A thought provoking task given to me in class this week was about comparing the practices of hacking and appropriating technology.
Tim Jordan’s Introduction talks about hacking, the hack and hackers and outlines his research in order to justify his definition of the hack. His definition is “a hack is a material practice that produces differences in computer, network and communication technologies.”(Jordan).
Jordan starts out by discussing hackers’ points of view to illustrate what a hack is and how even within the hacker community there are differences in the meaning and objectives. He contrasts creative, “make something new out of something old” hackers like Torvalds who created Linux, the first open source software, with hackers in the “black hat” sense, such as Erik Petersen, who wants to create something but also gain access, or hidden knowledge and basically do something that isn’t allowed. Indeed, some hack for political or activist purposes, called hacktivists.
Wark’s work is discussed by Jordan, in his view hackers are the new revolutionary class: subversive and anti-establishment, and Dunbar-Hester illustrates that with the example of the Free Software movement to break the corporate tyranny of companies like Microsoft with their software licensing regimes in the 80s and 90s (Christina Dunbar-Hester).
As a result, as Dunbar-Hester points out, many hackers believe that hackers using their skills as described by Rayner for hackathons, open source software and start-ups are corporate sell-outs.
So it’s not a requirement for every hacker for the “material practice” to be illicit for to be a hack. The hackers all seem to agree that the hack must be creative and new, and impress others in the hacker community.
So how does hacking compare with Appropriating Technology as outlined by Eglash (Eglash)? Appropriation changes technology and uses it in a way that was not anticipated by the manufacturers (Eglash). In this way, it is like hacking, because something new is created that is different to how it was intended to be used. There is also that subversive element, where the appropriators were not considered in the design of the technology but have been able to bend it to their will. This is also similar to hackers.
Appropriators are not limited in their technology to computers, networks and communication technology as hackers are however, such as the example of low rider cars. In addition, as Dunbar-Hester explains, hackers tend to be white Global North males, so in terms of the power axis, they are at the top of the scale. Appropriators have low power in society but find a way to make technology work for them even though the designers did not include them in their process. Hackers are however the ones designers have in mind when designing technology.
Although individually a hacker may feel they are a minority and outcast from society, and that is often what drives them to become a hacker, you can see from the results of their hacking that they are well connected. Hackers (software engineers) are now running the world! So, power shifted from white male service and physical workers to white male knowledge workers , but still within the ruling class. Hackers have a lot of agency, they can afford the technology and are very well educated and connected to it, just like with makerspaces, so this makes them very different to Technology Appropriators.
Christina Dunbar-Hester. Hacking Diversity. Princeton University Press, 2019.
Eglash, Ron. Appropriating Technology: Vernacular Science and Social Power. U of Minnesota Press, 2004.
Jordan, Tim. Hacking: Digital Media and Technological Determinism. Polity, 2008.