden, so that things could become orderly. This is not the case, and hopefully never will be. Who really cares what Bernt Allonen thinks? He only represents the expansionist interests of a single large corporation.
The people who hold the most power over the Internet in Sweden are Björn Eriksen and Peter Löthberg. Both are representatives of the open, technocratic attitude, and Björn decides which domains (Internet names or addresses) can be created on the Swedish part of the Internet. To the great chagrin of Telia, their market plans have no effect whatsoever on these academicians. The Internet cannot be bought! May Heaven have mercy. The academicians are not at all concerned about "orderliness" on the Internet. In their eyes, the Internet primarily exists to be useful, not marketable. Is it a good idea to tell Telia that all these idealists and academicians have actually succeeded in building the world's largest computer network completely without competition, market analysis, and commercial ad campaigns? Now that Telia's X.400-network hasn't been as successful as the Internet, what is Telia to do? Well, of course they want the rights to the Internet. Normally, a giant corporation like Telia can indiscriminately purchase and take over their competitors.
Thinking people, however, are much harder to purchase. Telia represents the philosophy of the old market theory, which states that people that cannot be bought for money can be bought for more money. Internet-users, with the technical universities at the base, have a completely different way of thinking. If there had been anything else than market tactics behind Telia's demands, they might have listened. Fortunately, they prefer to continue thinking. Thanks to this view, no one has a monopoly on the Internet in Sweden. Hundreds of companies are currently fighting to provide Internet access. The competition has pushed prices down to an incredibly low level. An Internet connection is today very affordable for a normal person, and everyone who has decent knowledge of the process can buy some computers and modems and start their own Internet node. Variety as opposed to monopoly. From this point of view, the Internet promotes small operators and resists the efforts of giant corporations. Again, refer to Rule #3 of hacker ethics: decentralization.
Rule #3 is also one of the reasons that cyberpunks and others work against Microsoft, and especially its operating system, Windows. When hundreds of hackers were arrested during Operation Sundevil, it was because law enforcement thought that hackers were behind the collapse in the American telephone system on January 15, 1990. Now, it turned out that hackers had nothing to do with it. Instead, the collapse was due to an error in the computer program that controlled the switches. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that the program was used everywhere, and the switches "brought each other down". The only switches that worked fine were those that used another, older program.
Microsoft's Windows is also a program, and more specifically, an operating system, which means that it's a program that is used to enable the user to run other programs. Today, it is installed on virtually every PC computer that is sold in Sweden. Most programs today require Windows in order to function. Therefore, Windows is used by innumerable private companies and governmental organizations, including Swedish Railways and the Swedish national defense. Recently, a new version of Windows, called Windows 95, was released. (8) This will, among other things, be used to provide easy connections between several computers, over the Internet and other networks.
Now, what if there was an error similar to that in the American telephone system's switch software - but inside Windows 95? In that case, every computer that used Windows 95 would crash. There is no way to prove empirically that a computer program is free of such errors. It's thus entirely possible -and it's happened before. Such risks exist with other, nearly monopolizing products, such as Netscape. A few moronic computer folks might think that it's impossible, but so was Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, so I don't buy that. And by the way, I also know what I'm talking about. (Pardon the conceited and provocative comment).
If something like that happened, large parts of Swedish society would be knocked out. We have a parallel case with the virus that in the fall of 1988 crippled the Internet by putting 6,000 computers out of commission. It was an error in the Berkely-UNIX (BSD) operating system that allowed this virus to be created. Some computers were unaffected by the virus - by virtue of using another "dialect", i.e. another version of UNIX, like NeXT or AIX (there's about 11 different versions of UNIX). UNIX basically works in the same way as Windows(9), but there's only one "dialect" of Windows! If all computers had used the same UNIX in the fall of 1988, well, all of the Internet would have been brought down! I'm stating that this could happen even to Windows 95, or one of its successors. If this happened, all Windows 95 systems could crash, if they were networked. It would be a catastrophe of unpredictable consequences to society.
This is where it's important to emulate nature. Variety, in which many different programs work side by side, is preferable. Hackers have always proposed variety and decentralization. In the long term, software monopolies are harmful, and lead to problems in computer systems that resemble those that occur with the inbreeding of living creatures. The only ones able to compete with Microsoft today is IBM, with its OS/2 operating system, and Apple, with MacOS. Personally, I look forward to more competition. Variety, decentralization, and small companies instead of giants and institutionalism is the only thing that's sustainable in the long term. Microsoft cannot be allowed to dominate the operating system market. Chaos is fun. And healthy.
