Erinevus lehekülje "Playful Cleverness" redaktsioonide vahel

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# "The world is full of fascinating problems waiting to be solved" - this sets the tone of creative optimism that stems from nearly all points of earlier ethic described by Levy.
# "The world is full of fascinating problems waiting to be solved" - this sets the tone of creative optimism that stems from nearly all points of earlier ethic described by Levy.
# "No problem should ever have to be solved twice" - logically derived from the former: as problems are plentiful, there is no point to duplicate the work. This is the cornerstone of free and open-source software.
# "No problem should ever have to be solved twice" - logically derived from the former: as problems are plentiful, there is no point in duplicating the work. This is the cornerstone of free and open-source software.
# "Boredom and drudgery are evil" - from the "mistrust authority" roots, but also based on practical notice that overly routine work is seldom fruitful.
# "Boredom and drudgery are evil" - from the "mistrust authority" roots, but also based on practical notice that overly routine work is seldom fruitful.
# "Freedom is good" -  the archetypal hacker tenet. In his commentary, Raymond explains: "This isn't the same as fighting all authority. Children need to be guided and criminals restrained. A hacker may agree to accept some kinds of authority in order to get something he wants more than the time he spends following orders. But that's a limited, conscious bargain; the kind of personal surrender authoritarians want is not on offer.
# "Freedom is good" -  the archetypal hacker tenet. In his commentary, Raymond explains: "This isn't the same as fighting all authority. Children need to be guided and criminals restrained. A hacker may agree to accept some kinds of authority in order to get something he wants more than the time he spends following orders. But that's a limited, conscious bargain; the kind of personal surrender authoritarians want is not on offer.

Redaktsioon: 14. august 2007, kell 12:58

Enter the Hacker

First, about the controversal word itself. Contrary to the mainstream media use of 'hacker', we keep using the original, authentic meaning as described by many authoritative sources. While there are people who say 'hacker' and mean an ingenious yet malicious hi-tech vandal ("my website was hacked") and the misuse is continued by ignorant mainstream media, the 'hacker' has been a positive term for the most weighing opinions. About the relative weight - if the same term is used in an opposing manner by

  • those who have built a great share of today's Internet infrastructure and left their distinct footprints into the history of technology (Stallman, Torvalds, Berners-Lee, Perens, de Raadt, de Icaza, Lerdorf and many others), or
  • those whose achievements range from clueless pranks to serious damage to other people (from the Anonymous Dork to Kevin Mitnick; and even the latter has possibly come to senses after serving some time in jail - nowadays he's considered to be a security expert).

then it is probably much more sensible to listen to the first ones. The Jargon File, a major source of historical terminology of the field, perhaps has got the most exhaustive definition.

In short, a hacker is (mostly but not necessarily) a computer professional with innovative mindset and a passion for exploration. The Jargon File as well as other references can assist in finding out more details. The File also gives a good all-round definition of the hacker ethic:

"The belief that information-sharing is a powerful positive good, and that it is an ethical duty of hackers to share their expertise by writing open-source code and facilitating access to information and to computing resources wherever possible."

The Forefathers: MIT

The Tech Model Railroad Club had been founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1946, and by the end of fifties there was already a strong subculture formed around it. Out of the Signals & Power Subcommittee (people who dealt with electricity and wires rather than modelling tasks) came the first hackers. It is interesting to see that there was a sort of hacker culture even before there was a computer to hack on – only in 1959 there were the first courses on computer science and the TX-0 computer was obtained which is considered to be the first hacker machine. In 1961 the MIT obtained PDP-1 (later going to PDP-6 and PDP-10) which became the central device for the forming hacker culture, later formalised into the Project MAC and the famous MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

For a long time, it was almost completely free of business thought – due to its specific field which was too small to create a market, and also the ties of many projects to the military. Thanks to skillful management (mostly by two leading professor of the time, John McCarthy and Marvin Minsky), the bureaucracy was kept separate and the creative minds were given ample space to work. All this created an atmosphere of creative and original intelligence that Richard Stallman has called 'playful cleverness' and that has been characteristic to hackers since then. Similar units were also created at Stanford (where McCarthy soon moved to) and a number of other universities in the US. The ethical principles of these hacker communities are in more detail described in the next chapter.

