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How yuppies hacked the hacker ethos (aeon.co)
291 points by edward on Aug 10, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 213 comments



I suspect that the author has read Derrida. He's obsessing on the meaning of a word and following semi-random threads trying to deconstruct it. That's classic Derrida. That approach doesn't solve any problems, but it's a useful way to generate papers. If you read some Derrida, you too can learn to generate blithering of that type.

As for yuppies vs. hackers, it helps to go back further, to understand how hippies morphed into yuppies. Hippies were mostly self-indulgent types who spouted bogus philosophy to justify their existence. Yuppies are mostly self-indulgent types who spout bogus philosophy to justify their existence. Stewart Brand, of Whole Earth Catalog fame, led the transition from hippie to yuppie, from the commune to the "lifestyle industry", from growing your own food to Whole Foods.

What happened to the hacker ethos was the absorption of computing into the advertising industry. The hacker ethos survived the Microsoft era, but not the Google era. Microsoft was about tools, which was consistent with the hacker ethos. Google is about ad clicks, and its success created a whole industry focused on ads and user exploitation, not tools for user empowerment. That's what destroyed hacker culture.


I don't think the article is saying that hacker culture is dead, just that the term is being misappropriated (again), but this time not from media referencing criminal acts correlated in any way with computers, but with capitalism trying to make big bucks out of computers (as you said, mostly the ad industry).

It's telling that a place where products that ought to make money are showed and discussed on a place called Hacker News, and that earnest attemtps at hacks-for-the-sake-of-it are usually met here with at least 4-5 commenters asking "What's the point of this? It's not profitable.'

But the hacker culture is alive and well. Take for example the TOR project, GNU, the EFF. They don't seem to be out for a buck, at least in my view.


> But the hacker culture is alive and well. Take for example the TOR project, GNU, the EFF. They don't seem to be out for a buck, at least in my view.

Depends on how you define "buck". The Free Software Foundation and Electronic Frontier Foundation both have explicit agendas and goals that they wish to be promoted.

In terms of DnD-style character alignments, folks like the EFF and FSF can be characterized as "chaotic/neutral good", whereas the hacker ethos is closer to "chaotic neutral". The article's Wikileaks and Anonymous both lean chaotic good/evil (depending on perspective). TOR is closer to that "chaotic neutral".

The differences among hackerdom, Valleydom, and crackerdom lie in these alignment deviations, too. Valleydom swings hard-lawful, while crackerdom tends to swing too far in either direction on the good/evil spectrum for it to really fall into the realm of hackerdom (which tends toward neutrality). The cases where crackerdom and hackerdom overlap (including the cases that the article describes, like "Cap'n Crunch") tend to share that "chaotic neutral" alignment; the differences between a grey-hat cracker and a hacker are often nonexistent in this particular sense (though differences may arise based on ingenuity; for example, a grey-hat cracker might not be a hacker if one relies heavily on existing information (i.e. a "script kiddie") instead of seeking to discover new things for oneself).


He's not really deconstructing the word hacker in the sort of semiotic tradition that Derrida did in that he doesn't seem too concerned with what "hacker" itself actually means (or what meaning even is, etc), more so who has interest in redefining it in the way that it has been over the past 30 years.

For what it's worth, I think a similar study of the flattening of hippy culture into a one-dimensional caricature, could be quite relevant. A counter-cultural segment is stripped of elements critical of the mainstream and repackaged, undermining the validity of the original movement.

That said I think the author does sort of mix and match between the mainstreamification of a counter-culture for profit and the role technology plays in extracting huge amounts of wealth from the reformation of commerce and funneling it into the hands of relatively few.


What happened to the hacker ethos was the absorption of computing into the advertising industry. The hacker ethos survived the Microsoft era, but not the Google era. Microsoft was about tools, which was consistent with the hacker ethos. Google is about ad clicks, and its success created a whole industry focused on ads and user exploitation, not tools for user empowerment. That's what destroyed hacker culture.

I love this paragraph--I think you nailed it. Netheads and bellheads.


Yikes well, I don't think the hacker ethos has changed muched regardless of google's presence on the internet. I do think the world wide web has been comprimised to the likes of global corporations and avarice, but not the internet as a medium, and not the mentality behind being subversive, rooting for the underdog, and manipulating the rules to work against the bureaucracy.


Re: Ham radio. It goes back further than living memory, to telegraph operators. They also used morse. And I have the impression that some aspects of unix terminals derive from those days... Edison grew up in those times, commercializing as much as he could. Yet hackers continued, as they do today.

Though perhaps we've reached the end of the road with communications - the interconnected net of networks seems all encompassing, like globalization and the end of history. Can there be any new, technically difficult means of communication?


* transmission of qubits

* technology-mediated telepathy

* darknets

* internet-of-things

* space internet

* network communication to support pervasive augmented reality

* various new forms of symbolic communication supporting collaborative cognition (eg argument mapping in a way that allows a community to have a debate without any individual participant understanding all the details of either side; eg systems for an online community to speak in real-time through a human representative via voting on what the rep is to say)

* various new forms of technology-enabled language (eg going to a party and seeing a person talking and as they talk, around them appears various projected icons offering nuance, more information, or structured conversational protocol information regulating eg turn-taking; eg a form of language in which neither human understands all of the words they use, but in which both are using a computer assistant in the manner of computer-assisted chess)

* lowtech versions of advanced communications protocols, practiced by survivalists in case of an apocalypse and/or by people who want privacy from online surveillance (not that this would help unless there is no IRL surveillance in the vicinity), eg human-mediated blockchains, eg sneakernet message routing (eg Pynchon's Crying of Lot 39's Trystero), eg encryption by hand. And then variants of these which can interoperable with the electronic/high-tech versions.

* communication mediated by networks of AIs that dynamically modify/invent new communications protocols

Doubtful that all of those will be feasible/useful but probably some of them will be. I imagine that most of these will be difficult to use, at least at first.


> Can there be any new, technically difficult means of communication?

I'm assuming you meant "technically different"?

Either way: I can't think of any, but given the last few millenia of progress, it seems unlikely that we've reached the peak.


No, technically difficult. Otherwise, hackers are overrun by everyone else. Telegraph, ham radio, early computers were all technically difficult. Although new modes of communication are still coming - eg twitter, vine - they aren't technically difficult to use.


I guess there can be means of communication that are technically different at any one point in time.


When I realized that the kids of the old money elite began to see Silicon Valley, not Wall Street, as the means to big money, I decided I could never go back.

The elitists came to Northern California - a vanguard of social liberalism, student protest, and most importantly communitarianism - and brought their elitism with them.

Northern California still exists in the nostalgic hippie image of the 60s, but it's compartmentalised, like the Dropbox brogrammers elbowing out kids at a playground. Public spaces increasingly become private in the name of profit.

Over time, the feel of free love will fade away entirely in the Bay Area. Everyone interesting who isn't a millionaire will be pushed to the margins, and eventually, more welcoming spaces, like Detroit. I implore the tech elite of Silicon Valley to consider a future where an expensive tech-centered monoculture makes the Bay Area an unattractive location for long-term employees, and instead relying on mercenary college grads who put up with the cost and the crazy for a few years before moving on to a more fulfilling job and place to call home.


If you're a big landowner or cattle baron in the Not So Old West, gunslingers are a fungible commodity in steady supply.

I mean - who was Leland Stanford, anyway? Railroad baron. Similar deal.

This IS normal for America, from the Mississippi Bubble onward.

If there is a 'hacker ethic', it's a variation on ham radio, maintaining your own vehicle ala John Muir, the Unix philosophy and possibly DOS using int21 calls. That's not a complete list.

I knew of much more Hacker Ethic in the people who went through the Depression and WWII. They were Maintainers, the sworn enemy of the dread lord Entropy. I worked for one; he used a 40 horse Ford tractor to move these giant sandstone rocks - hydraulics popping like doom; stand carefully - to build these phenomenal, beautiful houses of native materials. The houses looked a bit like Frank Lloyd Wright houses.

What came later is a caricature of this; college kids who'd read about Emma Goldman, or read Jack Kerouac, or Richard Farina, or...

The counterculture per se got coopted long ago. "Everybody in this room is wearing a uniform, don't kid yourself." - Frank Zappa.


All countercultures get coopted. "Counter" is a dynamic thing. I understand the nostalgia, but this is the same old "get off my lawn" stuff that all old punks/goths/hackers/hippies/whatever write 20 years after their heyday.


I wouldn't say it gets coopted. I'd say it has historically gotten appropriated, and then the public has been too ignorant to tell the difference.

(Either through the unwillingness or incompetence of any of the original disciples to popularize the true meaning, or simple giving way beneath ever better funded commercial interests)


> I wouldn't say it gets coopted. I'd say it has historically gotten appropriated, and then the public has been too ignorant to tell the difference.

That's exactly what coopting is. See definition 2b here:

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/co-opt


http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/appropriating

I'm quibbling over words too. But the difference to me is that the problem is not that "hacking" (or "hippie culture", "patriot", "environmentalism", or "American") gets used in a context at odds with what its founders would espouse.

It's that a lot of times that secondary (historically speaking) definition then becomes the dominant definition in the public's mind. Whatever mutually exclusive word for that is the one I want to use.

Because, ultimately, it doesn't matter a rat's ass if my local LUG knows the more positive definition of a hacker, if a geeky 8-year old with a penchant for figuring out interesting things to do with computers is surrounded by exposure (news, adults, school, popular media) to the negative definition.


Completely agree. There's currently a Kickstarter to build a wall around SF to keep the Burners from coming back after Burning Man. Frankly, though, my first thought upon seeing it was "Geez, the Burners are the only people left in SF who are really SF-ish and weird anymore.

SF has changed. It's becoming Manhattan West.


Honestly I see Burning Man as a sorta weird expression of the same elitism, except in this norcal style. Rather then these tech/artists/trustafarians/whatever investing their energy into arts and music in public spaces in the Bay Area they work year round to build a completely inaccessible community hundreds of miles away and light it on fire. Nothing more indulgent than that in my opinion.

I have mixed feelings about it...my burner friends (most are techies) do some incredibly weird and impressive things as part of Burning Man but why can't some of that happen right here in the Bay for everyone.


> why can't some of that happen right here in the Bay for everyone.

Because then all of the people that protest things like high-rise apartments, and Google shuttle buses will show up to protest that too.


I'm not advocating a protest...I'm advocating that us techies should focus our extra energy for creative activities locally and share the, rather than keep them exclusive with this desert party.

All these well known famous tech founders such as the FB guys or Larry and Sergey are big burners and certainly participate in arts there but are nowhere to be found right here in SF/Oakland. Same can be said about my peers sadly.


The grandparent is saying that the other residents of San Francisco who have no interest in going to Burning Man and protest stuff like Google buses would protest the art as well, whether it is in the form of an actual public protest or by opposing permits/funding at the local politics level. Especially when it comes to Burning Man art, one man's master piece is another's unnecessary traffic jam.

Many, if not the majority of the most interesting, art pieces can't even be safely installed or operated (yes, operated in the case of art cars) anywhere near a suburban or urban environment. Where else can you build several climbable three to five story buildings with labels like "Bank of Unamerica" and "Goldman Suchs" [1] just to destroy them in a blaze of glory more symbolic than the art itself? Where else can you drive around a giant party boat [2], explore a sunken pirate ship buried in the playa [3], or watch action movie style explosions light a giant effigy on fire [3]?

If you've ever seen the LED lights lining the Bay Bridge a few years ago, that was an art project costing in the same ballpark as some of the most impressive Burning Man art (i.e., like the dancing lady now found on Treasure Island) and took several years to get properly off the ground with all of the local politics involved in installing something on a major landmark.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KPrLgWHMF0

[2] http://static01.nyt.com/images/2014/08/21/fashion/21DISRUPT1...

[3] http://blog.burningman.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/pier2_...

[4] https://c2.staticflickr.com/8/7414/10302625835_f9a0f51bef_b....


Wow, how about:

http://abc7news.com/technology/naked-sculpture-in-san-leandr... http://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g60713-d1... https://thebaylights.org/

Not to mention countless parties, maker spaces, artist spaces, (eg: american steel), and many other space which are all very open to newcomers and hold a lot of parties and host and support all sorts of arts.

As for the indulgence of burning man, put in a certain way, anything but work seems like an indulgence. So you're going on a cruise? Putting all that fuel oil into a remote inaccessible place and slowly lighting it on fire? Or a road trip - really, burning all that petrol?

