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Lessig's Future of Ideas Reviewed and The Hacker Ethic Revisited

By Swashbuckler in Media
Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 03:05:38 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

Part of Lawrence Lessig's (bio) book The Future of Ideas is easy to summarize for geeks in the K5 community. He is telling the story of how media corporations are changing the character of the Internet along with the laws that affect it to ensure their business isn't threatened. These changes are not only damaging to innovations on the web but to the innovations of artists and authors in general. Geeks get that. The other part, however, may need explanation. Lessig's book denotes something that cannot be easily summarized. Lessig embodies the intersection of law and the ideals that characterize geek culture. His role as a public intellectual is to mobilize and engage and he is doing so not only through the media (his two books, countless articles and radio broadcasts) but also, and probably more effectively, through the system of education (class list, past / forthcoming lectures). In this regard, the social praxis of Lessig's principles is most important.

However, misguided policies and coercive private interests are only a small part of the problem that Lessig describes. His principal concern comes more from a general "blindness" about property. This blindness, Lessig warns, "affects our political culture generally. We have been so captured by the ideals of property and control that we don't even see the benefits from resources not perfectly controlled" (Lessig, 237). The roots of geek culture, I believe, rest in the realization of those benefits (openness, social worth, creativity, etc.). When Lessig says, "Power runs with ideas that only the crazy would draw into doubt" (5), remember the geeks who have been influential in doing just that. Lessig writes, "the `taken for granted' is the test of sanity; `what everyone knows' is the line between us and them" (5). The argument in this article is that this line in very thin - geek culture is also at risk of being blinded, in this case, to its own ideals. The question raised is whether Computer Science education may be partly to blame.

Published not long before The Future of Ideas, The Hacker Ethic is another book that should be very simple to summarize for the K5 community. In it, Pekka Himanen describes "a radical approach" to business and life in general. He first draws similarities between the virtues of "The Protestant Ethic" and the teachings of Personal Development (self-help) books that are best sellers in North America. He finds seven virtues common in the approach to life taught by Personal Development books and the Protestant Ethic, all of which can be categorized as the "goals and accountability approach". He compares this philosophy to that of the true hacker and finds that the latter approach places emphasis less on goals and achievements and more on passion and creativity. While the geek virtues he describes may seem obvious in themselves, Himanen's importantly describes the difference between the two approaches and points out that the "goals and accountability approach" is far more pervasive. Thus, it is important to interpret Lessig's writings with the hacker ethic in mind. In reading the following passage from Lessig's book, interpret "blindness" to mean the decay of the hacker approach, eroded by the overwhelming flood of those guided by goals and accountability.

I want to convince you of a blindness in our culture, and the harm this blindness creates. In the understanding of this revolution and the creativity it has induced [the Internet], we systematically miss the role of a crucially important part. We therefore don't even notice as this part disappears or, more important, is removed. Blind to its effect we don't watch for its demise [and] this blindness will harm the [general] environment of innovation (5-6).

This blindness is in part related to the misunderstanding of what it means to be a hacker. How many times have you had to explain that, (1) a hacker is not a technological anarchist who wears black trench coats and electronically robs banks, and (2) that a hacker is not necessarily involved with computers? To be a hacker is to choose a certain way of life. These are the fundamentals of the hacker ethic. That said, there are many geeks who misinterpret what it means to be a hacker. Streeter says in his essay that geek culture has counter cultural roots. Stewart Brand, for example, created and edited the counter cultural compendium, the Whole Earth Catalog, and his Coevolution Quarterly was guest-edited by the Black Panthers in 1974, [which] eventually evolved into a computer software magazine(Streeter, 51). Geek culture is certainly grounded in 1960's style and attitude, but what Streeter points out is how its philosophy as changed into libertarianism, neoliberalism and a "quasi-religious faith in markets as the solution to all problems".

It seems likely that the computer culture has played an important role in one of the more important communication policy issues of our time: the headlong rush to privatize the internet (50).

To put this into context, Streeter says:

One might have explained the internet's success in terms of its nonprofit origins and nonproprietary organizing principles; the principles of open cooperation that are to some degree built into its design and that have encouraged its rapid global spread arguably reflect the [hacker] ethic of sharing and collective inquiry common to the research universities that fostered the internet's development in the 1980's. Instead, Wired magazine, the libertarian Electronic Frontier Foundation, and similar organs of the computer counterculture offered us another interpretation: the internet was a triumph, not of nonprofit principles or of cooperation between government and the private sector, but of a kind of romantic marketplace entrepreneurialism -- a `frontier'(50).

Streeter calls this phenomenon the "Deep Romantic Chasm".

As this interpretation seeped into policymaking circles and eventually became the `common sense' of the day, any policy lessons that might have been learned from the Internet's nonprofit origins thus have been roundly ignored (50).

It is important for geeks, as a culture, to resist the control corporations can exercise over the Internet, but it is equally important to embrace it as a public good. This is certainly part of what it means to be a true hacker. In response to the recent K5 article, Computer Science - Have we actually learned anything? I want to know whether it is safe to assume, that as the discipline of CS has evolved, so has the ethical guidelines that come with its teaching (specifically The Hacker Ethic as understood by Himanen). But before questioning CS education, what follows is a useful telling of digital innovation as primarily a public good and in the context of online journalism.