The 'hacker paradise' at MIT came to an end in early 80s when its staff was split between LMI and Symbolics. The resulting conflict almost emptied the Lab, one of the last ones to leave was Richard Stallman. He was deeply unhappy with the outcome and in some years, decided to start the GNU project - a complete rewrite of Unix operating system which would be distributed freely, remaining true to the MIT hacker tradition. While the project did not reach its main goal (has only recently showed some signs of imminent completion), it produced a number of important utilities and system software as well as the legal backbone of today's free and open-source software, the GNU General Public License (GPL) which had the user rights as starting point, being totally different from corporate End User License Agreements exemplified by Microsoft and others. Yet he was viewed by mainstream IT as just a curiosity or a hopelessly hippie-minded idealist.

The hacker ethic of early days

Steven Levy has worded the hacker ethic as it was understood by those early pioneers:

1. Access to computers – and anything which might teach you something about the way the world works – should be unlimited and total. Always yield to the Hands-On Imperative!

The unquenchable thirst for knowledge is probably a key feature of the hacker ethic. Other crucial aspects here are positive attitude as well as pragmatic altruism. It also requires one to "walk the walk, not only talk the talk". The latter is stressed to the point where (as seen from Levy's account) people unable to comply were dismissed so promptly that it sounded unfair for even some of their own kind. Yet this is the root of Linus' Law and the hacker ethic reformulated by Himanen, as we see later on.

2. All information should be free.

This statement undoubtedly some roots in the time and space of original hackers. Back in those days, every computing cycle was a valuable resource, wasting it was an outright crime; therefore sharing the results to avoid duplicate work was vital. Also, in the isolated MIT and Stanford enclaves of the techno-elite of early hackers, there was no place for business – many projects had military undertones, the rest were just too specific to have any business thought attached.

Taking into account all the abovesaid, many critics of open approaches have dismissed the hacker model as something hippie and unpractical, able to survive only in the most protected enviroments. However, nowadays it is clear that the way of the hackers has strongly returned after two decades of lethargy - the maxim "All information should be free" had found a new life in the Internet. The Net became the global version of the historical hacker labs, allowing people from all over the world to collaborate in scales unseen before.

3. Mistrust authority – promote decentralization.

Levy writes: "The last thing you need is a bureaucracy. Bureaucracies, whether corporate, government, or university, are flawed systems, dangerous in that they cannot accommodate the exploratory pulse of true hackers. Bureaucrats hide behind arbitrary use (as opposed to the logical algorithms by which machines and computer programs operate): they invoke those rules to consolidate power, and perceive the constructive impulse of hackers as a threat."

Here it is important to point out that while the "mistrust authority" may sound a bit anarchist, it might not be the case (especially as seen below from the writings of Raymond and Himanen). We see that if anything, the hacker ethic stresses democracy here rather than anarchy – it fights the misuse of authority, not authority as such.

The other half of the maxim, "promote decentralization", complements the first half, adding a specific technological dimension. The original hackers viewed the large IBM computers to represent an alien to them attitude of corporate mindset – not only by their user base but also their internal structure which stressed strict following of predetermined routines, leaving no space to exploration. Interestingly, the subsequent history has proved the hackers right – decentralization has been a central feature of the Internet (and all network-based development) since its early days.

4. Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race, or position.

An almost classical statement of equality, this has actually been visible throughout the history of the hacker culture. Although the Jargon File (the printed form of which is known as the "New Hacker's Dictionary") in its Appendix B ("A Portrait of J. Random Hacker") mentions hackers to be "still predominantly male" and "in the U.S., hackerdom is predominantly Caucasian with strong minorities of Jews (East Coast) and Orientals (West Coast)", it also states that "female hackers are generally respected and dealt with as equals" and "racial and ethnic prejudice is notably uncommon and tends to be met with freezing contempt". Levy recalls Peter Deutsch who was accepted by MIT hackers as equal when only 12 while those with impressive formal credentials were not taken seriously until proving themselves worthy. Levy ínsists that the evaluation criteria of hackers were based on potential rather than 'superficial' personal traits. The Jargon File adds an interesting suggestion that the notable gender- and color-blindness of hackers comes from a positive effect of text-only network channels, where all participants are judged by the quality of their input, not their personal features.

5. You can create art and beauty on a computer.

While this statement seems to be obvious today, it was not so during the early days of computing. These 'counting machines' were often viewed as antithesis of art and creativity - capable of dull number-crunching but not something beautiful. Only later, when computers learned to paint, talk and make music, did it change. But the actual aesthetics in computing is probably much older than that.