The arrests of hackers after the Jan. 1, 1990 incident was a distraction to obscure the inbreeding within the telephone system and the incompetence of large companies by blaming hackers for what was really a structural problem. What are they to be blamed for next?
There are oodles of examples of how the market's been beaten by home-made solutions. Some computer nerds therefore want to stop this spreading disease by trying to stop the publicly financed distribution channels. One such channel is ftp.sunet.se, an Uppsala computer system which stores thousands of quality, free-of-charge programs. This computer is publicly funded and anyone can connect through the Internet and retrieve any of these programs. This is actually a good thing, since all of Sweden's (and the world's) computer enthusiasts gain access to free programs, but it's naturally a thorn in the side to those who promote a dogmatic, capitalist system as a way if life.
Here, we have an obvious conflict with another part of the hacker ethic: Mistrust authority. The answer from the established software industry becomes mistrust hackers, which is probably justified in the cases that Bertil mentions above. It is, however, hard to justify this mistrust in the case of mission-critical software such as those in airplanes or medical equipment, since it's impossible to find any such programs written by amateurs. The companies that make such equipment are concerned with their reputation, and don't hire just any hobby-hacker for just that reason. Instead, they get their programmers from the more status-filled university education programs.
We shouldn't pay too much attention to what one person has said on one single occasion. We'll instead treat it as an illustrative example. There is a whole set of values that we think is God-given, but that is actually not self-evident at all. It is not an obvious truth that the well-educated engineer is a better builder of electronics than the kid around the corner who's been a radio amateur since he could walk. More accurately, it's a complete untruth. Granted, some enthusiasts migrate to the finer universities and technical schools, but some of them don't like the formal and strict environment they encounter at all. They prefer to stay at home in their garages and study and experiment on their own. That kind of motivation beats most university education by lengths, when it comes to direct practical knowledge.
Of course, the at-home hacker is usually an individual that isn't very socially adaptable, and who also has a penchant for certain suspicious subcultures. That is most likely the true reason that these skilled hackers aren't hired for positions where they could do the most good. Instead, they sit at home and put together freeware for any and all. (I've talked about what happens in the worst cases in chapter 4 and 10, about underground hackers and computer crime). A university degree is not only a certificate of competence - it also indicates that its possessor is socially adept and has the ability for discipline and obedience that is required at large corporations. A programmer should have the ability to carry out a project without questioning it. No large company is interested in employees that think too independently and develop alternative solutions without permission. Instead, every project is controlled from a high position within the hierarchy. In short: a university degree means, in addition to competence, that the bearer has accepted the authority and power structures that exist within companies as well as educational institutions.
Stone soups cooked by enthusiasts, with many rival solutions to one problem, can beat monolithic corporations in competition. It is obvious that this way of working and looking at the role of the economy in society is part of the foundation of cyberpunk ideology. But here the respectable university hackers enter the picture: people who live normal, family lives, but who grew up with - and created - the first computers during the 70's, and who are now at forefront of the explosive growth in computer development. Their message is the same: Freedom of information! The rational world of computing seems to influence its users in the same vein: towards efficiency, decentralization, cooperation, and exchange of information, and away from bickering, bureaucracy, and monotony. I say that this is good. What do you think?
World of Science
The view that information and knowledge is public property is so inherent in this community that it isn't even questioned. All this information is published in a few thousand scientific journals across the world, with an extremely small distribution, created by scientists for scientists. Nowadays, more and more of these journals are starting to partly or completely employ electronic publication as a cheaper alternative to print - even within the "soft" sciences, such as Sociology and Psychology. The scientific community has been created to free research and science from the social power apparatus. The only way to do this is by building a culture with its own framework and values, which the hackers also discovered a long time ago.
As you see, the scientific virtual community share significant aspects with the hackers' sub-cultural Scene. They exchange information freely among each other, and ignore the market economy completely.(10) Of course, this throws a monkey wrench into the theories of most economists, since they'd rather see everyone acting according to a rational market model, but the scientific community won't submit to commercialization, no matter how much the rest of society wants it to. The icing on the cake is that the rest of society is dependent on the scientific community. Without science, little progress is made, and the schooling of new CEOs, engineers, psychologists, etc. is completely at the mercy of scientific realms. Therefore, society at large is forced to financially support these scientists. Graciously, the scientists in turn support hackers and some other subcultures by offering free access to computers.