As far as innovation in online journalism is concerned, the mainstream media have singularly invested in reinventing the TV. News in real-space is far more lucrative than it is online, so affiliated news organizations are trying hard to reincarnate their old business model in the digital environment. Independent news organizations, on the other hand, have harnessed the technology to realize some of the democratic imperatives of news reporting. Cooperative news sites, for example, have innovated a method to accurately reflect a community, as opposed to molding it. Even the most basic .html sites, simply dedicated to daily MLP are also an innovative example of an Internet news-application; for example, Canada's only independent online news site - Bourque NewsWatch. In comparing the independent versus affiliated news organizations' application of the Internet, it is useful to acknowledge the other category of news ownership - publicly owned media corporations. It is also interesting to note that CBC's mandate is realized perfectly by collaborative technology. While cbc.ca does have an active "forums" section, it is not collaborative. Who better to spearhead collaborative news reporting than a public media corporation mandated to "ensure access to Canadian voices and Canadian space, and to encourage participation in and contribution to Canadian society"(CBC Portfolio Objectives)?

It is important here to understand the context of a changing environment of innovation. Lessig writes:

The struggle [here] is not between Left and Right or between conservative and liberal... I am fanatically pro-market, in the market's proper sphere... This is not an argument about commerce versus something else. The innovation that I defend is commercial and noncommercial alike; the arguments I draw upon to defend it are as strongly tied to the Right as they are to the Left. Instead, the real struggle at stake now is between old and new (Lessig, 6).

The hacker ethic that brought us the Internet inherently embraces innovation and change. The ethic, however, is changing (or has changed) into the libertarian and neoliberal standpoint that Lessig is so adamantly against. I have never gone through any Computer Science program or class, but it does seem that the current CS curriculum rarely includes philosophical courses that emphasize ICT's (information communication technologies) as a public good (if you missed, this is inherently part of the hacker ethic). Instead, as a recent K5 post suggests, ingrained in the culture of CS faculties is what Streeter referred to as That Deep Romantic Chasm, that is, the libertarian and neoliberalist approach to privatize everything. Since it is precisely this mindset that brings us the "things we hate", such as the CBDTA, is the computer science system of education contributing to our own demise?

If Lessig is right, the proliferation of "ideas" is put at risk by ICT's and the policies they create, then it is the public that has the most to loose. Should CS education be more active in mobilizing and engaging computer culture to respond?


Lessig, L. The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World, Random House, US, New York, and simultaneously in Canada, Toronto. 2001

Himanen, P. The Hacker Ethic: A Radical Approach to the Philosophy of Business, Random House Trade Paperbacks, US, New York, and simultaneously in Canada, Toronto. 2001

Streeter, T. "'That Deep Romantic Chasm": Libertarianism, Neoliberalism, and the Computer Culture". ed. Calabrese, A. et al., Communication, Citizenship, and Social Policy: Re-Thinking the Limits of the Welfare State, Rowmand and Littlefield Publishers, Mary Land USA, 1999


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Lessig's Future of Ideas Reviewed and The Hacker Ethic Revisited | 76 comments (43 topical, 33 editorial, 0 hidden)
may i submit my feeling ? (1.66 / 3) (#13)
by sye on Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 10:53:55 AM EST

Sorry, i don't have enough time to read through all you arguments. But i have a feeling that what you are trying to argue might be similar to what i have been trying to say and all along . If you frequent this candle light cafe , you'll know my feeling. If you know a bit of functional programming language, i.e. ML, CLEAN, Miranda, lambda-calculus etc, you'll know i am right.

commentary - For a better sye@K5
ripple me ~~> ~allthingsgo: gateway to Garden of Perfect Brightess in CNY/BTC/LTC/DRK
rubbing u ~~> ~procrasti: getaway to HE'LL
Hey! at least he was in a stable relationship. - procrasti
enter K5 via Blastar.in

Please read article (none / 0) (#17)
by Swashbuckler on Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 11:16:49 AM EST

I wasn't quite sure what you were trying to say, but maybe you should read my text becasue it sound like you may have lots to contribute.

I don't know any programming, so I can't be sure if you are right.

*Note* - this comment contains no inside K5 humour because inside K5 humour is only for/by K5-wankers. Media does not = "community."
[ Parent ]
what i was trying to say... (none / 0) (#29)
by sye on Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 12:32:36 PM EST

my habits of reading and writing are different from yours. On computer screen, i don't read arguments in plain english which exceed certain number of words. For enlightment in English, i read books. For enlightment in programming, i translate codes. There is no point of arguing online. All arguments i've read can be deduct to math which will take just a few steps to prove.

commentary - For a better sye@K5
ripple me ~~> ~allthingsgo: gateway to Garden of Perfect Brightess in CNY/BTC/LTC/DRK
rubbing u ~~> ~procrasti: getaway to HE'LL
Hey! at least he was in a stable relationship. - procrasti
enter K5 via Blastar.in
[ Parent ]

I don't believe I understand (3.00 / 1) (#55)
by romanpoet on Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 06:22:55 PM EST

How can a complex argument be reduced to simplistic mathematical equations? Philosophic arguments (and discussions in general) embody all of the complexities and nuances of human thought and understanding about the world.

Math operates in a very different plane, a plane of the perfect, the unreal. I don't see how this sort of deduction is possible.