As for _my_ burner friends, most of them are NOT "techies".


There are some strange contradictions here. There's a huge overlap between burning man culture and tech culture. Part of the sentiment against burning man is because of this. The world may not be as simple as you think.


Yes, there is a lot of overlap. But there used to be, too. Burning Man was the place where the weird and the tech came together.

These days, with $600+ tickets, it is just a rich kids place to go. But there are still all those warehouses full of weirdos that burn and remain in the Bay Area. Just because Burning Man is now frequented by rich frat people doesn't make it too much less weird and anti-puritanical, the way the SF Bay Area used to be.


Your comment sounds like it could have been written by someone who had never been to Burning Man. There's kind of an idealization at play in your comment, almost a "noble savage" thing. Ticket prices have increased $190 in the past 15 years. The $10-$20 yearly ticket price increase is pretty insignificant next to what people pay for costumes, art, etc. You're going to one of the least hospitable places on earth, bringing in all food and water, bringing a bunch of art and electronics, then setting it all on fire. It's never been a particularly inexpensive undertaking. I remember being a broke kid in a soma warehouse and having to sell my ticket for rent money and being really bummed. Now I program computers and have money to spend on art to bring to burning man. I'm still the same person.


> I'm still the same person.

Are you, though? What would your younger, broker (perhaps more idealistic?) self think if they met modern-day wealthy-you? Would they like you? Everyone changes as they age. For most people, they become some variations of more mature, more cynical, more conservative, and more set in their ways.


There is certain irony in a group of people who favor open borders, open and anarchist societies, ect, trying to erect physical, social, and "legal" barriers to keep undesirable people out.


Okay except it's clearly a huge joke, and refers to Burning Man principles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=159&v=PO_r6ndZRZY


> SF has changed. It's becoming Manhattan West.

That feels about right. Except that it's nowhere near as tall.


There's a peculiar phrasing of this statement. Would you happen to originally be from the Pittsburgh area?

We're dealing with a similar phenomenon here. We have a lot of Colleges and Universities and big money is coming in and heavily recruiting people. Instead of a large number of start-ups, we have a culture that favors going straight to work for big businesses.


> SF has changed. It's becoming Manhattan West.

Just in time for Manhattan to try to become Brooklyn West.


No, Manhattan is becoming Mall of America East.


“America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.”

So now we just have New Francisco, and a half-bulldozed New Orleans?


You inspired me to look up the origin of that quote, which was actually quite an interesting (albeit inconclusive) investigation; see http://quoteinvestigator.com/2015/06/18/cleveland/


I'd always heard Tennessee Williams, but impressive due diligence. It's interesting that Cleveland only gets tacked on as the butt of the quip when it has problems and white-flight in the mid-1970s.


It's not a Kickstarter, it's a parody. You're right about the sentiment, though.


I dunno, building a wall around SF sounds pretty SF-ish and weird to me.


"and most importantly communitarianism"

Regardless of your definition of a hacker, hacker culture was born out of interaction. It's sharing of information and exploring together that made programmers, hobbyists and tinkerers into hackers. I think one thing that makes "hackerdom" so easily distorted is that people don't look at what actually happened. It's quite illustrative how the article, in it's first paragraph, gets the story wrong. Which no one seems to have commented on so far.

From the article: "A young Air Force serviceman named John Draper – aka Captain Crunch – discovered that he could manipulate the rules of tone-dialling systems by using children’s whistles found in Cap’n Crunch cereal boxes."

From Wikipedia: "While Draper was driving around in his Volkswagen Microbus to test a pirate radio transmitter he had built, he broadcast a telephone number to listeners as feedback to gauge his station's reception. A callback from a "Denny" resulted in a meeting that caused him to blunder into the world of the phone phreaks. [...] A blind boy who had taken the moniker of Joybubbles had perfect pitch and was able to identify the exact frequencies. They informed him that a toy whistle that was, at the time, packaged in boxes of Cap'n Crunch cereal could emit a tone at precisely 2600 hertz—the same frequency that was used by AT&T long lines to indicate that a trunk line was ready and available to route a new call."


After grad school I moved to NYC, and your description was apt there: a place for millionaires or a sea of fresh graduates who'd willingly or unwillingly have to move on after a couple years.

After three years I moved to SF, but in terms of cost and general atmosphere it's starting to feel more and more like the population is being split between the same two groups as I saw in NYC.


Kind of funny you mention Detroit. My in-laws just moved out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I mentioned to them the edgy art studios around when they moved into Brooklyn. Their comment was that the artists have been moving to Detroit for several years because the gentrification in Williamsburg makes it impossible for them to live.

From everything I've been reading, Detroit has become THE place to live now if you like more edgy, but affordable, neighborhoods.

(EDIT: grammar)


Portland, Denver, Nashville, Seattle (less so), even Boise are starting to take up that old mantel. I agree though, SF is now the gold rush town stultified by takes and not givers. Other commenters mention the Burn and that some SFers want the Burners gone, a mystery to a Bay Area native that left. I guess things really have changed there. The Burn was all about participation, not gawking, but recent Burns have seen that change into entertainment that you are not acting in as well as viewing. It seems that SF became the same as we see in the Castro. Oh well, I'll take my Rocky Mountains then.


Denverite I take it? I just moved there. I like it but really miss a lot of the west coast 'feel' (lived in SEA and SF before). I can't shake the sense of bro-ey white midwestern I feel in Denver, but perhaps I'm not looking hard enough just yet.


There are some decent meetups in town, but the really cool folks don't seem to leave their personal labs very often, unfortunately. They're around, though.

Still new and hard to say, but this might be a good place to meet a more eclectic group: http://denvertoollibrary.org


Thanks for the breadcrumb.


Denver, is very white and male, yes (Men-ver is a good name). The diversity is something i miss as well. Though the bro-y-ness of it is missing to me. I get more beer snob and hipster these days. SF is more 'don't arrest me, my dad is a lawyer'-bro-y than Denver is.


Well, it's been almost ten years now since my punk friends from the US told me the Bay Area was gone and that the new punk/alternative capital was Portland. Don't know if it still is, but they had all moved there or somewhere else. Almost ten years ago.


Portland is slowly losing it's edge. I say slowly because the wages here are silly low so that does keep out a lot of the yuppies the article is referring to (although many will come here and take advantage of that).

I've only been here for a little over a year but I've seen the city change very much in that short amount of time. Old abandon buildings are now apartment complexes for tech kids. In May of 2014 there was _maybe_ 3 co-working spaces. Now there are at least 7 or 8 (including a newly put together `we work`). Rent has risen more than 7% this past year and housing prices are poised to increase 15% in 2015 alone.

I moved to Portland mostly because it was a west coast city that didn't get snow and had a cool vibe the one time I visited. I'm definitely adding to the problems Portland is having but at least I didn't move here from California and don't have a trust fund...


"at least I didn't move here from California"

Yup. You being born in a state that is not California and moving to Portland makes you very superior to those living in Portland but born in California. You should put on your very superior hat and feel good about your total authenticity and unquestionable non-yuppiedom.


I was half joking.

The other serious half was in reference to Bay Area yuppies moving here and subversively driving up the cost of pretty much everything.


Overly loose credit, the decisions of companies to centralize, and NIMBYism is driving up the cost of pretty much everything. People just move to where the work is.

I have coworkers from Oregon in the Bay Area. Some would say that by moving here they're 'driving up the price of everything'. At this juncture if they move back, they'll then be 'driving up the price of everything' at home. It's meaningless.


According to my wife (a fifth generation Oregonian), being from "not California" is a big plus in that neck of the woods.


I left Portland a month after you arrived. The combination of lack of seriousness about education (failure to meet state minimum standard instructional hours, anyone), anti fluoride stupidity, and trustafarians got on my nerves, as well as persistently low wages. I do miss the weather (and had no trouble finding co working spaces even then)

For my part I'd recommend Montreal - I was impressed by the hackerspaces and coworking there


I am reminded of James Hughes, a transhumanist but also a proper sociologist, who wrote about the change in transhumanism from democratic left-leaning people, whose vision of technology was for the good of all, to libertarians (and thence singularitarians and neoreactionaries): http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/hughes20130501

> In 2009 the libertarians and Singularitarians launched a campaign to take over the World Transhumanist Association Board of Directors, pushing out the Left in favor of allies like Milton Friedman’s grandson and Seasteader leader Patri Friedman. Since then the libertarians and Singularitarians, backed by Thiel’s philanthropy, have secured extensive hegemony in the transhumanist community. As the global capitalist system spiraled into the crisis in which it remains, partly created by the speculation of hedge fund managers like Thiel, the left-leaning majority of transhumanists around the world have increasingly seen the contradiction between the millennialist escapism of the Singularitarians and practical concerns of ensuring that technological innovation is safe and its benefits universally enjoyed. While the alliance of Left and libertarian transhumanists held together until 2008 in the belief that the new biopolitical alignments were as important as the older alignments around political economy, the global economic crisis has given new life to the technoprogressive tendency, those who want to organize for a more egalitarian world and transhumanist technologies, a project with a long Enlightenment pedigree and distinctly millenarian possibilities.

It isn't something that just happened. It's something that was done to the area.


The overlap between communitarian student protesters and Wall Street focused old money elite isn't zero but I find it very odd that you would paint them as a joint monolith. There are important tensions between those two cultures that you erase with such a claim.

(Also the timing is bizarre, the hippie image was already solidified in the summer of '68, but the old money came in increasing tides of the 80s 90s and 00s.)


Truth be told I've actually been considering Wall Street. With all the jerkwads wandering around SF in forced-chillax-corporate-uniforms (hoodie, t-shirt with company logo, jeans), it might actually be pretty chill. : )


It's not the suits. Suits can actually be pretty comfortable, if you spend enough money. It's the culture.

I suggest you try Wall Street and Silicon Valley, both.


> instead relying on mercenary college grads who put up with the cost and the crazy for a few years before moving on to a more fulfilling job

Good mercenaries know a lot more than fresh grads.


I'm not sure what your point is. Turnover is expensive, and the presumption that one can tough it out at a big company before taking a more lucrative offer elsewhere compounds the problem. This is particularly acute for young consultants at big names like McKinsey, where the first Google result is an ad for ex-McKinsey consultants. When engineers leave before they become managers, it forces the company to promote from a smaller pool or recruit externally, neither of which is preferable for long-term stability.


A company that hires the less skilled ought to lose money, and that could work against the forming of a mono-culture.


It's not about skill, it's about loyalty. These companies are losing money precisely because they hire great people and fail to keep them. If you ran a major company, would you like the perception that the job you offer is only meant to be a resume-padding stepping stone? What happens when those people leave and new ones have to be filtered from application pools, acquainted with your teams and business practices, trained to use your systems, and then you have to repeat the process in a year or two? What does that do for morale among the people who stay?


Whatever--it's not our problem.

Companies (as a class of socioeconomic entity) have, since the 80s, been continually shirking their duties to their employees. At this point, the employer-employee relationship is adversarial. Thus, if it makes more sense for prospective employees to view their next job as resume padding, that's what they'll do.

If companies bothered to treat their workers well, to pay them well, to tie their fortunes to those of their employees, maybe we'd have something to talk about.

As the movie "Killing Them Softly" said:

This guy wants to tell me we're living in a community? Don't make me laugh. I'm living in America, and in America you're on your own. America's not a country. It's just a business. Now fuckin' pay me.

And yeah, that makes life hard for people starting new companies. So it goes.


This article is bound to ruffle some feathers around here.

The writing is spot on but will cause some cognitive dissonance for some as the words ring true but conflict with the structures they have set up in their minds and in their lives.

I think that the commercialization can be good though... the culture gets to live on and propagate when there is a way for hackers to make money doing what they love. Any successful counterculture is bound to be co-opted and exploited, but that doesn't mean that true participants in that culture shouldn't be able to subsist off of it.

Author makes the comparison to hip-hop culture which I think is a good one... there is a highly commercialized side of that culture in rap music, but there are still "underground" emcees not to mention deejays, beatboxers, graffiti writers, and others who are able to build up their culture due in no small part to the money coming in. Of course, to maintain a good balance, you need keepers-of-the-faith like the author who are willing to smack down arrogant upstarts who think they can piss all over and redefine the culture they claim to hail from.


> you need keepers-of-the-faith like the author

Sorry, but this author is no "keeper of the faith". He's a finance journalist, for goodness sake! See my comment above for more details.


