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The hacker culture is the voluntary subculture established between and around hackers. There are two mainstream subcultures within the larger hacker subculture. Early hacker culture was highlighted in the book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy.
The academic hacker subculture developed in the 1960s among hackers working on early minicomputers in academic computer science environments, especially at MIT. After 1969 it fused with the technical culture of the pioneers of the Internet, after 1980 with the culture of Unix, and after 1987 with elements of the early microcomputer hobbyists. Since the mid-1990s, it has been largely coincident with what is now called the free software movement.
While some claim origins related to radio amateurs in 1920s (in the context of phreaking), the hobby and network hacker subculture primarily developed in the 1960s. It is often implicated with 2600: The Hacker Quarterly and the alt.2600 newsgroup. There are also relations to hobbyist home computing of the early 80s; however, contrary to the academic hacker subculture, such links are mostly by way of commercial computer and video games, software cracking and later the demoscene.
There are overlaps in ideas and members of both subcultures. The main break between them is most often traced to the 1983 mass media coverage of hackers which failed to distinguish between the two aspects of the wider subculture. Since that time, members of the first subculture have a tendency to look down and disassociate from these overlaps. They often refer disparagingly to people in the second subculture as crackers, and often refuse to accept any definition of hacker that encompasses such activities (see the Hacker definition controversy). The second subculture on the other hand tends not to distinguish between the two subcultures as harshly, instead acknowledging that they have much in common including many members, political and social ideologies, and a love of learning about technology. They have more a tendency to categorize people into script kiddies and black hat (for which two groups the second subculture reserves the term cracker), grey hat and white hat hackers. They also sometimes refer to the first subculture as conservative hackers; however, this term is rarely used or taken seriously outside of the influence of the second hacker subculture.
Before communications between computers and computer users was as networked as it is now, there were multiple independent and parallel hacker subcultures, often unaware or only partially aware of each others' existence. All of these had certain important traits in common:
- placing a high value on freedom of inquiry; hostility to secrecy
- information-sharing as both an ideal and a practical strategy
- upholding the right to fork
- emphasis on rationality
- distaste for authority
- playfulness, taking the serious humorously and their humor seriously
These sorts of subcultures were commonly found at academic settings such as college campuses. The MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the University of California, Berkeley and Carnegie Mellon University were particularly well-known hotbeds of early hacker culture. They evolved in parallel, and largely unconsciously, until the Internet and other developments such as the rise of the free software movement drew together a critically large population and encouraged the spread of a conscious, common, and systematic ethos. Symptomatic of this evolution was an increasing adoption of common slang and a shared view of history, similar to the way in which other occupational groups have professionalized themselves but without the formal credentialling process characteristic of most professional groups.
Over time, the academic hacker subculture has tended to become more conscious, more cohesive, and better organized. The most important consciousness-raising moments have included the composition of the first Jargon File in 1973, the promulgation of the GNU Manifesto in 1985, and the publication of The Cathedral and the Bazaar in 1997. Correlated with this has been the gradual election of a set of shared culture heroes: Bill Joy, Donald Knuth, Dennis Ritchie, Alan Kay, Ken Thompson, Richard M. Stallman, Linus Torvalds, and Larry Wall, among others.
The concentration of academic hacker subculture has paralleled and partly been driven by the commoditization of computer and networking technology, and has in turn accelerated that process. In 1975, hackerdom was scattered across several different families of operating systems and disparate networks; today it is largely a Unix and TCP/IP phenomenon, and is concentrated around various open-source operating systems.
Artifacts and customs
The academic hacker subculture is defined by shared work and play focused around central artifacts. Some of these artifacts are very large; the Internet itself, the World Wide Web, the GNU project, and the Linux operating system are all hacker creations, works of which the subculture considers itself primary custodian.
Since 1990, the academic hacker subculture has developed a rich range of symbols that serve as recognition symbols and reinforce its group identity. Tux, the Linux penguin, the BSD Daemon, and the Perl Camel stand out as examples. More recently, the use of the glider structure from Conway's Game of Life as a general Hacker Emblem has been proposed by Eric S. Raymond. All of these routinely adorn T-shirts, mugs, and other paraphernalia.