[ Parent ]
Well it would reduce to complex equations (5.00 / 1) (#59)
by Kalani on Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 10:17:47 PM EST

But just don't try to tell them to encode and evaluate "this statement is false." My friend Bertrand punched me in the nose the last time I tried it. :(

"I [think] that ultimately physics will not require a mathematical statement; in the end the machinery will be revealed and the laws will turn out to be simple, like the checker board."
--Richard Feynman
[ Parent ]
what really matters... (none / 0) (#68)
by sye on Sat Apr 20, 2002 at 12:48:55 PM EST

what really matters is who/where/when/what you pick out to aruge/prove/disapprove/sing/fuck/makelove... that is totally math to me

commentary - For a better sye@K5
ripple me ~~> ~allthingsgo: gateway to Garden of Perfect Brightess in CNY/BTC/LTC/DRK
rubbing u ~~> ~procrasti: getaway to HE'LL
Hey! at least he was in a stable relationship. - procrasti
enter K5 via Blastar.in
[ Parent ]

Few points (4.00 / 3) (#31)
by Woundweavr on Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 12:47:38 PM EST

I'm not convinced. You haven't convinced me that "hacker" is being misused. Considering most people define it in a way (cracker, script-kiddy type) and even the subculture it describes has a very strong tendancy to assume computer enthusiasm, I don't see why the definition you assume is correct is the true one. In fact, I would say that definition which is most commonly used for a word is the true one. Language is arbitrary and just because I think to truly be a dog one must have wings and make honey doesn't mean that everyone else is blind to what it means to be a dog. Its just a little semantics game that can cause all types of problems.

Furthermore, I question whether informational or computational ethics courses were ever a fundamental aspect of CS. The CS departments I have experience with, both firsthand and through friends enrolled in other university's departments, a Digital Ethics course has become mandatory. However, this course was only added relatively recently(late '90s). From relatives and assosciates who took compsci in the 80s or earlier, there was no course called "Hacker Ethics."

I'm also not convinced that the libertarian viewpoint is intrinsically different than the "Hacker ethic" or indeed whether there has not always been a strong streak of libertarianism within the culture. The Hacker ethic, to simplify, is information should be shared. Libertarianism (I am not a libertarian) is not contradictary with this attitude. Just as libertarians do have a tendancy to privatize everything, they also want very limited government interference. There would be no DMCA and no CBTDA and no CDA if libertarians got their way so it would be irrelevent anyway.

CS education (4.80 / 5) (#34)
by speek on Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 01:07:19 PM EST

A premise apparently held by the article:
The origins of the computer culture embodied the ethics of openness, sharing, social worth, creativity. ie, exactly those benefits Lessig is saying we're becoming blind to.
The article's hypothesis is that CS education is largely to blame. Please correct me if either of these two points are wrong.

My immediate reaction is that this cannot be. The computer culture began in the universities. In such an environment it naturally embraced Lessig's values. At the time the culture began to be "corrupted", wasn't it starting to be influenced by the private sector more and more? Wouldn't it be simpler to point the finger at the profit motive for the growing blindness?

The lack of ethics/philosophy courses in CS is more likely a good thing. Teaching such courses would most likely have the effect of converting the majority of people to the majority view on those matters. Leaving it untaught was part of what originally led the movement to embrace more radical values. (my assertion - attack at will).

I think the disintegration of values of openness can be more accurately described as the influx of outside values into computer culture, as computer culture expanded into other realms and interacted with other, pre-existing cultures (ie private business). So, it's not so much a disintegration of a culture as that that culture is hard to find amongst various "imposters" and lookalikes. The corporate hacker is a different beast than the university hacker, but we often lump them together as "computer people".

The question isn't how to preserve computer culture as it was originally (it's alive and well), it's how to convert the private sector culture to the computer-university culture. And then, it becomes clear that what's going on is a battle for mindshare between these two cultures that initially weren't in competition, but now are.

al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees

Actually, I think we are saying the same thing (5.00 / 2) (#38)
by Swashbuckler on Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 01:30:14 PM EST

The origins of the computer culture embodied the ethics of openness, sharing, social worth, creativity. ie, exactly those benefits Lessig is saying we're becoming blind to.

Lessig is not arguing that our political culture is blind to "hacker ideals". He is arguing that our political culture is blind to the benefits of "property not perfectly controlled". I make the link between Lessig's idea and the hacker ethic.

The article's hypothesis is that CS education is largely to blame. Please correct me if either of these two points are wrong.

That is what I am asking. I have never been through CS education.

Wouldn't it be simpler to point the finger at the profit motive for the growing blindness?

In the mid-1970s, the young Bill Gates was also trying to convince his fellow computer hobbyists in venues like early computer magazines that they should stop sharing software and start paying each other for it (Cringely, 1996, p. 55)

Cringely, R. X. (1996) Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can't Get a Date 2nd edition, New York: HarperBusiness.

The question isn't how to preserve computer culture as it was originally (it's alive and well), it's how to convert the private sector culture to the computer-university culture.

Aren't hackers who constitute "private sector culture" those who graduated, got a job, and never learned the hacker ethic?

*Note* - this comment contains no inside K5 humour because inside K5 humour is only for/by K5-wankers. Media does not = "community."
[ Parent ]
difference is subtle (5.00 / 2) (#41)
by speek on Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 02:07:09 PM EST

Aren't hackers who constitute "private sector culture" those who graduated, got a job, and never learned the hacker ethic?