Based on the content of his article it seems to me like he has a good grasp on the material IMHO. In any case, I generally don't equate the job title on someone's resume to the definition of what they are.


I scanned this before coffee this morning and in short I'm not sure anyone else should read it in its present state.

Although the author poses some interesting ideas the piece feels long and muddled and I'm not at all sure who the audience is or what the call to action might be. Voice is unclear as some paragraphs are personal statements ("I") and others are observations about culture and economics.

It might be more powerful if it was drastically shorter and simpler ... or maybe if it was three times longer with more references and a stronger set of recommendations. I really can't say.


Go home, yuppies.

The last few paragraphs bring it home: hacking is being subverted as a tool of the establishment and no longer, in common use, means working against the establishment.


Here's the thing. Hacking in the sense of the word he wants it used didn't go away or get subverted. It just lost a label.

Words in the english language change all the time. Hacking in the sense of gaining a deep understanding of things by tinkering is alive and well and isn't going anywhere. So some one co-opted our label. So What? We can get a new label. It doesn't mean we somehow vanished or are dying out. We're still here. We still buy kits to get screw drivers that let us open that box and void the warranty. We still poke and prod at computer systems in ways they weren't designed to be poked and prodded. We still create things with materials no one else thought to create with. And in the sense of hacking he is referring to we still do it whether it has a label or not.

He even talks about hacking being something as old as the human race. And then he goes on to complain that this label got co-opted. Of course it did. Everyone is a hacker. Everyone is looking to game the system. Hackers don't have a monopoly on hacking. So the "yuppies" hacked our terminology. Good for them. Now we get to go hack some other terminology. Hack used to refer to a kludge. We co-opted the term to mean something else. Now it has been co-opted again.

The author is in many ways complaining about something that isn't a real problem. We were hacking before there was a label for it. We will still be hacking after the label is gone. Nothing has been lost here.


I think the new label he's looking for is "Maker". People who go to Maker/Hacker spaces or consider themselves part of the Maker movement are exactly what hackers used to be.


This is an over-simplification of the article which talks about much more than just labels. It talks about things like control of the internet, the destruction of the culture of Silicon Valley, and the people that co-opt hacker culture in an attempt to make money.


Control of the internet does not mean the hacker ethos is somehow polluted. It just means the hackers have a new target. Silicon Valley doesn't define hacker culture. I didn't grow up or go to school in Silicon Valley and I don't live there currently. Yet, I'm something of a hacker as the article defines it.

And how does one co-opt a culture? What does that even mean? I can see how one might destroy a culture, force a culture into hiding maybe, but co-opt it? That's a fancy way of saying they took our label. That's the thing about label's though. They change meanings over time.

I think the real reason the author and many others are upset is because they thought the "hacker ethos" was going to go mainstream. Then they looked around and realized that what went mainstream wasn't hacking as they saw it, and got upset.

Hackers have always been a minority. We were a minority during the internet revolution. We are minority now. We'll be a minority in the future. Expecting anything else will just result in dashed hopes.


A shifting label can be a problem, when it attracts tinkerer's to the SV tech scene, instead of places where they could find more joy.


hope you don't mind -- I've shared this quote publically on my diaspora page. I can link you if you would like.


Help yourself. My ideas are free for the taking no charge :-)


I really don't like the link to "the profit fetish" in the last paragraph and the implicit undertone of profit being a bad thing. In fact I completely disagree and would call hacking (in the sense it is used in the article) a very direct expression of profit seeking. You change one state to another one that you prefer. If the costs to achieve this are less than the added value that's (economic) profit.


The point of being a hacker (in the traditional sense) is that your utility function is completely wack. You prefer to make the lights on the screen (and by proxy, the state of the registers) the way you envision than to have free time for hobbies intrinsically inbued with external relevance.

The prevalence of computers in modern commerce makes this easy to overlook. Hacking isn't about building things the rest of the world appreciates and understands--it's about mastery and appreciation of abstract systems.

Edit: to make myself completely clear, profit is inherently evil, c.f. the notion of selflessness.


>The point of being a hacker (in the traditional sense) is that your utility function is completely wack. You prefer to make the lights on the screen (and by proxy, the state of the registers)

Acquiring money is not the only way to profit; it's whatever your "utility function" is. Money is just an easy one to quantify and analyze.

If you spend 10 hours on Saturday freelancing for $130/hr versus spending 10 hour working on OSS versus fucking around with code, you are still applying your capital (time, skills, hardware/software) to obtain a profit (money, fulfillment, enjoyment).

That's what's great about capitalism: you get to choose how to apply your capital to obtain the outcomes you want, even those outcomes are not monetary.


How is this intrinsic to capitalism, exactly? It's true for any society in general where people are relatively free of coercion so as to devote time to their self-interest. The fact that you're speaking of capitalism in a mixed market economy shows this.


there actually is something wrong with profit: that desire never stops, never says enough, and is oblivious to human suffering.

there are plenty of lazy people, but in their midst are hardworking people trying to survive. Profit chooses to oppress.

The optimal system grows only for the sake of its own employees.


There's nothing wrong with profit. What's wrong is monopoly and oligopoly. Defining an activity as only being up to your ideological standards if it is done for free means that your ideology will never make a dent in a power structure that pays people for their labor. Free as in freedom, not free as in beer.


> means that your ideology will never make a dent in a power structure that pays people for their labor.

But it is fun!


> I really don't like the link to "the profit fetish" in the last paragraph and the implicit undertone of profit being a bad thing

I'm on the other side of the fence, I have yet to find a good argument that defends profit when you weight it against all its fault. As far as I'm concerned the profit race is about the worst thing our specie ever came up with, it's directly responsible for destroying our planet, for the death of millions and as we speak for the lack of future for our specie.


According to whom? I have seen the hacker culture straddle the line of the traditional definition and a little bit of this newer corporate definition of which the author speaks. My experience is obviously anecdotal, but other than this article, I've never seen nor heard anyone say that hacker culture is being co-opted by corporate.


This is such a poorly thought out article. The term hacker has also meant so many different things to so many people. I grew up with the 90's hacker scene. I was a teenager for almost all of the decade and I started programming and reading about, interacting with, and being a part of the 90's hackers groups. Those groups were called criminals, crackers, or cybergangs but a lot of the old school MIT crowd of hackers. Then the mainstream media picked up the term to mean criminals. Then my age group entered the workforce and redefined the term to mean an excellent programmer, as in hacker news. It's been constantly changing and meaning different things to different groups. How can you co-opt something that fluid? This article smacks of someone complaining about a culture they don't understand themselves.


> Then my age group entered the workforce and redefined the term to mean an excellent programmer, as in hacker news.

It's worth noting that "hacker news" was probably never meant in the sense of "excellent programmer", but rather in the sense being criticized by the article: one of venture-capitalist-backed businesses "disrupting" industries to dominate said industries (bringing money to the venture capitalists in turn). The implication that HN - which was created and is owned and maintained by YCombinator, arguably among the more prominent of such VCs - was named in reference to anything but the very thing the article describes is inaccurate.


>It's worth noting that "hacker news" was probably never meant in the sense of "excellent programmer", but rather in the sense being criticized by the article:

I think your notation is revisionist history.

Here's an example of a PG's use of "hacker" from 2001. PG is very much talking about "hacker" as an above-average programmer not content with an inferior "blub" language:

http://www.paulgraham.com/avg.html

YCombinator was started in 2005. The "Hacker News" was started in 2007.[1] The audience it intended to serve was the type of "hackers" mentioned in the 2001 essay.

PG also later uses "hacker" in the sense of a tech nerd who would rather focus on a startup rather instead of being discontent working at a corporate job. This definition of "life-hacker" is also not relevant to the article's definition. The article is talking about programmers who serve VCs' agendas instead of pursuing their true desires. PG has never advocated that. The essay also complains about the VCs who are pseudo-hackers because of their monetary influence. PG isn't talking about them either. Ergo, this website was not trying to attract them as an audience. (The "demo days" does try to attract VCs but that's an event separate from the website.)

One can look at Internet Archive Wayback Machine[2] and see that the front page was dominated by topics unrelated to "chasing the money". Just a bunch of tech geek topics. Programming languages, algorithms, etc. It was very much "news" for "hackers" in the positive connotations of that term.

[1]http://www.paulgraham.com/hackernews.html

[2]https://web.archive.org/web/20071016064109/http://news.ycomb...


The matter of whose history is "revisionist" depends on perspective, and it's really hard to say whether your or my perspective here is the right one. That said, painting my notation as revisionist appears to be inaccurate.

> YCombinator was started in 2005. The "Hacker News" was started in 2007.[1] The audience it intended to serve was the type of "hackers" mentioned in the 2001 essay.

Are you sure about that? Plenty of large companies have worked to build cultures around their products. Should we really trust YCombinator's motives more than, say, Apple's when they build a product that claims to be geared toward makers while gradually pulling said makers into a particular ecosystem?

In other words, just because YCombinator / Paul Graham claim Hacker News to be geared toward technical-loving programmers and tinkerers v. VC-backed (or prospective VC-backed) entrepreneurs doesn't mean that neither of them are lying to us or themselves.

> PG also later uses "hacker" in the sense of a tech nerd who would rather focus on a startup rather instead of being discontent working at a corporate job.

That happens to describe a lot of people who wouldn't be classified as "hackers", or even future ones in their larval stage. It also happens to describe many (if not most) startup founders of the variety being criticized in the article.

> One can look at Internet Archive Wayback Machine[2] and see that the front page was dominated by topics unrelated to "chasing the money".

There were a lot of technical topics, yes, but "dominated by topics unrelated to 'chasing the money'" seems to be false, seeing that the top result has a plug for a startup called "ThriveSmart" and is basically how why some startup uses Rails, result #4 is Betteridge's-Law-invoking clickbait rhetorically implying that VC-backed startups should for some reason be ashamed of themselves for not towing to puritannical sensibilities regarding pornographic content (though, to be fair, Paul Graham did post in that article's comment section calling it out on said puritannical and rather hypocritical bullshit), result #7 is about having dinner with YC folks and being acquired by Conde Nast, result #8 is about Caterpillar making money through "Web 2.0", result #16 is a WSJ piece praising the open-office concept and disparaging cubicles "because it's what Silicon Valley does, and therefore deserves attention for some reason", result #29 is some blog post about entrepreneur burnout, and result #30 is a rather-uncritical NYT piece on advertising strategies of large businesses. I haven't even gotten to the second page yet.

And yet you cite this as proof that my viewpoint is revisionist somehow. Yeah, there were quite a few awesome technical articles back then, but even back then the Valleyesque distortion cuts through the purported hacker-centric focus of HN.

This isn't to say that Paul Graham wasn't or isn't an excellent hacker, nor is it to say that his own definition of hacker back in 2001 was somehow incorrect or out-of-line with the proper (and admittedly nebulous/vague) definition, and nor is it to say that he or YCombinator had motives out-of-alignment with the purported target audience. Rather, it's to suggest that maybe - just maybe - folks around here are taking the "hacker" part of "hacker news" too strongly at face value when its YC heritage ought to be warranting at least a small grain of salt, and that a lot may very well have changed in six years.


>Are you sure about that? Plenty of large companies have worked to build cultures around their products. Should we really trust YCombinator's motives more than, say,

It's fine to be vigilant about subliminal marketing or secret motives (hailcorporate![1]) but I think in this case, HN is transparent in its goals.

If HN is brainwashing us to redefine "hacker" to suit their needs, what is their end game? HN doesn't have ads. They don't have constant popups nagging us to pay for a subscription. They do have periodic "YC Random Company is hiring" posts (if you consider those "ads"). But they also have the weekly hiring posts from non-YC companies. There are the weekly posts about "basic income" and "minimum wage should be $15" and "programmers should form a union" that routinely make the front page. Those are not topics the money men like to push. Any time a "Uber taxi" thread is posted, the top comments always complain about the "sharing-economy" being a VC-funded scam on society. Lastly, the vast majority of readers will never submit an application to YC so that link is also mostly irrelevant.

In other words, if HN is tricking us with a redefinition of "hacker" to suit their nefarious agenda, what have they gained and what did readers lose?

>It also happens to describe many (if not most) startup founders of the variety being criticized in the article.

