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Geek Researcher Spends Three Years Living With Hackers (wired.com)
47 points by cyphersanctus 1698 days ago | hide | past | web | 44 comments | favorite

My game-inventing club has an ethnographer from the local University attending our meetings. We welcome here; teach her our gentle ways and show her how to achieve the good life: by inventing fun things!

Anthropology is ridiculously useful for sales and marketing.

I owe a guy named Michiel van Meeteren a beer or three for his 'Indie Fever' (http://www.madebysofa.com/indiefever/), a ethnography of indie Mac developers - which came out right when I was crafting a pitch to indie Mac developers at the start of the iOS software boom back in 2008.

That book is terribly dated now - the success of iOS completely mutated the culture. But it was accurate at that time, and helped me avoid some terrible errors - errors I totally would have made, had I just followed my instincts.

If you're selling or planning to sell anything to the hacker community she researched, you should jump on her book, stat.

Thank you very much for the link. This one is truly valuable research. And it is not dated in methodological sense. Besides Sofa BV makes wonderful software I use every day, despite the company is now gone. Kaleidoscope is absolutely lovely and saves lots of bacon.

>That book is terribly dated now

>If you're selling or planning to sell anything to that community you should jump on her book, stat.


Edit: I misunderstood the last line, he's talking about the book in the OP article.

Different books. Different authors, even.

OH! Thanks, edited original post.

Am I the only one who's slightly offended by being portrayed like a rogue tribe of bushmen that researchers "go and live with" to study?

Hackers, aka. software developers, are just people with a specific job.

We also have a culture, and anthropologists don't only study distant tribes. I'm in Turkey and have a few anthropologist friends here studying everything from the statistics department to television stations to poor Turks displaced by gentrification. An ethnography on a single evangelical church has been published. If it's a group of people, an anthropologist is either studying or considering studying it.

mmm. This recalls me the situation when a young monkey is taken into lab to the elder one and asks what is the monkey job. The elder one puffs: "Its anthropological research!". "What is it?" - asks the young one. "You see, I push this button and measure how fast these large white monkeys will give me a banana".

Ah there it is, my daily dose of "programmer snarkily trivializes a complex field". I was wondering what took so long.

Now you know how the bushmen feel.

Offended? What, the great modern human is immune to being studied like all those primitive inferior bushmen?

Sorry to put words in your mouth; that's just what I heard in my head when I read that post.

Its the "rogue" part that offends me. As an american living in america I grew up this way, I'm marginally offended that hanging out with me would be considered analogous to traveling to the other side of the planet to the extreme opposite of american lifestyle.

Or a person with reasonably normal empathy (my wife?) seems to be able to figure me out without a PHD and years of study.

Also, like clockwork, right after the "othering" comes the "hate" and I'm not looking forward to that part. (Ah he's different than us... what next? Oh make fun of and bully of course, thats what the majority always does after they define an other!)

You're projecting your insecurities on someone else's attempt to understand.

He is insecure about that for a very good reason, though, considering how media only started positively displaying people with hacker mentality after the last bubble hit (everyone else was getting fired while programmers were still being hired) and the Social Network (again, because of lots of money being talked about).

You are aware that there are lots of anthropology studies on americans living in the United States right? It's just a field of study.

Indeed. I think some people underestimate how much variation there is in culture and lifestyles in this country.

Hackers are far more interesting than bushmen as a specie. Such a belief in their superiority... I find bushmen lovable.

It all depends on environment. Bushmen may find you edible.

Regarding her quest for good hacker films, try Jason Scott's BBS documentary or to a lesser extent his text adventure documentary.

If she's looking for a big name formulaic Hollywood blockbuster, don't bother, because there's no original comic book for them to make a sequel or remake of. Maybe in a generation (or two) Hollywood could turn xkcd or penny arcade into a movie remake?

Works of this ilk has been done in the past. Look at the original "Hackers" book or "Soul of a New Machine". And the jokes that she finds very funny are mostly bad puns to the folks that have been in the "culture" for decades.

This is all very meta.

I'm not sure how I feel about being anthropologized.

I think it's neat. Nerds/Geeks/Hackers/etc are generally a solitary lot and even in groups the group is very inward focused so it's nice to have an outside opinion.


I especially like

>There’s a whole chapter on joking, humor and cleverness among hackers. And that, to me, was one of the fascinating areas. And I feel that I’ve just scratched the surface with that chapter — to how deep and complex their oral histories are and their folklore is.

Because I've always been fascinated with Internet History and much of it is recounted through what is basically oral tradition simply because a lot of the old era hasn't been saved.

edit 2:

>They come from the meme world.

Here is a tldr of the interview: http://tldr.io/tldrs/50b61713bb2203997700013f

Her 'findings' are not really related to hackers. In fact, every observation she makes could equally apply to physics geeks of the 50s.

True, but the current geek cultures are very much an extension of those departments. Anthropology is the study of men, and men do not often develop entirely new traditions. It would also be worth exploring if similarities between physics geeks and guild societies before that existed.

There is an ethnography for that(physics geeks) too.


So you've read the book?

I was referring to the interview

Biella is, among other things, a really sweet person, and I look forward to reading her book. I was confused when I saw the title of this submission because it sounds like something that just happened, not something that happened several years ago.

I recall meeting Biella a number of years ago in that area of the world. She seemed very nice and committed to her research.

I'm suprised to see this story landed on Hacker News :P

Does anyone know of any other good Geek/Nerd/Internet Ethnology/History books? I find myself very interested in the subject lately.

I highly recommend "Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution" by Steven Levy

Second that.

I would also recommend "Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age" and "Show Stopper!: The Breakneck Race to Create Windows NT and the Next Generation at Microsoft".

Demoscene: The Art of Real-Time. Different sub-culture, but most definitely geek/nerd.

For three years jedi knights tolerated questions about the Force and everything from a young she-padawan. Until they realised she can't spell "42".

Dudes, seriously, does anyone of you want to be treated like monkey tribe? Even if it is anonymous?

I love the idea that being studied is what happens only to monkeys. Too, the gratuitous sexism and totally unfounded sense of elite entitlement. Yes, ommunist, you are most certainly deserving of study.

Imagine the anthropologist studying American human female reactions on preinstalled social prejudice.

I am just promoting the understanding of sex differences to enhance equity and excellence in social science.

That has been studied many times.

The article is kinda ridiculous, but why are you bringing gender into this discussion? It is irrelevant.

I am also bringing the Force. It is also irrelevant.

I saw that this interview was written about a woman and I knew comments like those were coming. HN is greatly disappointing to me sometimes :(

It does sound a little bit like Dogbert doing his "Engineers in the Mist".

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