I think I'd interpret it slightly differently. Thos who graduated and got a job were those less inclined to be influenced by the university culture. Those more inclined to be so influenced stay and become part of that culture. The difference is subtle, but the thing is, your hypothesis implies current CS education is not doing something it used to do in the 60's. I don't think that's true. More likely, it has stayed pretty constant, but the world around it changed.

You could argue that CS education has not "battled back" enough, and has failed to counteract the growing influences of the private sector, but then, I think you could level that claim against the entire higher education scene. Richard Rorty said something quite similar in his book, "Achieving our Country".

al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
[ Parent ]

Oh, I see (5.00 / 3) (#43)
by Swashbuckler on Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 02:22:37 PM EST

You could argue that CS education has not "battled back" enough...

Actually, I didn't mean that. I am not comparing CS education "now" to "then". I was saying that computer culture has changed. It was a counter-culture whose ideologies spawned the "free" internet. Those ideologies have transformed "now" into neoliberalism (privatize everything).

The CS education part comes in because I want to know if education does / should engrain the "free" ideology. Whether it did and doesn't any more is another question.

Thanks for the Rorty reference. I haven't read that one yet.

*Note* - this comment contains no inside K5 humour because inside K5 humour is only for/by K5-wankers. Media does not = "community."
[ Parent ]
origins (5.00 / 2) (#47)
by speek on Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 03:09:51 PM EST

I was under the impression that "computer culture", as you mean it, originated within CS departments in the 60's and 70's. In some sense, CS department culture is computer culture because of those origins. As a result, when you argue that computer culture has changed, it sounds like you're arguing that CS education has changed, but apparently, I have misunderstood.

al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
[ Parent ]

CBC (3.00 / 1) (#36)
by lurker4hire on Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 01:10:38 PM EST

It's always funny when you see something you've thought of being advocated by an independent source.

I wrote a rambling last minute essay on the CBC and how it should live up to its mandate by incorporating a k5'ish type of system within its website. Main thrust being that this application of 'web technology' (I was writing for a non-tech so don't start) has the potential for revitaliizing the public sphere through its focus on critical debate (usually :) as opposed to the entertainment focus we get from television etc.

good idea (nt) (1.00 / 1) (#39)
by spacejack on Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 02:00:34 PM EST

[ Parent ]
Could be a rumor (5.00 / 1) (#40)
by Swashbuckler on Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 02:04:21 PM EST

From what I have heard, CBC is planning to establish a quasi-collaborative site called Zed. I know, the first thing I thought was, "Oh great, another youth initiative". As soon as I know more, I will be posting.

*Note* - this comment contains no inside K5 humour because inside K5 humour is only for/by K5-wankers. Media does not = "community."
[ Parent ]
A ZeD ... in our Future? (4.00 / 1) (#65)
by NobbyTire on Sat Apr 20, 2002 at 08:54:06 AM EST

Their front page state that "ZeD's dead baby ...
until the fall that is
Interesting "late-night" pilot did run for 3 or 4 weeks out of Vancouver and Trauma, ON though. This colloborative two-way Variety Show says it will continue to take submissions and develop new features throughout the summer.
Like the title ... eh?

[ Parent ]
Thanks for that... (none / 0) (#67)
by Swashbuckler on Sat Apr 20, 2002 at 09:03:35 AM EST

Although it is very disappointing. I'm not quite sure I ever understood Zed

Can you point me to any links?

[ Parent ]
Geek Culture and The Hacker Ethic. (4.25 / 4) (#45)
by nr0mx on Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 02:56:54 PM EST

If I understand you correctly, it is about openness, social worth, creativity, passion, etc.

Your mention of the 1960's style and attitude is particularly significant in this context. Does it not seem that you have just described the 'artist' / 'non-conformist' of that period, who is not really a 'rebel', but is still miles away from the mainstream ? The landscape is not the same, yes. It is the vision of the online world that is as stake here. But the players represent the same two philosophies.

You talk about the (initial) non-profit nature of the internet. Open-source, GNU, FSF, EFF all seek to protect this same philosophy in its different 'avatars'. It is the embodiment of the hacker ethic.

At the other end of the spectrum, take its legendary rival, 'The Corporation' as embodied by Microsoft, IBM and various others at different points in time. They stand for the 'goals and accountability approach' that we all ( at least some of us, myself included ) fear and detest. Because we are aware that they seek to take 'our passion' and turn it into a crass auction piece to be sold to the highest bidder. Because they threaten to take over our online world, curtail our digital identity.

IMHO, this is inevitable. Why ?

  • Hackers are not driven by purely monetary considerations.
  • There are others whose "real" passions are money and power.
  • Hackers form a very small percentage of any society.
And, because history has shown before that it works this way.

Good points but (none / 0) (#62)
by thadk on Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 11:35:14 PM EST

How Depressing...

Lets hope the (more) infinite/digital aspects of the internet allow us to get past the privatization. I think there's enough different just in that respect that we can't base this on the past completely.

The internet is 'Free'(and passionable, creative, open, etc. branching from this) already, an embodyment of the ethic. I'd like to believe that we like it enough that we'll find some way to reinvent it if it gets perverted from this. Laws could throw a wrench in the reinvention though, so Lessig's fighting a key battle which we might yet be able to win and will make all the difference.

