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The Hacker Ethic


The Hacker Ethic


most of us it's an indisputable fact of life: You gotta work.
Unless you're born into money, it's a solid bet that at least five
days a week you spend at least a third of your day doing something
that results in a paycheck. And it's just as solid a bet that you
spend a good deal of the rest of your time either preparing for
work or recuperating from it. It's the trade-off most of us learned
to make when we first realized that at some point mom and dad were
going to stop paying for everything: You do what you HAVE to do in
order to do what you WANT to do.
Somewhere only a few steps back along civilization's path of
progress we accepted the notion that what we have to do and what we
want to do are mutually exclusive concepts. Fortunately, we didn't
stop at that point in the path, and that's exactly what Pekka
Himanen's THE HACKER ETHIC is about.
There have been computer programmers since shortly after the
first electronic computer was built in 1946. But it has only been
in the last decade that the term "hacker" has entered the popular
lexicon. The image is that of a pale, skinny geek in taped glasses,
banging happily away on a computer keyboard. Lately the term is
most often used in reference to computer renegades who use their
skills to steal everything from government secrets to credit card
numbers --- often simply to demonstrate that it can be
Himanen points out, those renegades are "Crackers," and are but a
small element of the larger Hacker culture. But the Cracker and the
Hacker share an obvious enthusiasm for computer technology and a
zeal for devoting hour after hour to mastering that technology and
bending it to their will. It's what they do for fun. That's a key
concept of the hacker ethic: fun. In a nutshell, hackers have
managed to combine what they have to do with what they want to do,
and in the process they've not only triggered a technological
revolution but also created a model for work from which we can all
Internet as we know it today is a product of Hacker culture.
Originally created three decades ago under the auspices of the
Department of Defense as a kind of glorified telegraph system for
scientists and military brass, the Internet has been transformed by
the efforts of hackers into the thriving and dynamic public medium
it is today. More often than not, their motivation was simply to
create tools to make better use of the Net --- to make the Net more
fun, and along the way garner the respect of their
While profit was not a major motivation, many hackers did quite
well. And given the spirit of creativity and innovation that fuels
hackerism, making a living in a world that is increasingly driven
by technology will not pose much of a challenge.
there's more to THE HACKER ETHIC than the "do what you love and the
money will follow" mantra. Himanen's small but thorough book offers
a compelling new paradigm for how each of us can relate to the work
we do. It's a paradigm that is already redefining the nature of our
communities, our society and our economy. The world is changing,
and THE HACKER ETHIC offers a better understanding of the changes.
For that reason alone it's an important book.

Reviewed by Bob Rhubart on January 22, 2011

The Hacker Ethic

  • Publication Date: January 30, 2001
  • Genres: Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Random House
  • ISBN-10: 0375505660
  • ISBN-13: 9780375505669