Your interpretation of the article is incorrect. The article explains[2] how some startup entrepreneurs with counter-culture tendencies, rebellious attitudes, and subversive agendas can be neutered of their free spirit and be put into the service of entities with money (VCs, Barclay's so-called "hackathon", etc) -- the "yuppies".

The article is criticizing the "yuppies" and not the startup entrepreneurs that might enjoy articles currently on HN front page such as "Reversing NvAPI to Programmatically Overclock Nvidia GPUs" and "Go and Rust – objects without class (2013)"

>the top result has a plug for a startup called "ThriveSmart" and is basically how why some startup uses Rails

I guess one can see whatever they want to see. To me, that article is a Rails article, and the secondary trivia is that the company happens to be ThriveSmart. If that article was written anonymously with no company mentioned, one of the HN commenters would inevitably ask, "where do you work?" and the company name would be revealed in the comments. People try languages, frameworks, databases, and they also tend to work at companies. The company is part of the color of the presentation. If we got manipulated by ThriveSmart exposure 8 years ago, I don't see evidence of it. The other articles on the front page are topics hackers voted up. It doesn't mean every article is a programming article about Lisp or MongoDB.

>- just maybe - folks around here are taking the "hacker" part of "hacker news" too strongly at face value when its YC heritage ought to be warranting at least a small grain of salt, and that a lot may very well have changed in six years.

To proof to me is what types of articles show up on the front page. HN's audience is not all uber-Lisp clones of PG but the intended audience is definitely not the "yuppies" that the article is criticizing. I can't see how anyone can look at the HN front page as a whole and conclude it is designed for "yuppies" instead of "hackers".

[1]https://www.reddit.com/r/hailcorporate

[2]I believe there are so many misinterpretations of his thesis because he writes in a very convoluted style but here's an example excerpt of author's criticism of yuppies: "We are currently witnessing the gentrification of hacker culture. The countercultural trickster has been pressed into the service of the preppy tech entrepreneur class. It began innocently, no doubt. The association of the hacker ethic with startups might have started with an authentic counter-cultural impulse on the part of outsider nerds tinkering away on websites. But, like all gentrification, the influx into the scene of successive waves of ever less disaffected individuals results in a growing emphasis on the unthreatening elements of hacking over the subversive ones."


> If HN is brainwashing us to redefine "hacker" to suit their needs, what is their end game?

Promoting the startups YCombinator has funded over the years? Promoting YCombinator itself for prospective entrepreneurs looking to get funding? Those are the most obvious ones.

> Lastly, the vast majority of readers will never submit an application to YC so that link is also mostly irrelevant.

In a "vast" majority of even a thousand people, that's still up to a few dozen or so in the minority. And YC would have plenty of motive to encourage that minority to grow, and especially for said growth to have YC in their list of seed funders to apply to because "well they host Hacker News and I'm a Hacker News regular".

Everyone has ulterior motives. Just because YCombinator doesn't explicitly state "Welcome to Hacker News, where we basically cozy up to you in the hopes that you'll apply for seed funding and consultation from us so we can make money off the success of your business" doesn't mean that such an ulterior motive doesn't exist.

I'm probably being excessively critical, of course, and maybe YCombinator really is totally benevolent and running Hacker News out of the goodness of its venture-capitalist heart. It's hard to really know, however, and for that reason I tend to err on the side of caution.

> Your interpretation of the article is incorrect. [...]

How does any of that paragraph invalidate my remark? Just because someone has "counter-culture tendencies, rebellious attitudes, and subversive agendas" doesn't mean that they're suddenly "hackers". You need creative ingenuity and a desire to understand how things work, and those traits don't come automatically with the ones you mention.

> To me, that article is a Rails article, and the secondary trivia is that the company happens to be ThriveSmart.

You're probably right that I'm characterizing that one a bit harshly. To me, though, it reeks a bit of the whole "look at us, we're hip and modern and use Rails so you should totally buy our hip/modern/Railsy product". Especially considering that the product in question happens to be a web development product.

Not that there's something particularly wrong about this - as a buyer of services, the technological implementations do often matter to me, since it gives me a vague idea of whether or not the service I'm buying will be sufficiently-reliable for my needs. It's just that, having been on the other side of that (first-hand experience with companies that want to show off their tech as an advertising tool for prospective customers, talent, etc.), it strikes me as an advertising-first, tech-second article, and I tend to believe it important to recognize such things. Being aware that you're being advertised to is an important part of making wise market decisions; an unawareness of the influence of some subtle bit of advertising can mean the difference between a reasoned evaluation of a product and a gung-ho "this product looks good" based on hard-to-self-identify confirmation biases.

> To proof to me is what types of articles show up on the front page.

As it is to me; on some days the technical outweighs the business, and on other days the business outweighs the technical. As you said, though, one tends to see whatever one wants to see. Perhaps you're looking at HN through rose-colored glasses. Perhaps I'm looking at HN through dirt-colored glasses. It's all a matter of perspective.


As was already pointed out this site was started with exactly the idea of a excellent programmer intended. IE PG's hacker vs blub programmers. Along with his theory that hackers will rise to the top over the blub because of their excellence in development. This was intended to break away from Reddit and other sources of news for hackers to help them elevate their ability. That's basically exactly my point hacker means many things to many people and is impossible for one group to co-opt. In short the article is non-sense.


You know what's cool? Ignoring what other people think is cool.

Who cares if 'yuppies' 'gentrify' hacking. You neither have to stop doing what you like because groups you don't care for have noticed nor do you have to waste energy and time and fight against them for doing so.

Do what you want to do regardless. That is the answer to the author's questions.

If you are a hacker, or artist or music lover or anything else of a certain type merely because someone else isn't of that type you are not really that thing.

You are going to find posers as a sub-culture enters the general awareness but you are also going to find trickster godlings in suits with boring titles on their business cards if you don't let the trappings blind you.


> Ignoring what other people think is cool.

In the end, it really isn't though.

It is a bad thing when subcultures are overrun by people who did not come to it organically. What I mean by that is at a certain point, members of a subculture gain a perceived glamour, which incentivizes outsiders to come in for superficial reasons. This dilutes the subculture's original ethos, and if it continues long enough it totally replaces it.

A perfect example of this is the Indie rock of 15 years ago. That culture has completely been obliterated and replaced by a microcosm of corporate pop music. Almost anyone I speak to knows what Indie is now. One would struggle to accurately refer to it as a subculture today. The problem is not a mere increase in population, but a dilution of the core values that initially caused people to gravitate to that scene.


members of a subculture gain a perceived glamour, which incentivizes outsiders to come in for superficial reasons

It has a real cost to the original members, in terms of their loss of immediate credibility. You see a guy with sailor tattoos. Did he serve in the Fleet, does that speak to his work ethic and skill with a chart or a diesel engine? Or does he work in advertising and drink soy lattes? You see a girl with thick-rimmed glasses. Is she an old-skool assembly hacker, or did she just think they would look cute with her "vintage" dress? It means the genuine people, who have paid their dues, need to prove themselves over and over again to everyone they meet. That is why everyone hates hipsters.


The genuine people don't care what other people think of them and don't feel a need to "prove" anything. That's what makes them genuine.


I don't think that's actually true; otherwise how would they be a part of a community with other like-minded people? How would they authenticate themselves to one another? Hell's Angels are another good example.


"I like hanging out with you; if you don't like hanging out with me that's fine, but you wanna get together and talk about X?"


Then why would any subculture have a distinctive style of dress?


> A perfect example of this is the Indie rock of 15 years ago. That culture has completely been obliterated and replaced by a microcosm of corporate pop music.

Obliterated? I think not. There is still a very vibrant indie music scene that is still truly independent and innovative and interesting -- if anything it is more vibrant today than it ever was (this is a scene I know a bit about). Some was picked up by the mainstream, sure, but much more was not simply because it wasn't palatable to the corporate pop music listener.

And, honestly, I love the indie music scene's response which was largely 'Well that's nice for them.' and on the other side 'We have this backing or audience, who else wants to play a show or two you normally wouldn't be able to'. Rather than being seen as selling one's soul, it is just a thing that happened -- nothing more, nothing less.

But, otherwise, people was just created what they wanted to create and played shows as usual -- and they continue to do so. The indie scene may have punk ancestry, but that reactionary attitude has withered and fallen away which is good IMHO.

Granted, you are always going to have the people that will rail against 'selling out' because their ego is so tightly entwined in being The Other in these scenes but they aren't dominant in as many of these sub cultures as, say, punk or anarchist scenes for two examples.


> It is a bad thing when subcultures are overrun by people who did not come to it organically.

Having seen an uncountable number of subcultures in popular music overrun this way, I've come to see it as an inevitability. When a subculture is pure and thriving and exciting, enjoy it while you can, for "this too shall pass."

For me the movement that was "indie rock" ended with the success of Nirvana; after that "indie rock" became the label for a musical genre (which was weird, because "indie rock" was as much the label of a business practice as it was the label of a musical genre).


>> Ignoring what people think is cool > In the end, it really isn't though.

It's true. The answers are not all found within. An idealized process would more like: Find out about something cool. Working with those people/that scene to improve it. Detect when it's losing its ideals. Nudge it back toward its ideals.

Lots of people who hack out of pure curiosity. It's how humans work and got to be the way we are. That's an ideal. Nowadays, we have people with lots of money distracting the hackers, saying, "Hey, why are you just doing that for the hell of it? You have skills, help me make money and you can have some, too."

It doesn't sound bad on the surface, but it goes wrong for everyone when the idea of someone have "skills" is abstracted to mean "skills that I can use to make $." Most hacking (lock picking, software stunts, diet coke and Mentos) is not commericially useful, at least not directly. But when a hacker suspends their natural desire and directs it toward someone else's ends, the natural "curiosity vector" is not followed. It's not bad, it's just the death of an ideal. The best we can do is help each other identify when we're compromising too much on our curiosity and ideals in chasing that holy billion dollars.


It seems to be more about not perpetrating destructive cultural values. Tech elite use the natural curiosity of tech lovers for their own benefit, sometimes subversively. Is that good or bad? Depends on whether the tech lover cares or not. But if the tech lover doesn't even realize they are contributing to potentially detrimental cultural values then they can't make an informed and mindful decision.


> Who cares if 'yuppies' 'gentrify' hacking.

Indeed, the term 'hacker' has survived the media's use/definition of it through the 80s and 90s as a "computer criminal." Today we distinguish between black hat and white hat, but the term "hacker" still applies.


This hits home. I read hacker news and sites like it, but I know in my heart that the people here are not, for the most part, hackers.


Yeah. When I first came here, I was shocked how often the comments about some cool tech would be focused on how to monetize it, how to commoditize it.

After a while, I just accepted as fact the existence of a large contingent of "hipster web 2.0 wanks" (well, that's the tag I use internally).

But today I'll start an experiment. I'll adjust the internal tag to recognize them by their true name. An old name... Posers.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. :)

I hope this exercise in context will help me be a more discerning reader.


It would certainly be more charitable to think of "them" as what they really are: people who, just like you, are doing their best to figure out a path for themselves through a mystifying world. At least, I know that's what I am doing, while also being quite sure you think I'm a hipster web 2.0 wank poser.


I appreciate this pushback against my use of "them". I appreciate your astute description of what it is like to be a person.

...Forgive me, if you want, when I contradict myself!

I think there's some value in cliques. I was reminded of this recently when some buddies and I started an every-other-Sunday RPG group. (Heroes Unlimited, FWIW.)

The conversations that come up in that group are really great. The common ground that we share[0] allows me to really get down to brass tacks with ease. ...More easily than I can do here!

Granted, wishing that my public-news-and-commentary-website would be more like my-four-man-paper-and-dice-gaming-club is downright unreasonable. That being said, the fact remains that there are little corners of the web (net!) here and there where discussion about changing the world via tech won't get sidetracked by some perverse anti-SJW point-hunting BS. Wait, ARE THERE? :(

0: physics, respect for the rules (of the game/physics/conversation), puns, beer.


I'm not surprised that your response is so charitable – I wouldn't have bothered responding to you to start with if I thought you seemed like you're just a jerk out to score points against "the other" – but thanks anyway.