[ Parent ]
The Hacker Ethic (4.50 / 6) (#46)
by drivers on Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 02:57:59 PM EST

I was excited when the book "The Hacker Ethic" came out because I had just finished reading a lot about the hacker ethic in the Steven Levy book "Hackers" which is a classic. To summarize Levy's version of the Hacker Ethic, it is that nothing should be allowed to get in my way in the pursuit of knowledge. On the other hand, the hacker ethic in the book "The Hacker Ethic" seems to be about being lazy at work. (I haven't read The Hacker Ethic so correct me if I'm wrong.)

Ok, here's an actual summary of Levy's hacker ethic that I cribbed from here:

"Access to computers should be unlimited and total."
"All information should be free."
"Mistrust authority - promote decentralization."
"You can create art and beauty on a computer."
"Computers can change your life for the better."

The 7 virtues of the hacker ethic (Himanen) (5.00 / 4) (#48)
by Swashbuckler on Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 03:20:44 PM EST

The first is passion.

Do something because you are passionate about it.

The second is freedom.

This virtue must be imagined in combination with the first. Do not organize your life in terms of a routinized and continuously optimized working day. 9 to 5 working days may not jive with your passions, or it may not be your most productive time.

The third and fourth are social worth and openness.

There is something unexplainable that happens in interacting with others that offers, at a very minimum, moral guidance. Openness... just look at shouldexist.org.

The fifth is activity.

just think of the difference between K5 as a news site, and CNN. Activity is the rejection of passive reception.

The sixth is caring.

Simply, concern for others as an end in itself.

The last is creativity.

Just put a little of yourself in everything you do.

"routinized" is a word - I looked it up.

*Note* - this comment contains no inside K5 humour because inside K5 humour is only for/by K5-wankers. Media does not = "community."
[ Parent ]
How do you eat... (2.00 / 1) (#49)
by nebby on Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 03:47:45 PM EST

if you do not get paid for programming?

Because sometimes I feel that's what a lot of people in the OSS community would like.

Someone fill me in here, I stopped preaching about Linux and OSS when I realized if most of it's proponents had their ideal world created, I could not make a living doing what I enjoy.

Please fill me in. Thanks.

Half-Empty: A global community of thoughts ideas and knowledge.
Elaboration (none / 0) (#50)
by nebby on Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 03:50:43 PM EST

Just for the nitpickers, I'll note that I realize that the Open Source movement recognizes the need to make money. My issues probably make more sense when directed to the FSF/GNU people.

Half-Empty: A global community of thoughts ideas and knowledge.
[ Parent ]
Cygnus Makes money delivering GPL'd software (none / 0) (#76)
by your_desired_username on Wed Apr 24, 2002 at 09:53:57 PM EST

Cygnus, Wind River, and others, provide 'Professional' versions of the GPL'd gnu gcc and
gnu binutils. The embedded communtiy relies heavily on these

Companies like MetroNotWerks, and S/N systems also provide solutions
using GPL'd derivitives of gnu gcc and gnu binutils - though
metronotwerks seems to avoid any return contributions to the gcc

Cygnus was profitable for 9 years before redhat used an unbelievable
IPO to buy them. They still float red hat, and, I expect, will
continue to do so for some time.

The GPL allows a company to charge whatever it thinks is fair - so
profit is quite feasible.

[ Parent ]
Programming Jobs? (4.71 / 7) (#51)
by Matrix on Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 04:27:33 PM EST

You are aware that a sizable majority of progrmmers are not employed to write commerical software, right? Most are paid to write custom programs for things like businesses, banks, embedded systems manufacturers, etc. Or write or customize highly programs to work in other highly-specific environments where there's no market for or sizable profit to be made selling commercial software. Or write software that's tailored for specific, high-end, and rather expensive hardware.

These people would be affected very little, if at all, if the commercial software market collapsed. We'd see a lot of headlines on CNN about the death of the computer industry, but most programmers wouldn't notice a difference.

Technology/computer companies made a lot of money before the invention of proprietary, closed-source software, and they'll continue making a lot of money after it becomes unfashionable.

"...Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions. It's the only way to make progress."
- Lord Vetinari, pg 312 of the Truth, a Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett
[ Parent ]

Yeah (4.00 / 1) (#57)
by nebby on Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 07:59:12 PM EST

I realize that, but I mean, how does that justify the lost opportunity for the other sizable chunk of those who actually do write commercial software? They are by no means a marginal percentage.

Half-Empty: A global community of thoughts ideas and knowledge.
[ Parent ]
Optimal Utilization? (4.00 / 2) (#60)
by Matrix on Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 10:45:29 PM EST

I think economics justifies it quite nicely. A century ago, you had a large percentage of your manual labour force doing things like, say, mining coal. Now a large percentage of these people have been replaced by machines. Is this a lost opportunity? Well, they thought so initially. Most, if not all, eventually became employed in other jobs where their skills (namely, a brain) are better used. Or at the very least, they were in a less hazardous environment. Despite the short-term disruption, the substitution of machines is far better in the long run.

I think roughly the same concept applies to end-user software. If we can get approximately the same result (coal) cheaper (machines instead of humans), the resources (humans and money) that were formerly tied up producing this software will be, eventually, better-employed. Maybe in the same field, maybe in others.

Of course, this is the absolutist position. While it holds for some areas, I doubt it'll ever be feasable to replace all proprietary software with free/open software. Some, definitely. But by no means all. The ideal outcome would be to have proprietary companies in true competition with free projects, using their garunteed programmer hours to do truely innovative stuff.

