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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.




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