What I dislike is not so much the existence of cliques, I agree with you that they have an important place, and I certainly have, and in the past have always had, various "circles" that I enjoy being with far more than other people. What gets under my skin is the way in which cliques think and speak of people on the outside. For instance (to keep picking on you), people who are interested in web applications with lots of user-focused behavior more than other, supposedly "more pure", kinds of applications, whether it's because that's where the jobs are or because that's where the users are or just because they think it's cool, become "hipsters", "wanks", and "posers". The problem isn't with having specific interests and a preference to converse with people who share them, the problem is with the rampant implicit or explicit judgment of people who don't. Maybe it's just an effort to categorize, in order to have an easy shorthand for thinking about what kinds of people you prefer to converse with, but why does this sort of categorization almost always seem to rely on such pejorative language?

In any case, I agree with you that mefi is a great community, but I definitely haven't found any place with as good a variety of technical submissions and discussions as HN, even if it is overrun with bourgeois gentrifiers like myself.


This is interesting because there's like, a role-reversal thing going on here. I don't know if you're aware of it, but I tend to go to the mat for the underdog, the abused (the pejored, if you will!).

But that's it. I'd oppose somebody if I observed them on the attack, but never start anything. And that behavior was systematic. Frankly, it's exploitable.

So, I dunno. I'm in flux. Rethinking some things. Practicing allowing myself to think, even SAY--"you know what? Some people suck, objectively".

I guess your comment "doing their best to figure out a path for themselves through a mystifying world" inspired me to mention that part.

I think the upshot of rejecting some people is that you can lower your cognitive load in group situations. You mentioned it: categorization. For me, it's a pretty fundamental shift (that I'm not sold on yet): actually adding a new category: those that I'd leave behind first in some sort of lifeboat situation. I know that's really harsh. Fortunately real-world lifeboat situations are rare? Without such categorization, you can land in some REALLY dumb situations...


Yeah, I can see the role-reversal you're talking about. I suppose my point is that everyone deserves empathy, not just the underdogs.

You're probably right that "some people suck, objectively", but I don't think I've ever met such a person, so I'm never going to assume that someone I meet who seems to suck is actually an objectively sucky person, but rather just a normal person who, like me, is trying to do the best they know how, and just failing at it in that moment, for whatever reason.


Hey, keep it up! I just got tired, and scared, and really not confident that I'd "make it", much less everybody. So I'm performing an experiment. That you are out there only encourages me.

Meanwhile:

A. mosquitoes (or fleas, if you prefer) are in a category that is very difficult to defend, right? I mean it takes an very broad definition of "we" to include bloodsuckers.

B. If the category described in A. exists, if "we" excludes some creatures... then you have to ask yourself where to draw the line, and that's crappy territory to traverse. But what if it is necessary to traverse it?


And this whole thing came full circle once Paul Graham stepped away. YCombinator was initially cool because it was a hack on the incubator/vc scene and a successful one. Now it seems more like an MBA-esque scheme replete with spreadsheets.


I came across PG because he wrote some battlefront story about using lisp in the early days of dotcom[0]. Probably found a link to that on some emacs site or channel.

Come to think about it, I've only heard the HN crowd praise him. Oh, well, and he does it himself.

What HN does do is give me a steady stream of content to consume. Articles about physics followed by code demos followed by ethnographies.

Shit, have I really been spending time in a pro-money, anti-woman poser circle-wank fest just for the free links?

I wonder what's up on mefi today...

0: http://www.paulgraham.com/avg.html


Just a thought but, I wonder if the change you describe (from discussions about cool tech to how to monetize) has something to do with the demographics of the participants of Hacker News. I'm not sure it is a completely valid generalization (there are still cool tech discussions here that aren't about money), but I can see what you're talking about.

Certainly, many of us have gotten older while we've been a part of the community. This is a generality too, and probably not valid, but, I have noticed that for what we would have defined as a "techie" in the period from 1995-present day, many of us have tired with the hamster-wheel of technology.

By that I mean, we have tired with, a new tech or trend comes up, everybody goes crazy whether it is good or not, much hand-wringing and attention and money is spent, and in a few years, it's old and used and beat up and on to the next thing. It's like the wasteful consumer attitude of use and throw away rather than building things that last. I don't meant to say we haven't built things that last because many of our technologies and organizations certainly have. Just that we're quick to throw out the old for the new, and constantly reinventing yourself every few years can be difficult - at some point you hope to succeed because of your core skills and not just because you know the latest or greatest technology (which may or may not flop in 6 months).

Again, generally speaking, as you get older or as the world continues to get more expensive (the time value of money changing) and the requirements to pay the bills continue, the focus tends to shift away from the cool tech and into how to make money, products, etc.

There's good and bad in this - cool tech for tech's sake is nice but does not always solve real problems that create value or utility for people. Endless searching for profit can destroy great ideas. But in general, solving real problems/needs/desires using old (or new) technologies provides real value to society, and when those generate profit that allow us to exist in the world which requires money to survive, then that's great. One needs balance in all things, some people need to do "cool tech for tech's sake", some need to solve real problems every day, some need to pay the bills and some just need to help the world. Some want to do a blend of those things.

Knowing where you as an individual fall in the spectrum of efforts, needs, pursuits, desires, etc. can be difficult. I guess the best thing one can do is be honest with oneself and then project from there.

Perhaps the changing and continued diversifying demographic of HN, along with the dynamics of requirements of the "real world" are partly what has driven the trend in comments that you point out.


Thanks, interesting.

FWIW, "cool tech" can mean different things to different people. The Y Combinator is cool tech[0]. It's also about as timeless as it gets, eh?

Trendy tech can be cool. It usually isn't, but it totally can be! :)

0: https://medium.com/@therealklanni/the-mysterious-y-combinato...


I find that it's a mixed bag. There are some good technical discussions had here (far better than one would find on /r/programming most of the time). But the discussions about tech monetization and SV startup life in general don't hold great appeal to me.

But, I'm a midwesterner with a fair salary who's happy with where he is, which is probably a bit alien to begin with (at least in tech circles).


I get the distinct impression that the author of this article doesn't really know what he is talking about. He doesn't bother mentioning (if he is even aware of the fact) that "hacker" != "cracker", but kind of muddles both groups into one. The very fact that he talks about "The construct of the ‘good hacker’" tells me that he never did his homework properly.

Last time I checked my history books, hackers used to be "good" when they started out. Yes, they were counter-cultural and yes, many had more or less pronounced anarchists tendencies. But they were definitely not the rebellious threat to public safety that the author portrays. In fact, the author gets it back to front: the real corruption of the term "hacker" happened twenty-five years ago, when the media started applying that label to cyber criminals. If anything, Silicon Valley is actively countering that original corruption by their current use of the term. (Though it is quite possible that they are misusing/over-using it in smaller ways.)

In short, this is a prime example of an article about a subculture that is untainted by any understanding of the same.


> He doesn't bother mentioning (if he is even aware of the fact) that "hacker" != "cracker", but kind of muddles both groups into one.

The two groups do often overlap; even the Jargon File (which is strictly adamant in its distinction between the two subcultures) admits as much. The difference is with intent; a hacker fixates upon the exploration and understanding of a system, whereas a cracker fixates upon the breaking of a system (or the prevention of future breaking, in the case of white-hat crackers). In this sense, the article's actually one of the very few that gets this distinction even partially correct, even if it does lean a bit heavily toward the "cracker" side of said incredibly-fine line.

Even that particular fine line isn't well-defined, of course; there are plenty of cases where a hacker feels the need to resort to cracker-like behavior in order to get a point across (like "your software has this and that bug; here's a program demonstrating them"), in which case the line between "hacker" and "white/grey-hat cracker" is even further blurred.

> But they were definitely not the rebellious threat to public safety that the author portrays.

This isn't always true. See also: http://www.catb.org/jargon/html/meaning-of-hack.html (particularly the story about 'Robin Hood' and 'Friar Tuck').

> If anything, Silicon Valley is actively countering that original corruption by their current use of the term. (Though it is quite possible that they are misusing/over-using it in smaller ways.)

I'd argue that it's just as much a corruption, but in the opposite direction. The hacker ethos really lies somewhere between crackeresque active rebellion and Valleyesque conformity. The article happens to get this right, too, in its remark that hackerdom works "obliquely" and outside the conventional realm of borders and dichotomies. The hacker spirit is one with ambiguous and often even inconsistent goals (at least to someone looking into it from the outside), and this ambiguousness is in contract with both crackerdom (actively rebelling against the concept of authority, to the point of meritocratic anarchy) and Valleydom (actively striving to become authority, to the point of monopolistic totalitarianism).

Of course, the article's characterization of folks like Anonymous and Wikileaks as the modern day "true" hackers isn't exactly accurate, either, highlighting further the difficulty which exists in trying to clearly define what it means to be a "hacker". In theory, such groups could very well express the hacker ethos (namely, by doing what they do for the sake of doing what they do), but I feel that both tend to have a specific bent or agenda to them that subverts what would otherwise be much closer to a manifestation of the hacker ethos.


This unremarkable essay is another one of hundreds repeating the theme about "money destroying true hackers". One can rewrite the same article using other synonyms such as "Silicon Valley Has Lost Its Way" or "How Greed Is Ruling Silicon Valley."

This theme can be further generalized into "money is ruining <insert_whatever>".

"Money is ruining music. Bing Crosby was a true artist; Today's performers like Lady Gaga is a commercial pandering."

"Money is ruining movies. The 1970s had auteur directors but now all we get at theaters is superheroes in spandex and Disney princesses because they need ROI from international blockbusters."

Writers, thinking they have something new to say, like to write on those themes. Readers, with a predisposition to seeing what's wrong with the world, like to read them. I suppose it's some sort of 1st-World ritual of commiseration. Personally, I find those essays devoid of any insight. I can acknowledge that there are undeniable trends there but I try to avoid categorizing them into value judgments of "good vs evil". I understand the economics of why Disney's "Frozen" is the type of film that theaters prefer to show rather than Michael Cimino's "Heaven's Gate".

An example of force-fitting his observations into categories of Hackers-vs-Yuppies (aka good-vs-evil) is his claim:

"I’m going to stake a claim on the word though, and state that the true hacker spirit does not reside at Google, guided by profit targets."

That broad-stroked brush is amateur writing. Google is a big place with ~57,000 employees. Sure, there are probably engineers doing soul-crushing work of parsing logs for server reliability or optimizing ad click conversions. But I'm sure there are other pockets of engineering where "hackers" are innovating and trying to change the world: driverless cars, balloon wifi, etc. It's the same contradictory pockets of bored employees coexisting with passionate hackers in different areas of large companies like Lockheed, AT&T Labs, Apple, etc.

As far as "yuppies" ruining the hackers, I'm not sure who's supposed to be an exemplar of the "hacker" that he wants to run SV. Steve Wozniak & Steve Jobs both came from middle class families. They weren't hobos living out of their cars and overturning the world with their hacker ethos. Apple took money from VC investors within 1 year of its founding. Even Richard Stallman's family background can also be considered "yuppie".


I think you'll find hackers were never trying to change the world. Therein lies the charge of activists and idealists. The original set of hackers, on the other hand, were merely captivated by the ability to explore the realm of computation--or more broadly by exploration and play in general. Hackers as a group have never had the charisma or social commitment necessary to really want to change the world for everyone. Traditional hacker culture is pretty self-centered and dismissive of the needs of the masses--comparative ignorance and disinterest will likely always be the norm, even as standards (e.g. literacy, or code-literacy, or so on) rise. Even if most people can read and code, mostly they'll read restaurant menus or light fiction and code to bring home a paycheck. That's fine. Not everyone should be a hacker; hackers are imbalanced.

As nice as it would be, "encourage play" is not an effective political praxis. The environments that fostered early hackers no longer exist, and outside of rough approximations in occasional backwaters nothing of the sort exists today. Lone hackers do exist, writing code that does things most people would balk at attempting, and their meager Web presence osculates the HN sphere (sometimes people post technical, novel things on HN). But there are no hacker communities... the demoscene is maybe the last bastion of that sort of cult to the technical, and their irrelevance even to the larger programming community is clear. Look at the kind of comments demoscene posts on HN get: adulation, but distant--"I could never do that!" or "It's amazing what ..." dominate over discussion of the technical attributes, the actual hacks, being displayed.

Yuppies (big business, middle-aged slashdotters, startup capitalists, bros, anime communists, whoever) own HN and programming at large, but hacking (or anything so self-centric, e.g. radical libertarianism) is inherently anti-establishment and can't be truly co-opted. Its terminology has been subverted, but the core activity has merely been extinguished rather than harnessed to the establishment buggy. Hacking (and libertarianism) isn't good politics, but casting hackers as a social class is no longer coherent, even if one could claim it ever was (in the '80s?). The real problems are either political ones (for the vast majority of the world, as continued mechanization increasingly removes accountability and autonomy from people's daily lives) or social/lifestyle ones (for those who wish to be hackers).