"...Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions. It's the only way to make progress."
- Lord Vetinari, pg 312 of the Truth, a Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett
[ Parent ]

It's pretty simple (5.00 / 5) (#54)
by epepke on Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 06:11:42 PM EST

I get paid six (U.S.) figures a year for writing software that people need written and that hasn't been written. Most of this solves business problems. Most of it is in-house and so does not conflict with any existing OSS license. I also write OSS on the side. I used to get paid less, but enough to eat, writing software to solve research problems. Most of that was released to the public in source form for free.

Proprietary software will never go away, but open-source software might. If open-source software goes away, so does the health of the industry. I would like to see a model where software is proprietary for a short period of time and then becomes open source. De facto, this already happens quite a lot, as with the game industry. I would also like to see a provision for abandonware.

Look at the things that open source has produced. They tend mostly to be applications that should have been commoditized long ago (Posix-compliant operating systems) or obscurish systems that most companies wouldn't see as a cash cow (TEX). There's always going to be a market for the hot new whatever, but I think we've gotten to the point where it is necessary to reinvent the bloody electronic typewriter a few times.

What I dislike about the ultra-proprietary mindset is that it holds back the field. It's fine to have exclusive rights for a while, but my attitude is write it right, then move on. We have barely scratched the surface of what this lovely general-purpose machine can do. It's the year 2002, for Pete's sake!

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett

[ Parent ]
Straw man (4.00 / 1) (#63)
by driptray on Sat Apr 20, 2002 at 12:57:15 AM EST

This straw man is addressed in an article titled Yes, You Can Eat Open Source at OpenSource.Org.

That article states that only 25% (probably less) of programmers are involved in writing software for resale, and that the other 75% are not threatened by open source at all. That 25% is the worst-case scenario - it's not clear at all that all those jobs would disappear. Even if they did, I'd say that it would be more than made up for in terms of freeing up resources elsewhere.

We brought the disasters. The alcohol. We committed the murders. - Paul Keating
[ Parent ]
Get Paid for Programming, not for Programs (4.50 / 2) (#70)
by Mouthpiece on Sat Apr 20, 2002 at 10:23:02 PM EST

Having just read the section of Lessig's book on open-source coding, here are my thoughts:

In Lessig's model, programmers would get paid for programming, not for their programs. In other words, if you work for BigCorp, your boss tells you, make a program to do X. You find an open source program that does almost-X, customize it for BigCorp's needs, and they pay you for clocking time in your cubicle. In turn, you may or may not release your customizations to the open-source community. (If you do, BigCorp, and by extension, you as well, will reap the benefits of peer contributions...)

This model holds true if you are SmallCo. as well. If you're the sole proprietor of a small business, and you need software to do X, you can do the same thing.

On the other hand, what if you're a freelance programmer? How can you get paid for your work? Again, you must rely on the hourly-rate model, selling yourself as an expert in Y open source solution, with the necessary skills to customize it for your client. You program, you get paid.

The down side of this model is that it entirely removes the residual income model from coding - unless the programmer goes closed-source. Of course, few programmers today are sitting back and living off the residual income generated by a program they wrote ten years ago.

[ Parent ]

From Future of Ideas? (none / 0) (#71)
by pARTnerds on Sat Apr 20, 2002 at 10:51:37 PM EST

Chapter 4?

[ Parent ]
What about Indymedia? (4.50 / 4) (#52)
by humble on Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 04:47:09 PM EST

How could you possibly describe Borque Newswatch as "Canada's only independent online news site"? Have you not noticed the emergence of the Canadian Independent Media Centre sites, now found in alberta, hamilton, maritimes, montreal, ontario, québec, vancouver, victoria, thunder bay and windsor.

They are much more independent from the corporate influences plaguing the rest of the 'news industry' than Borque Newswatch as they don't permit any sort of advertising.

Indymedia - Civil society's not-so-secret servicetm

Indymedia (5.00 / 2) (#53)
by Swashbuckler on Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 05:20:31 PM EST

I didn't include Indymedia because their sites are arguably more "activist" then "journalist"(see there FAQ section).

I would argue that this is what makes them so strong, but I don't call their site "news". They usually report on protests and rallies - news for activists. So I think its fair to exclude them from the "independent news" category. Don't you?

Also, if you look at their history page, they were "established by various independent and alternative media organizations and activists in 1999 for the [specific] purpose of providing grassroots coverage of the World Trade Organization (WTO) protests in Seattle."

*Note* - this comment contains no inside K5 humour because inside K5 humour is only for/by K5-wankers. Media does not = "community."
[ Parent ]
Also... (none / 0) (#56)
by Swashbuckler on Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 06:55:01 PM EST

They are much more independent from the corporate influences plaguing the rest of the 'news industry' than Borque Newswatch as they don't permit any sort of advertising.

I don't thing that advertising, per se, is "corporate influences". Bourque may or may not be influenced by corporations, for a while he linked to lots of articles about Krispy Kreme coming to Canada, but he isn't affiliated to any entities that would loose or gain from their image in the news.

About Bourque.org:

The sites slogan is, "News of tomorrow", and every so often it produces just that. Recently, the Canadian dollar dropped dramatically and unexpectedly. Some feel that it is because of Bourque's site. This is because prior too the drop, Bourque had reported that Canada's Minister of Finance had announced his retirement. The announcement was an April fool's day prank that many readers fell for.The site's contents consist only of "headline links" (or MLP), so Bourque's singular role is to point readers to what he feels is the news to watch for. Often Bourque will include news items that contradict each other, forcing the reader to interpret the stories and form an individual interpretation of the news. By just listing the headlines Bourque wants you to read and rarely offering any explanation as to why he feels this news is important, the consumer must take an active and analytical role.

