Hackers — part II

The second portion Hackers- Heroes of the Computer Revolution was dedicated the next gen of hackers, the hardware hackers. These hackers were similar to the True Hackers in terms of their appetite for everything computers, but they were distinctly characterized by their want to bring the computers to anyone who wanted to hack. This movement of the Computers for everyone was allowed to flourish by the introduction of microprocesors to the market, which spurred the interest in developing personal computers. The interest to make computers, shared by many, was cultivated by hacker groups like The Homebrew Computer Club, and hacker expos like the Computer Faire which allowed hackers to come together. Together they grew and were amazed by eachother, learned from each other. Whether they were marveling over Steve Dompier’s rendition of Daisy or Wozniak’s beautiful new Apple computers people were in awe of the power of technology. The fire was lit, and the programming bug was spreading like wildfire amongst these free flowing hardware hacking hippies. Programming was no longer a closed off priesthood of MIT, in this new age of hacking if you could hack, you were a winner. This indeed was a new type of hacker.

There were many key players in dissipating this aura of elitism among hackers. One of which was Albretch. He went to classrooms and spread the good word of hacking — and people loved it. He taught night classes at Control Data and found a group incredibly eager to learn. He was even able to hook some of the technology-is-evil people by giving them small hits of gaming like a dope dealer, slowly raising their love for computers. Another key player in bringing these computer enthusiasts together was Felsenstein, who lead the Homebrew computer club. A club that started by Fred Moore and Gordon French with 30 people in a garage, grew to include many hundred hardware hacking hippies. While Albretch, Felsenstein, and other key players worked to break down MITs strict wall of elitism, the aura of elitism was not completely broken. It was expanded to include anyone who wanted to hack, however, it still discluded the common man who did not program. The scope of computer usage was still limited to those wanted to hack.

In the beginning, the homebrew computer club was originally maintained the Hacker Ethic. The group grew together sharing ideas and exercising the hands on imperative, and Information flowed freely between all parties. Software was not yet a commodity. One pivotal instance that showcasing the shift in mindset towards software as commodity was in Gates selling the Basic software at a high price.Sokol, and many others thought that it was unreasonable priced. Tensions rose when Sokol copied the Basic tapes and distributed them. To this Gate’s lashed out in his open letter to Hobbyists, reprimanding them for stealing the software. This marked a new age of competition in the programming community that had not previously existed. Those who computer enthusiast no longer shared a common interest but a common market. The rise of this new age of computers marked by secrecy could be seen in the change of dynamics of the Homebrew computer club. The hippies of homebrew computer club members were no longer freely exchanged information. The hacker ethic of the homebrew computer club collapsed under the pressure of commercialization.

While I think that Lipkin is rightfully fearful of the power of technology I ultimately agree with Felsenstein that technology is a force for good. With this in mind I think I will pay more attention to the ethical, moral, and social impact of the technology that I use and create. I think there is still a ton of room in the world for technology to positively impact our lives, but we must also consider the unintended impact that our technology might have. All in all, it is my opinion that technology will be built with or without me, so I minus well be the one working on it because then at least I have a say in what is built.