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