*Note* - this comment contains no inside K5 humour because inside K5 humour is only for/by K5-wankers. Media does not = "community."
[ Parent ]
CS education? (4.00 / 1) (#58)
by Swashbuckler on Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 09:00:59 PM EST

I made the conjecture that CS education does not "teach" the hacker ethic. No one has countered that, or supported it. Am I to assume that it is entirely true? Does CS education not promote these ideals at all? Does it protect neoliberal ideology?

*Note* - this comment contains no inside K5 humour because inside K5 humour is only for/by K5-wankers. Media does not = "community."
Re: CS education? (4.00 / 1) (#69)
by baka_boy on Sat Apr 20, 2002 at 07:12:57 PM EST

Computer Science is (at most institutions, anyway) improperly named -- it should be called "Computer Engineering", or "Applied Information Technology", or the like. And, like most vocational study programs (aside from perhaps pre-med), it teaches effectively no "ethic" at all. The libertarian skew is left for the constant mental pressure of media darlings like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, et. al. to implant and reinforce.

That being said, I think that a "Computational Philosophy" program would be a great thing; a strong curriculum of logic, linguistics, and cognitive studies would be (IMHO) a much better way of training a new generation of problem-solvers and innovators than the current model.

Personally, this is an issue I've wrestled with a lot recently: I'm preparing to return to college (spent a year there, then two working as a programmer), and am struggling to decide if it's even worth taking CS courses, rather than just going with straight math, physics, and linguistics or philosophy. Unfortunately, if I go the route that I think will make me a better hacker (using the original post's definition, of course), I also make myself a less-attractive target for employment outside of the academic world.

[ Parent ]

Re: CS education (5.00 / 1) (#73)
by Flashblade on Tue Apr 23, 2002 at 08:57:03 AM EST

CS does not teach the hacker ethic, but that is certainly where it evolved. The CS program itself does not promote any ethic, but it does provide the environment that allowed the hacker ethic to evolve.

I think the reason we are seeing a decline of hacker principles in CS students has less to do with any cultural blindness and more to do with the people that make up the community.

CS is much more mainstream than it was in the 60s. the reason is simple: money. Their is a lot of money to be made in CS, even with the recent economical crisis their is still a huge demand for CS graduates. Because of this we have many more CS students how are not really interested in computers or electronics, they just want a good high paying job. The hackers are still there, but they make a up a much smaller portion of the population than they did in the 60s.

[ Parent ]

Whose line is it, anyways? (2.00 / 1) (#61)
by JChen on Fri Apr 19, 2002 at 10:55:09 PM EST

By definine what "hacker" means, are you not in fact setting up an idea that discourages competing definitions? Hence belittling others' creativity? Yes, I'm being a dick about it, but does there necessarily need to be something that "correctly" defines hackers? If others' perceptions to what a hacker is different, why should it really matter? Perhaps we can use our self-reassurance to tell ourselves that the media has no idea what it's talking about, but then again, can the media not spin the argument around as well? It's circular logic because we're all assuming something that's so abstract because it covers many substyles as well. And yes, I am assuming this. :)

Let us do as we say.
Vocabulary issues apart... (4.00 / 1) (#64)
by KiTaSuMbA on Sat Apr 20, 2002 at 01:50:04 AM EST

let's take the author's definition for "hacker" (I largely agree with it, but you don't have to) for convenience and define the mainstream media personalities described as hackers as "crackers", "script-kiddies" "lesser-hackers" whatever.

The author is sending out an alarm signal that the community of hackers is shifting to pursue goals rather than the beaty of the multiple ways to reach a goal.

My impression, however, is very different: _real_ hackers (as in the _real_ programmers doctrine) are always the same: their ideals have not changed much over the years. The hacker community's boundries that in the past were rather sharply defined (the chosen, the charismatic, the completely estraneous to all surrounding populace) have become to blur away. There are nowdays legions of wannabees infiltrating the community's ideatic sacred "temples" (especially the computer-associated temples), as there are wannabees of just about everything nowdays. Though this from a first point of view should rejoyce all of those (including myself) sympathising the "hackerdom", there is a real risk that hackerdom will be changed not in its own charachteristics but in what general public sees it to stand for. The "Hacker" figure has been stereotyped (either as a "bad" type for mainstream or as a "cool" - for whatever that could be - one in the 'net's culture). Being reknowned as a "hacker" now appeals as a social model for an ever-growing portion of the western youth population. Nine out of ten "freshmen" in "hackerdom" are attracted by a new form of fame: their nickname being whispered in admiration all over the Net. This is a goal NOT a way... Not that anyone would actually dislike being recognised for his efforts, but that should not be the motivation for starting an effort at all. Some will actually see the beauty and the light and leave the goal while "en route to baptism". Some eventually will not. To make things even more blury, what a hacker is and what a hacker does often gets misunderstood by wannabees causing all sorts of trouble... "lesser-hackers" marching forth in "insightful" mainstream journalism. So just *who* are those hackers aiming for accomplishment instead of that cute, elegant hack (be it a program, an experimental method, a fresh "canvas and watercolours" for artwork) to make you smile at the mirror and think "I'm such a bastard after all, I worked it out!".
Hackers have not changed, the definition of their community by reviewers has...