Early hackers developed the aesthetic appreciation of the very program code, and while the aesthetics of programming has somewhat changed over time (e.g. in early days it was considered beautiful to keep a program as short as possible to minimise the number of needed instructions - nowadays it is considered more desirable to leave some 'air' into the program as well as comment it adequately), the phenomenon as such is well alive. The issue can also be linked to the overall appreciation of creativity. Besides more specific technical skills vital for a hacker, Raymond lists also the 'points of style' which have much to do with different aspects of aesthetics (master your mother tongue, learn to sing or play a musical instrument, enjoy science fiction and fantasy literature, study philosophies or martial arts, develop a good sense of wordplay) which again strongly relate to the original statement. Thus, contrary to the popular 'nerd' stereotype with no life outside the computers, real hackers can find beauty in outside world as well.

6. Computers can change your life for the better.

While Levy calls this principle only "subtly manifest" at the MIT hacker culture, it likely has always been there. Even if the early hackers had mostly only their own life enriched by computers, they laid the groundwork for the expansion that happened later (MIT hackers built a robot who played ping-pong, programmed the Spacewar which is generally considered the first computer game, were the first to study computer chess etc). And when the Internet and especially the Web appeared (which Raymond calls "the huge, shiny hacker toy"), the hacker way of doing things started to expand out of the academy.

The 90's: RMS, Linus, ESR and others

In 1991, inspired by a small Unix variant called Minix (and also Richard Stallman's GNU project), Linus Torvalds (then a student at the University of Helsinki) started a new operating system project which was soon labelled Linux. Some months after the start of his project, Torvalds changed his system's license to GPL, making it a suitable pickup for all disgruntled hackers who were discontent with the proprietary, closed systems of the day (especially Microsoft's DOS and Windows, but also Apple's MacOS and various commercial variants of Unix; Torvalds still considers the move as the most important step in Linux development). The system started to develop as a collaborative effort empowered by the widely spreading Internet. The hacker spirit came out of the academic enclaves where it had been forced by the proprietary model.

In 1994, Red Hat - the first large-scale commercial venture using open-source model - was formed. 1995 added a set of server technologies which made setting up an Internet server several times less expensive - collectively known as LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP/Perl/Python). In 1996-97, the new system got a pair of advanced graphical user interfaces in GNOME and KDE.

The new rise of the hacker culture was further boosted by writings of Eric S. Raymond. Especially The Cathedral and the Bazaar of 1997 had strong influences, outlining the community-based software development models and contributing to the public release of Mozilla browser's source code. While Raymond is a controversial figure in hacker culture, revered by some for his witty and well-written hacker antologies, he is also derided by others for his ego and strong opinions on things like firearms; some hackers belonging to the "free software" school of thought also blame him for "selling out" and giving up free software ethic to please business people. However, his writings as well as the Jargon File currently maintained by him have definitely contributed to the development of the 90s hacker culture.

Raymond's Hacker-HOWTO aka "How to become a hacker" is a very good formulation of the constructive hacker culture stemming from the MIT tradition (as opposed to the "dark side" depicted in the cult movie "Hackers" and the Hacker Crackdown by Bruce Sterling).

The Hacker HOWTO sets three main criteria for one to be legitimately called a hacker:

  • attitude - "Do you identify with the goals and values of the hacker community?"
  • skills - "Do you speak code, fluently?"
  • status - "Has a well-established member of the hacker community ever called you a hacker?"

All three are needed, as also explained below.

First, attitude points:

  1. "The world is full of fascinating problems waiting to be solved" - this sets the tone of creative optimism that stems from nearly all points of earlier ethic described by Levy.
  2. "No problem should ever have to be solved twice" - logically derived from the former: as problems are plentiful, there is no point in duplicating the work. This is the cornerstone of free and open-source software.
  3. "Boredom and drudgery are evil" - from the "mistrust authority" roots, but also based on practical notice that overly routine work is seldom fruitful.
  4. "Freedom is good" - the archetypal hacker tenet. In his commentary, Raymond explains: "This isn't the same as fighting all authority. Children need to be guided and criminals restrained. A hacker may agree to accept some kinds of authority in order to get something he wants more than the time he spends following orders. But that's a limited, conscious bargain; the kind of personal surrender authoritarians want is not on offer.
  5. "Attitude is no substitute for competence" - a cool restatement of Levy's point on evaluating hackers. No trait is more important than real skills.