Whoa, whoa, whoa, hang on a moment. Let's not call parsing logs and server reliability soul crushing, some of us in the ops world enjoy that kind of daily excitement.


The core argument isn't "money ruining X", but that business flocking to acquire the term hacker. The money entering the scene is just a consequential outgrowth.

The author is making a stronger case than that, the article is an examination of a culture being diluted by misappropriation of the term "hacker".

Hacking is subversive at its core, it's an exploration of technology, and in many regards generally pointless, done for ones own curiosity or to change the rules of a system to perturb the owners of that system.

One can't hold onto their own culture for long, thanks to the internet, but the reimagining of hackers from basement dwelling socially awkward nerds to sleek and mysterious agents who can bend the technologies, the world, even their own bodies to their will, has influenced people's perceptions of the culture. Now that it's cool everyone wants a piece, they want to associate themselves with that term like they would a cool brand of clothing. If you can't see that then you're not looking hard enough.


>The author is making a stronger case than that, the article is an examination of a culture being diluted by misappropriation of the term "hacker".

I disagree. Yes, his essay briefly talks about the hollowing out of the term "hacker". But it's really the hackers' "ethos" and "culture" that's in danger from "gentrification" rather the diluted meaning of a particular word.

He uses the word "gentrified/gentrification" over 20 times. Those sentences are more about about geeks & nerds being "pawns" of those with money. Those with money have agendas that are more "mainstream" and "safe". It's not about yuppies fooling the public with their new redefinition of "hacker".


> "Money is ruining movies. The 1970s had auteur directors but now all we get at theaters is superheroes in spandex and Disney princesses because they need ROI from international blockbusters."

The funny thing about this statement is that the auteur era was a very short-lived period created by the collapse of the old studio system until the studios regrouped and the blockbuster era began.

Go back to the truly old-school days of the Golden Age of Hollywood, and you'll see an environment uttely driven by the bottom line, where oppressive contracts and shady deals ruled the day. At least nowadays you don't have studios signing exclusivity deals with theaters like you had back in the day, the epitome of this was Paramount signing every single theater in Detroit to such a deal. Just imagine living in a major city and only being allowed to see movies made by a single studio.


It's not really about the family background so much as the lifestyle and if rms, the guy who lives out of an office and has devoted his life to a decidedly unprofitable method of creating and distributing software, doesn't count then I think we can safely just throw out the term.


They could just stop calling it hacking. It's such a cliche term nowadays. Look at me, i'm writing in an entrepreneurial forum, and even that is called 'hacker news'. Yesterday drchrono was looking for 'healthcare hackers' by which they meant programmers. I giggled. Hacking is like the new indie. It will come, and pass.


"Go home, yuppies!" - Yes and no. Hacker spirit is flexible, so why are we still sitting on that name? It's dead for that spirit since the 90s. In some regard I think, that I even care might be a good proof that I don't really belong. Wouldn't be strange to see the "real hackers" to just go hack something else while we sit here discussing "community norms" and "special terms".


One of the earliest articles on "hacking" which I read was by Richard Stallman - On Hacking [1]. The article seems to agree in spirit with what RMS was talking about.

[1] https://stallman.org/articles/on-hacking.html


The countercultural trickster has been pressed into the service of the preppy tech entrepreneur class

Concern has been expressed that the new generation of artists (musicians, actors etc.) in the UK seem to primarily come from upper middle class backgrounds[0]. I have started to wonder if the same could be said of the tech startup scene, e.g. in London. This could be due to the increasing difficulties someone would have living on a period of effectively zero income, unless they had the backing of rich parents.

[0] Could cite lots of articles, but http://www.standard.co.uk/business/markets/confessions-from-... is just one recent one.


This reads like a typical cultural critique article. Long text, contrived definitions, lack of overall insights into the subject. At least I didn't see anything that would make go "ah, I never thought of that". It's mostly word games.

Even though many people try to draw parallels between hackers who creatively modify systems and hackers who break into systems, there is little overlap these days, except, maybe some common roots in history and the fact that the latter usually have ample skills to do "creative" hacks as well.

Hacker culture being subverted? With multitude of security conferences, daily news about research into new vulnerabilities and increasingly frequent criminal hacks, I think hacker culture is actually doing pretty well in many of its diverse forms.


Look, you can construct whatever narrative you want about power, people and the ebb and flow of capital, but it's pointless.

People like nice things. There I said it. Most people like nice cedar lined floors, expensive drinks and well cut clothes. And when you have those things, it's marvelous how quickly your disdain for the 'institution' evaporates.

Most of us aren't really hackers in that nostalgic sense. We're normal people, yuppies, kids, nerds, dorks, that one dude really into Aphex Twin in your office (everyone has one). We just happen to be good with computers.


>People like nice things. There I said it. Most people like nice cedar lined floors, expensive drinks and well cut clothes. And when you have those things, it's marvelous how quickly your disdain for the 'institution' evaporates.

People are made to want nice thing, big difference. It's the result of the exploitation of a natural need (fear) by corporations and the 'institution' through modern advertising and propaganda.

The fact that the disdain reduces/disappears for some is not of any credit to their acceptance of the 'institution', it just shows it works as intended (generating individuals that will not question).


Or they have their own minds, which occasionally decide to do things you don't approve of. You're just as much a product of the media you consume and the ideals impressed upon you by friends and family as anyone else. It is much more invigorating to feel like one knows the truth and everyone else is brainwashed though.


You're putting words in my mouth, I'm very well aware of the fact that I'm the product of my experience. Though what you can't, and haven't, refute is that our consumerist society is based around advertising and manipulation techniques. The crux of advertising is "How do we get the consumer to buy product X?", and I don't think I need to tell you to what length companies go to advertise their product, regardless of their real nature.

I do not pretend to hold the truth,but I do hold an opinion based on my own experience (I work in advertising, ironic) and I stand by it as I've yet to be convinced of the contrary (and trust me, I'm looking for every chance to be proven wrong).

>Or they have their own minds

You are entirely too certain of this statement. Research/writings dating back to the late 1800' dive into the subject (and we still are) of the human mind, how it works, how and if it can be manipulated. Many of the advances of those days in phychology and neuroscience have been used as foundations of the advertising industry. See propaganda history as well since it's just another -not very liked- name for advertisement.


I read this comment while wearing an Aphex Twin shirt in the office. :(


For your honesty, I would upvote this a hundred times if I could.


I don't think this is a fair generalization. It might be correct to say 'many people think they want expensive things'.

I for one think you can keep your cedar floors and fancy wine. Maybe I'm just young but I really don't want that at all.


Hacking for me was always about pushing the envelope, and if that meant getting the right tools for the job, then that also meant working for old industrial monopolists and building out my crystal palace in my own free time. After work I would come home, switch on my Pandora's box, and use my paycheck to have fun. The problem with doing this for extended periods of one's life is that you see all your peers getting stinking rich, and you almost feel left behind, like a lone wolf hacker who missed the proverbial boat of investor money. On one hand this can feel miserable because Fear of Missing Out (F.O.M.O) feels like a legitimate thing to be concerned about. On the other hand, the hacking escapades are exhilarating and quickly drown out F.O.M.O because those same people that are getting rich are missing out on the joys of low level disk hacking, and twitter bots that can disrupt markets and sway the stock market any way one wants. The F.O.M.O is quickly drenched by fun. Let fun precede every other activity. This is the hacker way.



The main objection against the ending refrain of "go home, yuppies" is that, since hackers (however you define the term) have valuable skills, they should be able to earn money using them. If the alternative is working in a menial capacity for some large alienating infrastructure (see what I did there?) with hacking as a hobby, then I'd rather be working on something interesting, even if it makes me complicit in gentrification[0].

So, that's the whole issue right there-- being a hacker has become a career path, and it's iteratively becoming more mainstream as the expected benefits are formalized and the stigmas exorcized[1]. That doesn't really sound all that bad, but the problem with gentrification is that it pushes the original tenants out, which is kinda scary when we're talking about the gentrification of an idea.

"Real" hackers become hard to identify among the masses who can sling a little javascript, and so they end up on the fringes of their own movement.

Of course, I'm not really sure how much such real hackers care. It'll be inconvenient when you can no longer identify a member of the tribe by a simple shibboleth, but that is not an insurmountable obstacle.

In my opinion, l33t H4x0r status is something you earn[2]. A yuppie having "hacker" on their business card is likely doing about as much damage to hackerdom as the self-titled programming rock stars, ninjas, wizards, etc. etc. did to those professional groups.

----

0. Incidentally, does anyone else get reminded of things like The Rebel Sell or The Conquest of Cool by pieces like this? All of this handwringing serves to subtly indicate that the author is the sort of person who happens on these scenes before they were cool.

1. Even if you can't get rid of the more Stallman-esque members of the tribe, they get romanticized, deified, reduced to stories instead of people who could be brilliant, visionary, and kind, but moments later gross or needlessly rude.

2. Generally by spelling with your number keys.


My impression from the article wasn't an objection to hackers making money per se (indeed, most of the original "hackers", back in the days of Lisp machines and ITS and early Unix, were - if not academics - professional, paid programmers), but rather an objection to the characterization of hackerdom as a collective conformance to multi-million-dollar companies and investors in Silicon Valley rather than its proper (to the author) characterization as individual resistance to such collective conformance.

The article misses the mark here mostly because it swings a bit too hard toward crackeresque antisocial anarchy in order to compensate for the Valleyesque prosocial conformity being criticized. Really, the "hacker ethos" leans closer to asocial ambivalence.


Don't really like this article, the writing is embellished and the thesis unclear.


The thesis is that, through a process similar to gentrification of ethnic neighborhoods, the term "hacker" and the culture it represents has been replaced with a shallow facsimile that's more palatable to moneyed interests. Not sure how you missed it.


He probably missed it because it was long winded and poorly articulated.


I have to say, I really enjoyed how they placed their newsletter signup. I actively rebel (maybe that's the hacker ethos per this article, haha) against the ones that have a giant popup and often put totally incorrect information just because I'm so annoyed. This one has the signup unobtrusively in the middle of the article a little ways down. Thus, if you found the article interesting enough to keep reading, you came across the newsletter signup embedded unobtrusively. I signed up for a newsletter from a website/blog for the first time in a long time.


If you want to see how true "hacker ethos" existed as compared to today's "WE HIRE HACKERS" brandvertising placed in IPO filings, check out early or pre-www FAQs.

Here's a good one (a few MB of text) about hacker encryption: https://www.cypherpunks.to/faq/cyphernomicron/cyphernomicon.... — other traditional sources are the anarchist's cookbook and anything with more of a "fight the man" sense from the 70s and less of a "give us billions of dollars" sense from the post-popular-Internet era.

Hacking is about a nerd underclass fighting an oblivious overclass. Up until the late 90s, hackers had never "won." But with Internet mania sweeping the world, the nerds started to win. They became "the new man." Now the new overclass needs to be brought down themselves. You don't win hacking, you just become a more prominent target.

Hacking is also about exactly not that.

Hacking is just ignoring everybody else and doing good work you can be proud of. It's the only reason Apple exists. Hacking is about not trying to win, it's just about being clever.

Companies promote hiring the second kind of hacker because those people pay no attention to the value they create as long as they're having fun. So, you get someone puzzle-obsessed, give them a $50 million problem to solve, they solve it, and you keep paying them their $125k/year. Everybody's happy and the CEO gets to join the three comma club even sooner thanks to the selfless hackers who enjoy subsidizing billionaires while living at the bottom of the org chart.


The author is confused because they think a 'hacker' is a tangible thing. It isn't. It's an idea without shape, a calling without purpose.

The prototypical self-described hacker is an insecure person who attaches themselves to a romantic, powerful identity in order that they might attain these qualities themselves. But the power of the hacker is that of a magician: conjuring tricks in order to amaze the public and seem mysterious, powerful, skilled.

Here you see a normal web server with a firewall. It's totally secure. Nothing up my sleeve, as you can see. But wait... Alacazam! Now I have a remote shell!

If the author wanted to 'resist' traditional economic institutions they could become a circus performer. But then they couldn't fulfill the true 'fetish', which is that anti-authoritarian action through intellectual skill and craftiness is a pursuit to be proud of; one that the audience should revere.