There is no Dopaminergic Pepperoni Kabal!
Sort of... (5.00 / 1) (#66)
by Swashbuckler on Sat Apr 20, 2002 at 08:59:49 AM EST

The author is sending out an alarm signal that the community of hackers is shifting to pursue goals rather than the beaty of the multiple ways to reach a goal.

This is part of what I am saying...

The story I am telling is about force from above and consent from below.

The media "dinosaurs" are doing the "forcing". They want to secure their old, comfortable way of doing business. If you watch the debates between Larry Lessig and Jack Valenti, Jack is continuously arguing that pesky internet "hackers" are disrupting the way the motion picture industry turns profit. He could never imagine a different model that realizes both the Internet's "freedom" and the incentive to create more motion picture. Lessig's book outlines exactly how the "dinosaurs" are "forcing" resistance to change. He says it is happening at the physical layer (the wires are owned by the content producers - common carriage), the code layer ("the legal system, through patents, favors closed code over open and content providers are building an architecture that will enable them to have more perfect control over content on the web"), and the content layer ("technical and legal (copyright) rules are increasingly leaning towards control over flows of content distribution over the Net"). Scary.

So who is consenting to this type of control? The answer is everybody who doesn't realize the benefits of things not perfectly controlled, especially IP (which Lessig says is our political culture generally). The people who realized this benefit most were/are "hackers" - the hacker ethic, as described by Himanen, is an entire approach to business/life based on this philosophy. As more and more people go through school, ideally more and more people would understand this philosophy (universities, at one point, were based on this philosophy too, until competition became more important). And especially, as more and more CS (Computer Science) students go through school, more and more people should understand it. Resistance will come from those who see a better way; Large-scale resistance will come from a culture that sees a better way. "Geek" cultural norms, instead, coincide with the pressure "from above" because, perhaps, "geek education" does not show them how an architecture of "freedom" will benefit society as a whole. Perhaps, geek education does not teach "geek" philosophy, but instead, only geek skills. Should it teach philosophy?

Lessig said on a radio show that he was pessimistic about the future of the Net because technologists are for the most part apolitical. I asked my friend, who happens to be a programmer, if that's true (he is very politically minded, that's why I asked him). He replied, "not the real geeks". The real geeks are the minority; they will not make a mark on the future of ICT (information communication technology). If there is anyway to change this, and in turn change the current direction of the Internet towards an architecture of perfect control, it might be through philosophy, and through CS education. No?

[ Parent ]
I agree on (5.00 / 1) (#72)
by KiTaSuMbA on Sat Apr 20, 2002 at 11:11:46 PM EST

the fact that higher education (including CS but not only CS) is turning into a set of skills and doctrines with complete absence of philosophical issues and/or discussion. "Geek education" as you call it, has never been thought to be for geeks. As a matter of fact, most hackers (not "hackers", watch the difference :-) turn into their hackerish manners and ways of thinking through personal interest. A course in CS will give you the skills to program but in no way will prepare you on why, for what and for who you should program. Techies in general are mostly an apolitical croud, but those of whom are inside the hackerdom culture are strongly political and a good example is K5. Most people herein are in some manner techies and they are all interested in political/cultural issues.
That the hackerdom culture is "inconvenient" for media corporations is more than obvious. That they will try to "shift" its meaning we are already witnessing. What I tried to say is that the same people have not changed, but more people have been added to what general public *thinks* are hackers and some of them (most?) have only few if any common ground with the real hackerdom culture.
Do hackers influence the strategic decisions in ICT? Never had, perhaps never will. If it was for hackers, there wouldn't be such thing as AOL or other "empty" giants. If it was for hackers to decide the entire internet would have been formed in the shape of what is now freenet. Would an extra touch of philosophy in IT education bring more tech people in hackerdom and make the general public accept hackers as they are? Probably yes, but don't hold your breath that Univ.s do such a move.
There is no Dopaminergic Pepperoni Kabal!
[ Parent ]
decentralization, not property rights (5.00 / 2) (#74)
by valency on Tue Apr 23, 2002 at 06:08:39 PM EST

Geek culture is primarily concerned with decentralization, not property rights. Just look at the BSDL, which eschews property rights bestowed by copyright law, and the GPL, which uses copyright to nullify itself.

Geek culture (and the libertarianism it is usually associated with) really only supports property rights insofar as it is the most decentralized way to manage scarce resources.

Decentralization is the goal here; property rights are just a convenient tool.

The recent evidence that intellectual property rights create more centralization than decentralization, and the corresponding outrage by large factions of geek culture only serve to illustrate that property rights are not the ultimate goal, and will be cast aside when they cease to be the best tool for the job.

If you disagree, and somebody has already posted the exact rebuttal that you would use: moderate, don't post.

Speaking of lessig and IP (none / 0) (#75)
by coprocious on Wed Apr 24, 2002 at 09:37:17 PM EST

Although I can't believe that someone would take the time to scan something as dry as Lessig, his book "The Future Of Ideas" was posted to the alt.binaries.e-book group. I wonder what this says for the future of ideas when even a writer the community regards as a friend gets "honored" by having his work pirated?

Lessig's Future of Ideas Reviewed and The Hacker Ethic Revisited | 76 comments (43 topical, 33 editorial, 0 hidden)
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