Which leads us to the basic hacking skills:

  1. "Learn how to program" - simple enough. Hackers are rooted into the computer culture and while they do recognize fellow souls from other fields (e.g. astronomy hackers), programming is still the core skill. Yet in today's world, methods similar to programming can also be used in other fields as well (e.g. one could develop online learning materials "in hacker way").
  2. "Get one of the open-source Unixes and learn to use and run it" - another directly computer-oriented skill, which has equal amounts of technical (allowing more intimate knowledge on inner workings) as well as ideological (no EULAs and other stupid obstacles). But again, using free environments and tools could nowadays also be interpreted in a wider context (maybe an example could be conscious preference of free texts and materials instead of DRM-laden IPR-governed things).
  3. "Learn how to use the World Wide Web and write HTML" - from the very beginning, the Web has been a combination of three distinct areas of competence: a) technical (HTML, web server configuration), b) design (visual impression) and c) content (what information is conveyed), all three being equally important. Thus the Web demanded different skills - and actually still does. While the page creation has been simplified and the circle of web authors has widened, the same points apply. And this is another place where the hacker mindset reaches the outsiders.
  4. "If you don't have functional English, learn it" - while Raymond admits this to be somewhat uneasy (not to be taken as cultural imperialism), hackers of different ethnicities tend to communicate in English. And regardless of the wider breakthrough of native material in recent years, English still rules the Internet. So even here, the hacker point can be at least understood.

And finally status:

  1. "Write open-source software" - Raymond as "open-source" schooler users this term while others would call it "free software", but the point is the same. The most revere people in hacker world are creators of something big and useful. The reward can be self-realisation (Tom Pittman from the Homebrew Computer Club of early days: "In that instant, I as a Christian thought I could feel something of the satisfaction that God must have felt when He created the world"), but even more importantly, it is the respect and admiration from others. Plus, the respect will more than often translate into real money - a well-established, popular expert is desired by many employers which will skyrocket his personal value in labour market.
  2. "Help test and debug open-source software" - everyone cannot be the captain: a ship needs seamen too. People who have long careers working on hacker projects, even in side positions, will get their share of reputation as well.
  3. "Publish useful information" - this point is important due to a perceived major weakness of hacker personality - expressive skills. Not all programming gurus can guide others or write manuals. Therefore, the people who are able to convey ideas to others (especially non-hackers) are highly valued.
  4. "Help keep the infrastructure working" - the unthankful jobs of maintenance and similar are not so unthankful. Again, only select people in this culture are willing and well able to handle routine. These people are valuable.
  5. "Serve the hacker culture itself" - another kind of expressive work that non-hackers may call "marketing", "promotion" or even "propaganda". It may involve legal disputes (e.g. fighting obnoxious patents from large corporations), training or other work with people. Not all hackers qualify, and those who do, are kept in high esteem.

Finally, Raymond enlists some "points for style":

  • "Learn to write your native language well" - in today's world this is probably moving towards core skills. Writing well-formed and meaningful text off- or online is an important treat. And contrary to some stereotypes, most hackers are actually good writers.
  • "Read science fiction and go to science fiction conventions" - fantasy is closely related to creativity. Exercising one's fantasy will often result in creative solutions "in real life".
  • "Train in a martial-arts form" - the keywords are mental discipline, relaxed awareness, and control which will mirror in one's ability to focus on a hacking task.
  • "Study an actual meditation discipline" - while Raymond focuses only on mental discipline, it should be noticed that a significant share of hackers follow either a religion or a defined philosophy.
  • "Learn to appreciate music, to play some musical instrument or to sing" - both the aspects of mental discipline (music was considered a part of mathematics in ancient Greece) and creativity.
  • "Develop your appreciation of puns and wordplay" - this is a part of classic "playful cleverness" (along with aspects from previous points).

Hacker motivation: the Linus' Law

The hacker-minded ideas of free and open-source software (as well as free content in general) has been generating questions about their motivation for decades already. While the original MIT hacker community largely fell apart under the onslaught of business, the mindset did not disappear. When Richard Stallman started his GNU project in 1984, it was labelled by many as a fruitless dream of a hippie hacker. However, after the launch of Linux in 1991 the snowball started to roll downhill, gaining both speed and size. What is the motivation of thousands of people behind Linux and other free software projects? Or to pick a non-software project, why do people write to Wikipedia (from October 2002 to October 2006, the content of Wikipedia was doubled in every 345 days, i.e. less than a year)?

Linus Torvalds, writes in his prologue to Pekka Himanen's Hacker Ethic: "Linus' Law says that all of our motivations fall into three basic categories. More important, progress is about going through those very same things as 'phases' in a process of evolution, a matter of passing from one category to the next. The categories, in order, are 'survival', 'social life', and 'entertainment'".

While the concept is somewhat similar to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, it is not meant as a scientific theory, rather a general principle with some notable exceptions. For example, Torvalds asks the question: "What are people ready to die for?" - and agrees that both social life and even entertainment can pass survival in some cases (people are willing to die for their country, religion and families, and the modern extreme sports fanatics are willing to risk death just to fight boredom). Yet as a whole, the general assumption has a lot of supporting cases (good examples include Japanese Emperor Akihito and Steve Wozniak's formula H=F3).