The fact that this author's lofty rejection of traditional economic forces packaged in a sexy identity also has the ability to provide them a very comfortable living is, it would seem, totally accidental.


You missed the author's definition of hacker, I think. "amaze the public" indeed, harrumph. (although yes, there are absolutely people that come onto IRC looking for "How to become a cracker in 24 hours" guides. "Yeah, I looked at the book you recommended for C, but is there a way to learn it without reading a whole book?!", etc)


I'm working too hard and too sleep deprived to read the full article, but am I the only person noticing that every single lawyer and MBA under 35, almost without exception, is attending or trying to attend a code school to change careers? Many of the ones I meet talking about it have very limited tech experience.

That's very much how it seems in NY right now.


Good to see them trying to gain some technical literacy.


Yeah, most won't really become devs, but they'll gain some newfound technical literacy and some respect for what devs do full-time.

It's important in these situations to look outside of the context and just see what's actually happening: people are learning. And that has more positives than negatives I'm sure.


While I see some positives there, I think that's a really expensive way to learn. I see a lot that just don't make it.

$10-18k+ that you can't write off on your taxes.

Full disclosure: I attended such a place myself as I saw it as the best way to shift my career quickly (support/ops). I've been writing code since I was 6 years old.


I'll be honest, I disagree here. I know on the onset 10-18K is a lot. In fact I warn people before they do a bootcamp: "Do you want to spend what would fund a trip around the world?"

But over a life time, if they work hard after and keep coding after, they can 10 fold reap what they sow. If they get a tech job, it might be a 10-20k a year increase from whatever other field they're in, more if they were a barista or something. Even if it doesn't lead to coding, but other jobs at a startup like tech support, the income boost might be substantial. Also the time is so condensed, they get a lot of learning out of those 11-15 weeks. Also, unlike grad school, there's no loss of income for 2 years. Worst comes to worst, I'd imagine in many cases their old employers are likely to bring them back.


18K + loss of income while in class and job searching + inability to write off the expense as job search/education costs. Even now making twice my previous salary, come tax time I will have taken home half of my income from the previous year. I'm not knocking my school for a second; it was great...

But for someone with a decade of work experience in tech before switching and no degree, I found the opportunities available -- especially fulfilling ones that provide the mentorship to give foundation to a long career -- few and far between post-graduation. The opportunity that I did take will lead to another year of just scraping by and a lot of uncertainty while I continue to "prove myself" worthy of a decent fulltime offer.

And I'm on the better end of the scale technically and "work-culturally" compared to my peers. There is a huge glut of devs around this experience level out there.

I learned too late that there are better options available. I wish that I had taken them, because now I'm faced with poor options ahead: a) great opportunity but stay poor a while more, b) financial security but no mentorship, c) great opportunity with company with incredibly uncertain future.

Because of my background, most of the places that interviewed me wanted to stick me in a 100% DevOps role, regardless of the position applied for. Frankly I am not interested in that at the moment.

I know it sounds like I'm complaining - honestly I have great options available in front of me and some of that credit surely goes to my school, but the best option and the one that I am taking would have been much more financially acceptable had I not done the school in the first place.


> I found the opportunities available -- especially fulfilling ones that provide the mentorship to give foundation to a long career -- few and far between post-graduation. The opportunity that I did take will lead to another year of just scraping by and a lot of uncertainty while I continue to "prove myself" worthy of a decent fulltime offer.

I appreciate the honesty. I think you hit upon a common problem. There's really not a great job track for people coming out of bootcamps. Also, you're right, it deserves mentioning that those months afterward while you hunt for a job are lean months indeed.

I think a company that goes all in on bootcamp grads and makes what is essentially a second program for them might really find themselves with a lot of talent on their hands. But sadly most jobs you'll get afterward lack mentorship.

Which, not to beat a dead horse, but this industry needs to get a better grasp on tech mentorship.

I'm curious to know what better options you're talking about?


Email me and I'll tell you :)


Here's the key point where the author and me diverge:

> In this context, the hacker ethic is hollowed out and subsumed into the ideology of solutionism, to use a term coined by the Belarusian-born tech critic Evgeny Morozov. It describes the tech-industry vision of the world as a series of problems waiting for (profitable) solutions.

Trade is the ultimate form of autonomy because when someone willingly buys what you're selling you can be self-sufficient (as opposed to dependent on a beneficent family/non-profit organization/gov't). Obviously tech startups have deviated from the hobbyist "I'm getting my kicks" ethos because they're trying to hack the softer domain that is customer behavior. Solutions to real problems are always win-win, and to believe otherwise is pretty weird.


Trade is an interesting term, because in our experience (for those of you in developed economies) it is circumscribed by a legal framework. So to partipate in legal trade is to implicitly accept the boundaries of law.

I think the article does rightly note that hackers in a historical sense haven't had that same fundamental limit.

Who win-wins if Uber satisfies a need by flouting established taxi law and asking forgiveness instead of permission?


Sure, uber's competition loses...but that's like saying Google Search sucks because what bad things happend to Alta Vista and all their employees and investors.

The ones who win: rider and driver.


I'd like to think that's hackers growing up. Putting that subversiveness towards building things. Not defining themselves by their enemies.

I'd say that's more maker culture, but makers tend to be far more comfortable with corporotized tools then I'd like.

Personal identity is weird. It's nice to be able to easily identify people with similar axioms to you, but damn is it a minefield.


Oh they quote Morozov?

That's an instant fail.


Do you mind elaborating?


Lets be grateful for yuppies and their money. Computers and gadgets are today cheap and widely available. And there is finally no social stigma related to nerds. 'Real hacker' who works on AI, security etc.. has now life easier.


> And there is finally no social stigma related to nerds.

People are just not telling you to your face anymore, because they want your money. :/


It's pieces like this that keep me coming back to HN. They also make me wish I could write as well!

It always irks me when I hear people refer to themselves as hackers (Zuckerberg for one) and this article articulates why far better than I could.


Summary:

1. Define what hacker means (prior to the yuppie gentrification), for numerous paragraphs. Bulk of article.

2. Big drop G paragraph: point actually starts here. (Just scroll down until you see a big G).

3. Fizzle on about gentrification of hacking, sort of making a point.

4. Send yuppies home.


I'd rather say, 80s hackers are todays yuppies. So it might be the same people.


Fight the man hard enough and you win. Now you're the man.

It wasn't colonization that yuppified hackerdom. It was evolution. Most of the old school hackers became yuppies when they found out they could make lots of money off this stuff. New school hackers are entering the scene now and this is all they know.

The same thing happened to old school counterculture hippies who found out their ideas and their styles sell. Hippies founded loads of clothing brands, trendy shops, 'new urbanism', and the whole organic food movement, all of which are now massively profitable. Whole Foods Market (Nasdaq: WFM, an S&P500 component) is a direct evolutionary descendant of the dirt-worshipping weirdos that spurned 1950s white bread culture and danced in the streets on acid.

Nothing really goes extinct. The dinosaurs are still here. In America we have a custom of roasting one on Thanksgiving.

I grew up with the old school 90s cyberculture, and I miss it dearly. I remember downloading text files on phone phreaking from H/P/V/A BBSes, hacking PBXes to dial demo scene boards in Europe, and watching Second Reality (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFv7mHTf0nA) for the first time on my 80386 with 4mb RAM.

I keep a few museum pieces of stuff I made back then here: http://adam.ierymenko.name/ye_olde_source_code.html

Today I am doing this: https://www.zerotier.com/

In its original form this old hacker culture is mostly dead. Its successor in an evolutionary sense is the startup scene.

If you doubt this thesis consider that you're hanging out at Hacker News, which is run by a billion dollar VC firm. I rest my case.

Yesterday we had Future Crew and L0PHT Heavy Industries. Today we have Y-Combinator and Andressen Horowitz. Today's hacker groups have cap tables.

By saying this I am not claiming that this was an entirely positive change. Evolution is not a progressive march 'upward'. The word evolution just means 'change over time.' Some features are gained, others are lost.

In evolving along these lines the hacker scene gained a lot but it also lost a lot. It lost the creative ethos of play and experimentation, replacing it with an engineering culture ruled by the hidebound plodding competence exported by top-ten universities and their engineering programs -- excellence at doing things we already know how to do. It also lost its countercultural and social ethos, replacing it with a yuppie get-rich mentality. But it gained the ability to act on the world stage. I would argue that hackerdom evolved into a global economic superpower with the capacity to influence not only global geopolitics but the future of human evolution.

You'll say it lost its soul and I won't argue with you. It certainly lost the things that made it great in its time and its place.

But that's the thing. Dinosaurs became birds because the dinosaur thing was played out. 90s hacker culture was great in its time and place. I wonder how relevant it would be today. This is not the 1980s or the 1990s. Everything has changed.

I think the question we need to be asking is what now? Where can we go from here? What might we evolve into that is perhaps more interesting than what we are today and how do we get there? The answer (IMHO) is never going back to the way things were. It's always the forward escape.

Edit: another useful question to ask is: what was it about old school hacker culture that predisposed it to evolve into this? It's particularly interesting to ask this about aspects of today's startup scene and Silicon Valley culture that you don't like. For example: I find the fratty 'brogrammer' thing irritating, but I can see its ancestry in the overwhelmingly male and somewhat sexist hacker culture of yore. It's just that minus the counterculture trappings.


I don't agree that the counter-culture of the 1950's led to whole-foods or any other multinational corporation. Multinational corporations stand in clear contrast to the beatniks and the free-thinking, free-love, unifying movement of the 60's.

I think the hacker ethic is needed now more than ever. Some old schoolers are still around, and thanks to free software and open source movement it has spread to other parts of the world and is growing.

Indeed change is constant and evolution is always occurring.

I think the world-wide-web has been compromised by avarice and monopolistic corporations. But that doesn't mean the internet as a medium of transferring bytes, or that the ethics of being a hacker have changed.


>We are currently witnessing the gentrification of hacker culture. The countercultural trickster has been pressed into the service of the preppy tech entrepreneur class.

Ouch. That hits hard.


The best way of eliminating the hacker ethos is to create economic forces, starving programmers and Ph.D people, low wages so that the search for money is key. Is HN about hacker ethos or about making money?


The only thing I took away from this is that more hackers who are hacking on hackathon projects and for-profit code bases should be hacking on free/open source to maintain the spirit of the hacker ethos.


Dunno about America but why not take part in CCC? That still has the old-school hacker feeling about it.


I thought that yuppies had disappeared along with hippies, beatniks, Teddies, etc. etc.


Maybe they don't call them "yuppies" much anymore but, no, I don't think so.


Hint: the phrase 'to suffer fools gladly' comes to mind.


A bunch of yuppies get mad about being called yuppies.


For those who think this article is too long, here is summary:

This gist of the article is that the hacker impulse or ‘hacker ethic’ is a natural human response to large alienating infrastructures that allow little agency on the part of individuals. Hackers take different forms, but are identified by 1) a tendency towards creative rebellion that seeks to increase the agency of underdogs in the face of systems that are otherwise complex or oppressive or that limit access to experts 2) a tendency to acting out that rebellion by bending the rules of those who currently dominate such infrastructures (this is in contrast to the open rebellion of liberation leaders who stand in direct defiance of such rules). They thus are figures of deviance, seeking to ‘queer’ boundaries that are otherwise viewed as concrete and static.

Having set up a definition of what the hacker ethic is, the article goes on to argue that the ethic has been corrupted due to its association with computer culture in the public eye.

On the one hand, in a world where people increasingly rely on computers for subsistence, the bogeyman figure of the criminal computer ‘hacker’ has emerged, a figure of media sensationalism and moral panic.

On the other hand, the increasingly powerful technology industry has honed in on the desirable, unthreatening elements of the hacker ethic to present a friendly form of hacking as ‘on-the-fly problem-solving for profit’. This is described a process of ‘gentrification’: In most gentrification you have twin processes: On the one hand, a source culture is demonised as something scary to be avoided. On the other hand, it is simultaneously pacified, scrubbed of subversive content, and made to fit mainstream tastes. This has happened to rap culture, street culture, and even pagan rituals. And the article argues, it is now happening to hacker culture: “The countercultural trickster has been pressed into the service of the preppy tech entrepreneur class.”