Notably, the academic hacker subculture appears to have exactly one annual ceremonial day—April Fool's. There is a long tradition of perpetrating elaborate jokes, hoaxes, pranks and fake websites on this date. This is so well established that hackers look forward every year to the publication of the annual joke RFC, and one is invariably produced.
The Jargon File has had a special role in acculturating hackers since its origins in the early 1970s. Many textbooks and some literary works shaped the academic hacker subculture, among the most influential are:
- Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution
- Hackers & Painters
- Gödel, Escher, Bach
- The Art of Computer Programming
- Compilers: Principles, Techniques, and Tools
- Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs
- The C Programming Language
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
- The Tao of Programming
- Principia Discordia
- The Mythical Man-Month
- The Soul of a New Machine
- The Cuckoo's Egg
- The Unix System
Hobby and network hacking
The hobby and network hacker subculture is focused around the computer games industry and the exploitation of computer security. It is often referred to as the computer underground. According to its adherents, it centers around the idea of creative and extraordinary computer usage. Their main points of interest in practice are circumvention of access restriction measures in any thinkable manner and exceptional computer programming, the latter having lead to the partly separate demo scene. As such it consists largely of computer security hackers. Proponents claim to be motivated by artistic and political ends, but are often unconcerned about the use of criminal means to achieve them.
The hobby and networking scene has historical roots in the early phone phreaks of the 1970s and the microcomputer BBS scene of the 1980s. It has a close relation to the 2600: The Hacker Quarterly.
Artifacts and customs
Contrary to the academic hacker subculture, hobby and networking hackers have no inherently close connection to the academic world. They have a tendency to work anonymously and in private. It is common among them to use aliases for the purpose of concealing identity, rather than revealing their real names. This practice is uncommon within and even frowned upon by the academic hacker subculture. Members of the hobby and network hacking scene are often being stereotypically described as crackers by the academic hacker subculture, yet see themselves as hackers and even try include academic hackers in what they see as one wider hacker culture, a view harshly rejected by the academic hacker subculture itself. Instead of a hacker–cracker dichotomy, they give more emphasis to a spectrum of different categories, such as white hat, grey hat, black hat and script kiddie. In contrast to the academic hackers, they usually reserve the term cracker to refer to black hat hackers, or more generally hackers with unlawful intentions.
The hobby and network hacking subculture is supported by regular gatherings, so called cons. These have drawn more and more people every year including SummerCon (Summer), DEF CON, HoHoCon (Christmas), PumpCon (Halloween), H.O.P.E. (Hackers on Planet Earth) and HEU (Hacking at the End of the Universe). They have helped expand the definition and solidify the importance of the hobby and network hacker subculture. In Germany, members of the subculture are organized mainly around the Chaos Computer Club.
The subculture has given birth to what its members consider to be novel forms of art, most notably ascii art. It has also produced its own slang and various forms of unusual alphabet use, for example leetspeak. Both things are usually seen as an especially silly aspect by the academic hacker subculture. In part due to this, the slangs of the two subcultures differ substantially. Political attitude usually includes views for freedom of information, freedom of speech, a right for anonymity and most have a strong opposition against copyright, especially digital rights management. Writing programs and performing other activities to support these views is referred to as hacktivism by the subculture. Some go as far as seeing illegal computer cracking ethically justified for this goal; the most common form is website defacement.
Hackers from the hobby and network hacking subculture often show an adherence to fictional cyberpunk and cyberculture literature and movies. Widely recognized works include:
- Hackers (short stories)
- The Hacker Crackdown
- sprawl trilogy
- The Matrix
Absorption of fictional pseudonymes, symbols, values and metaphors from these fictional works are very common. A non-fictional document many members of the subculture identify with is the Hacker's Manifesto.
- Ethical Hacking Blog
- Hacker WarGames
- A Brief History of Hackerdom - more depth on the history of hackerdom
- How To Become a Hacker, by Eric S. Raymond, an adherent to the academic hacker subculture.
- Voices in My Head - MindVox: The Overture by Patrick Kroupa
- Hacking in 17 easy steps, by Doug Mclean, an adherent to the hobby and networking hacker subculture
- Hacker culture(s)
- Defining Hacking Culture and Its Potential as Resistance
- White Hat, Black Hat, Grey Hat links
- Original Jargon File
- Hacker ethic
- Hack value
- Free software movement
- Open source movement
- Quantum bogodynamics