Why do the scientists help the hackers? Simple. They depend on them. The hackers yield many of the ideas for new inventions and research areas. Additionally, many of them work at the universities and technical schools. Some work at the companies that sell information services, and some are even to be found in the IT departments of the largest corporations. It is actually the case that the rest of society is dependent on both the scientific community and the Scene of the hackers. The conflicts that emerge are products of the fact that the technocratic society, led by scientists and hackers, is growing in power over the regular market-based society.
The reason that the establishment wants to control the funding for the Internet is, beneath the surface, a very old one: it is concerned about its POWER!
If I want to develop software, I need an idea. Then I have to start a company, hire as many programmers as I need, and find some suitable investors. If I can't find anyone to finance my venture, my idea must be a poor one, or I've been looking in the wrong places. When the product is sold, I employ special services for the replication, distribution, and marketing of the software. Any CEO at any software company views the process in this manner.
The problem with this view is that there's no room for creative spirit among the programmers themselves. As a boss, I have to rigidly command them onto the right track. I must never lose control over the end product, and if the programmers come up with their own ideas, I'm of course free to listen to them, but it is still my responsibility as a project leader to decide whether these ideas will be part of the end product. There is no place for the free action of the individual in the market-oriented way of thinking. Only the project leader should know what really goes on with the product, while the individual programmers should only be concerned with the little piece they're working on. There is always an inherent hierarchy built into this form of organization.
Market-economy thinking is also built on a hidden method for hiding knowledge. It would be unfortunate for the project leader if the programmers realized how little influence they really have on the creative process. The same goes for all hierarchically organized companies. The only people that have any idea of what's actually occurring within a company is supposed to be the leadership. If the workers are to have any information, it is transmitted through carefully designed yellow sheets that are dumped in the employees' pigeonholes, in which chosen parts of the company's activities are exposed in order to increase motivation.
We're dealing with a power structure that is anything but democratic. This is the skewed balance of power that is the reason that companies work better than governments. The absence of democracy is very efficient. It's not a secret that the democratic offensive into the Swedish business world, in the form of MBL ("the law of shared decisions") etc., has decreased corporate efficiency. The workers should act under the orders of management, not by its own will. Corporate management has therefore invented ingenious mechanisms to limit democratic control of their companies despite these new laws. These include, for example, constant reorganization in order to hide the mechanisms of authority and give the workers a sense of being in control of their own responsibilities.
The hacker ethic, cyberpunk ideology, and technocracy stand in sharp contrast. All of these views expect programmers to be creative, inventive, and skeptical. The market economy assumes that comprehensive plans are not questioned before they are completed. That's why companies go to great lengths to hire only engineers from universities and technical schools, who have by virtue of their degree been through the social indoctrination to not question.(11) Those individuals who question are sent into other parts of the machine of society: research, politics, and the criminal industry, to produce information of a kind that is important to society in other ways.(12)
1. Of course, as of today I've already submitted this text to the public one time.
2. Which has in fact become the case. I must be psychic.
3. Nowadays, virtually all magazines have an online version. My personal favorite is "Syber-Starlet" (Translator's note: a magazine very similar to Seventeen).
4. Maybe just a little bit. Passwords and other things that the users pay for are often cracked and tossed to the four winds
5. This is a generalized view that presupposes an infinite number of companies, a great number of different products in the same category, and that the "market" is an independent filter that is never deceived by propaganda. This stands in very poor resemblance to reality.
6. Then again, it's probably just a myth.
7. At the moment Telia is undergoing a reorganization which, as everyone who's studied introductory management knows, is aimed at destroying the social networks that have formed in the workplace in order to strengthen the upper echelons' grip on the company.
8. And now Windows NT is the hot thing. And then it'll be Nashville. Hum-de-hum.
9. I know that the know-it-alls are being driven up the walls by statements such as this. If it bothers you, write your own book for those who get hung up on details.
10. Pierre Bourdieu introduces the concept of "cultural capital" in order to try to explain this trend.
11. A slightly mean (and simplified) statement.
12. Svante Tidholm remarked that I have an ability to sometimes reduce the individual to a simple puppet for the powers that be. I understand his view, but I'm not smart enough to get around the way the question is posed. My respect for the capacity of the individual is very great, and I also take the side of the individual in this rigged game. An expansion of my views is found in Chapter 15 as well as the Appendix.
Design and formatting by Daniel Arnrup/Voodoo Systems