Hackers of the new millennium

The new millennium brought along many interesting developments - not only in software (, Ubuntu Linux) but even more the extension of the hacker model into other fields. A good example is Wikipedia, a community-built, freely editable encyclopedia. There are music companies based on open models ( as well as publishers ( In 2001 MIT, the original home of the hackers, launched the OpenCourseWare initiative to provide free access to learning materials. The hacker ethic as well as general hacker mindset keeps going strong into the XXI century - and doing things 'the hacker way' will be found suitable for far wider population than the original hackers, to the level that various thinkers from social sciences, philosophy and economics have started to ponder the phenomenon.

Pekka Himanen in his Hacker Ethic has proposed that the hacker ways are in fact a new 'step up' from Weber's classical Protestant work ethics, just as the latter was a step up from the older pre-Protestant attitudes. To illustrate this, he quotes the seven values that are evident in today's capitalist society: money, work, flexibility, goal orientation, result accountability, optimality and stability (these are actually worded a bit differently than Max Weber's original seven, but the summary idea is quite the same). Himanen then goes on to define the new 'seven' which should shape the Information Age:

  • passion – hackers are moved by their intrinsic creative push that motivates them to explore, create and adapt, and rewards them with joy. Hackers view their work as an elaborate hobby - as testified by Linus Torvalds saying: "Linux has very much been a hobby (but a serious one: the best type)". An even better example is Tom Pittman quoted above.
  • freedom – the 'playful cleverness' again: it means that instead of rigid 'optimisation' of time and outcomes, the best results are born out of necessity and creative exploration.
  • (hacker) work ethic - one of the interesting metaphors used by Himanen is the one of monastery vs academy. According to him, typical Protestant work ethic derives from monastery with a set of fixed rules, written or not. On the contrary, the hacker ethic is a descendant (in a way) of Plato's Academy, where the truth was born in debates. Just like some MIT hackers famous of their irregular lifestyles were able to display supreme results, the hacker work ethic is not so much concerned with the form than with the essence.
  • (hacker) money ethic - hackers tend to view money as a means to something more valuable, not as a value per se. Therefore, it is acceptable for them to dedicate some time for accumulation of enough resources, after which it is possible to turn to something more interesting (a good example is Steve Wozniak discussed above). In other cases, hackers have chosen smaller immediate profits while ensuring the broadest possible audience. While sounding idealistic, many central things of today's infrastructure would have been impossible without this kind of ethic -a good example is Timothy Berners-Lee who refused to patent his invention of Web technology in 1991. Likewise, Linus Torvalds chose a free license for his Linux. In both cases, a rapid spread of technology followed, which among other things granted both inventors good financial standing as well.
  • (hacker) network ethic (also called nethic) - hackers promote freedom of word and thought and resist censorship in all its forms. Nethic also materialises as online social norms (netiquette or network etiquette). This point is the direct descendant of the original "promote decentralization".
  • caring - Himanen uses a metaphor of sports car driver who cannot afford looking around or enjoying the nice weather - all his energy and concentration goes into keeping thecar onto the road. Himanen boldly states that starting from a certain "speed", there can be no more ethic. He presents the readers an awkward question asked by hackers: "Why do you need that much money?"
  • creativity - this is returning to the hacker roots. From the very first students getting their hands on MIT's TX-0, this has been a major tenet of hackers. And in today's networked society, its importance will ever increase.

Finally, Himanen uses Friday and Sunday metaphors to convey a major point. Friday as the day of crucifixion of Jesus Christ has had somewhat a tainted image in Christian tradition. On the contrary, Sunday is the holy day (in Estonian language, the literal meaning of pühapäev is really 'sacred day'!), a day for rest, worship and reflection. But even the most ordinary people probably know it too - more than often, working on Friday means a day of yearning for weekend. And Himanen asks the reader: is your life a Friday or a Sunday?

Final words

The hacker culture and hacker ethic do have respectable roots in history. Starting out as the mindset of a dedicated techno-elite, surviving the end-of-century onslaught of proprietary models and reappearing again in the new millennium with a wide array of new ideas and possibilities, the hacker ethos has recently caught the attention of many who are searching for ways towards better future (from sociologists and political scientists to economists and technologists) - as it may be the thinking model that our networked society really needs.


  • Himanen, Pekka. Hacker Ethic. New York: Penguin Books, 2002
  • Levy, Steven. Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. Updated edition. New York: Penguin Press, 2001
  • Lessig, Lawrence. Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity. New York: Penguin Press 2004