The article concludes with a reflection on whether you abandon the gentrified form, or whether you fight for it. There is reflection on whether the hacker impulse perhaps has always been an element of capitalist commodification processes, but argues that it is an ethos that needs to be protected: “In a world with increasingly large and unaccountable economic institutions, we need these everyday forms of resistance. Hacking, in my world, is a route to escaping the shackles of the profit-fetish, not a route to profit.”


The article just sounds fundamentally flawed to me.

Let's consult the Jargon File. It was written by old-school hackers, and it hasn't been updated in years. It should have a handle on what it means to be a hacker. Let their definition of "hacker": http://www.catb.org/jargon/html/H/hacker.html

The first seven senses all give the same impression: a hacker is somebody who likes to tinker with stuff out of intellectual curiosity and for the sheer fun of it.

And here's "hacker ethic" while we're at it: http://www.catb.org/jargon/html/H/hacker-ethic.html

There's nothing in there about "fighting the man".

Now, yes, a lot of the more traditional aspects of hacker culture would recoil at the idea of "on-the-fly problem solving for profit" (in fact, the entry on "wannabee" appears to hold "professional programmers" in disdain). But that's because the old-school hackers did what they did for fun. No, they weren't interested in profit, but they weren't interested fighting "the man" either.

And while we're talking about "large alienating infrastructures", that probably applies now more than ever, what with the rise of walled gardens, proprietary APIs, and the resurgence of closed-source software thanks to mobile and web apps replacing desktop apps. If the hacker ethic was a response to "large alienating infrastructures", it would be stronger than ever right now.

Actually, I'd argue that hacker culture flourishes more in the absence of "large alienating infrastructures" than anything else. Hacker culture started at universities where students all had access to powerful timesharing machines (or, hell, even access to the batch-job machines that preceded timesharing). Then, it underwent a resurgence in the '90s with the open-source revolution... because suddenly the entire world was connected through the Internet, so anybody could download, run, and hack on an entire open-source operating system, and they could submit their patches or host a server in their living room and post new software up for the whole world to see.


ESR's "How to be a Hacker" essay explicitly lists anti-authoritarianism as part of the hacker ethic/attitude, however: http://www.catb.org/esr/faqs/hacker-howto.html#attitude

Not that I have much of an affinity for ESR, but he is a spokesman.


Reading that article, I noticed a few things.

First, it's #4 on the list. On the other hand, #1 is "The world is full of fascinating problems waiting to be solved".

Second, it sounds less like "the hacker ethic was created as a response to authoritarianism" (which is what OP asserts) and more like "authoritarianism is incompatible with the hacker ethic, so don't support it", which is a very different proposition.


Sure it was, just authoritarianism as reified in closed technical systems.


I see that more as ESR's spin on things rather than being an accurate reflection of reality. He is, after all, somewhat biased in that direction.


>Let's consult the Jargon File.

That's not the real jargon file. This is:

http://www.dourish.com/goodies/jargon.html


That's an old version of the Jargon File, yes, with annotations suggesting that somehow hackerdom is permanently resigned to Lisp and anti-Unix philosophies.

While I personally do lean more toward the Lisper realm than the Unix-weenie realm in most of my beliefs, I also happen to have an appreciation for the Jargon File as maintained by ESR and others for actually trying to document evolution in the broader hacker culture. The whole "well ESR's jargon.txt ain't the real jargon.txt" seems closed-minded and ignorant to me.



That's a summary? tldr

My summary: the article is a cultural-marxist parable. The victim is the hacker. The oppressor is the yuppie. In olden days the hacker lived in a sort of eden, but now the oppressor has trapped the hacker in webs of capitalist bondage.


I really worry about these people trying to free me from a high income career and telling me it's for my own good.


What I want is for a common person to not need to pursue a high income career in order to support themselves and their loved ones, persue their hobbies/education/passions, and stay culturally engaged. The cultural necessity of careerism limits the general options available and accelerates the course of the dominant culture, which as we know, primarily consolidates wealth and attacks sub-scale forms of ownership. We need pervasive ownership.

You may not need freeing, but I certainly do.


That's not "freedom" you're describing.

You're wanting "freedom to pursue "hobbies" and free "perks" without having to work for it" for yourself, at the expense of the general society. And by expense of general society, what that really means is that someone with the means to production/capital/etc has to part ways with some of his (labor, gasp he's no longer free), in order to fund your "free" lifestyle.


Beyond my belief that apriori human happiness should be the highest priority for society, youre misunderstanding me. Yes, it is obvious that we rely on society to sustain modern life. I'm pretty sure that in 2015 America the main economic problems to be solved are about efficient distribution of the fruits of capital. Maybe I'm wrong, and food, housing, transportation and communication really are primarily supply constrained where I live. Maybe I'm wrong and people who have the means to live satisfying lives, in general, really do suddenly withdraw from society and stop doing and making things.

Regardless, we'll agree to say fuck basic income. I like this even more radical idea: There must be <= 10x total income spread within any company. (I have no idea how to handle the obvious loopholes)


> "Maybe I'm wrong, and food, housing, transportation and communication really are primarily supply constrained where I live."

No, it's purely a governmental accountability problem. The money, the will and the goods are all there. The only problem is we're all dilly-dallying when it comes to holding the government accountable to provide basic life necessities to the needy. We all talk noble, but don't throw eggs at politicians for lying to us, or stick them in jail for causing (or allowing) the homeless die of starvation on their watch. I exaggerate a little, but really, as you say it's 2015. These should be solved problems using existing structures in place, without even discussing such things as universal basic income, or anything remotely that radical.

>"Regardless, we'll agree to say fuck basic income. I like this even more radical idea: There must be <= 10x total income spread within any company. (I have no idea how to handle the obvious loopholes)"

I understand that you mean this in a noble and well-meaning way. As a libertarian I don't deny that government programs, and the societal-backing behind them are not motivated by noble intentions. But you also have to understand that implementing such a suggestion fundamentally means that you don't believe an individual deserves (or is allowed to keep) all the products of his/her own labor and knowledge. Do you not see anything at fault with that?

Perhaps, rather address the existing issues that plague our society (if you agree that it's a problem). Almost all government regulatory laws have the unintended consequence of promoting larger institutions in the market, rewarding individuals with large accumulated pots of capital, and increase the barrier to entry for small-competitors.


I think my main issue is that with automation and labor beyond a certain scale, there is no sensible tracing of individual labor to that which is produced. We're on Hacker News; its trivial to demonstrate that an individual or group's knowledge is often directly responsible for products and services the original party doesn't even know exists. Production and capital are no longer primarily guided by human will.


> what that really means is that someone with the means to production/capital/etc has to part ways with some of his (labor, gasp he's no longer free)

This assumes that automation is not possible.


And if it was possible? Are you going to say that the fruits of said automated labor do not belong entirely to their owners (or people that created it/bought it/etc)?

There is no in-between. Either we live in a dystopian society where all labor (or means to production) is collectively owned and the fruits of it are portioned-out. Or we live in a society where only a portion/percentage of said labor is redistributed, thus invalidating the OP's suggestion that such a society would mean freedom for all "...to pursue hobbies and live without careerism (I paraphrase there)".

I can only assume that "careerism" in that sense is in reference to a job, and/or participating in a labor market of sorts.


> Are you going to say that the fruits of said automated labor do not belong entirely to their owners (or people that created it/bought it/etc)?

No. Why would I? That's silly.

> Or we live in a society where only a portion/percentage of said labor

Not only is this a false dichotomy, but it's also missing my point: that the purpose of automation is to eliminate the need for labor, and that by pursuing automation of tasks that few (if any) people actually want to do as hobbies or "labors of love", OP's suggestion is actually feasible.

It sounds like you're trying to pin me to some communal Marxist philosphy (never mind that I personally subscribe to philosophies that can power most of Europe by wiring the corpse of Karl Marx to a dynamo in his grave). The idea of a post-labor society is actually quite compatible with capitalism; if you have a machine that makes chairs and I have a machine that makes tables, there's nothing stopping us from trading, say, a table for four chairs, or a chair-making machine for a table-making machine, or selling our tables and chairs for money and using that money to buy, say, couches.


Yup they are dangerous. Be careful Donald Trump.


Cultural-Marxist? I thought he was an economist.


Lately "Cultural-Marxist" has become shorthand for anyone holding beliefs even slightly adjacent to "the rich/powerful are evil and they're corrupting the pure and poor/powerless" or "there are two kinds of people: the oppressed and the oppressors".

Whether this characterization of the article is fair or those beliefs about the world are true are both reasonable questions worthy of consideration.

Anyone looking for a little information on the origins of the term "Cultural Marxism" should take a look at the wiki entry for the Frankfurt School, under the subheading "Conspiracy Theory".


I've more commonly found "cultural Marxism" used regarding social issues. People who believe in the theory allege that Marxism has expanded into the cultural realm (rather than focusing on economics and class), as part of a long strategy to undermine western society. For example: immigration is alleged to be a cultural-Marxist strategy to undermine the nation-state, abortion & gay marriage are cultural-Marxist strategies to undermine the family, and focusing on things like slavery and Jim Crow in history textbooks is a cultural-Marxist strategy to undermine patriotism.

A funny thing about the more general critique of oppressor/victim narratives is that Nietzsche had a very similar critique, alleging that the pervasiveness of such narratives (which he called "slave morality") had weakened society. But he didn't blame Marxism for it— he blamed Christianity.


How is class not a part of culture?


This is exactly how we keep intentionally misunderstanding Das Kapital on internet forums.

Class is not a minor outcome of a social moment. It is not a mere symbol that can be quickly turned on or off by a culture, the way a culture might shift from enjoying boxing to preferring mixed martial arts.

Class has arisen as an essential structure in the reproduction of society since the dissolution of European fuedalism. The same business logic that produces all our material wants, from coats to bushels, comes hand in hand with the logic that every business must give the profit (surplus labor) back to capital. Culture is a material basis, but class is the overdetermining superstructure.

Shifting from a class based society to a classless one would require a fundamental shift in the economic relations where workers would own the means of production. This shift would tear apart the material basis of our culture. MTV/Viacom, MSNBC/Fox/CNN, RCA/TicketMaster/C3, WaPo/NYT/WSJ, TWTR/Facebook/Google: all of these cultural production centers would shatter into cultural microcosms if the workers at these firms weren't bound to profit maximization.

On the other hand, it is trivial to manufacture new cultures without a whiff of change to class.


To clarify - you think that I'm intentionally misunderstanding Das Kapital by questioning how someone could believe that class and culture are intermixed? Or do you think that the material conditions of a given society are largely determined by class relations, and acting as if that's not the case is an intentional misreading of Marx?


One of the best explainers of the term is William Lind.

http://www.academia.org/the-origins-of-political-correctness...


In fact, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_Marxism redirects to that section.


"Brett Scott writes about financial activism and social and environmental finance. He is the author of The Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance (2013)."

Without knowing anything else about the author, this byline does give a bit of a left-wing impression.


Marx being the economist in my post. My confusion is why the arguments presented here are being called "cultural". People are trying to frame left economics as a mere happenstance of a cultural moment (hippies or hipsters), in order to exclude it from the scientific register when we debate it.


Of course, in the old days, the hacker worked with integrated circuits that were made by a multi-million dollar fab that was funded by yuppie venture capital.


Still true today. Except the original capitalists in the case of the computer industry was the government, not VCs. Almost every major technology you use everyday in your computer originated with a government grant or program. Those HD LCD screens? They were originally developed for the Abrams XM-1 tank in the First Gulf War. Google was first funded by a DARPA grant. The Internet itself was a large DARPA project. The integrated circuit, you name it.

First world nations become that way by government-led expansion. The private sector comes along later to make a profit after the fact in almost every case.


The problem with TLDR summaries is that they're always overly blunt and often wrong and they tend to serve as dog whistles for people who are overly blunt and often wrong themselves.


Small info: If you use the word cultural-marxist people will assume you're belonging to the fringe right or at least read lots of fringe right media


"Gentrification is the process by which nebulous threats are pacified and alchemised into money"

I never understood why the citizens of a city are against Genetrification. It improves not only the quality of an area, but can make you money if you own property there. Creating laws against it essentially keeps the poor, poor. On top of this, anyone with a little bit of succes and/or money leave.

It's just another example of politicians decreasing social mobility under the guise of helping the poor.


> Gentrification ... can make you money if you own property

You are incorrect to assume that poor people own property in gentrifying neighborhoods. The dynamic is usually that low income renters get priced out of a neighborhood by high income renters.


Garbage article.




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