Hackers: A Variance of Understandings

Excuse me, your trope here is inaccurate.

Hackers, as touched on in an earlier post surrounding the emergence of open-source technology and its subculture, have always existed. We’ve seen how hobbyists have maintained the purity of their curiosity and in the process helped disrupt a well-entrenched marketing model, empowering millions in the process before ultimately bringing the culture full-circle as an important part of the established market framework as something of a developmental league, unfortunately.

There has always been a dichotomy behind the term “hacker”, mind, the same as with any other disruptors of technology: on one end, we’ve seen the understanding of the term as sensationalist enemy of the state, whistleblowers fiddling around with the tech beyond the comprehension of casual observers, young anarchists upsetting the established order of a benevolent state. It’s a trope as old as computing in the popular eye itself, and not aided by the real-life rise of self-organised groups such as Anonymous. Playing on technophobia is a recurring theme in Western pop culture, of course, as seen in the likes of the “hacking scene” in Morgan Freeman thriller vehicle Along Came a Spider.

We even have the bizarro-world situation from time to time in certain AAA videogames, as far back as the late ’90s where “hacking into” various environmental objects was a mere matter of completing a suitably meta mini-game, such as Batman Begins‘ videogame adaptation, wherein the Caped Crusader utilises the entirety of his technical know-how and computing virtuosity… to play a match-three game. Cultural conservatism played into interactive entertainment with frankly stunning levels of hubris? Metatechnophobia?

(Advisory: the footage above is from early-2000s video fanzine Consolevania. Strong language applies at all times)

Nor is there always the leaning toward community and contribution as exists in the spectrum of open-source projects. “White-hat” hackers often tinker with networks and other means of organising data and expose their flaws, often to lucrative once-off paydays or full-time jobs for their efforts, as in the case of Microsoft and other companies that have hired hackers to go legit and even help develop them into star employees, representing an increasing slice of the tech giants’ HR outlay.

This is before we get into the conversation of Anonymous, and the sheer confusion with which an amorphous semi-organisation with no real endgame to present easily to the public is met (to say nothing of how this ambiguity is parlayed by conservative media and other forces to further muddy the waters and make a boogeyman of disruptive or unrestrained technology).

Just as the phone phreakers before them didn’t always use blue-boxes to blow in weird tones to circumvent the signifiers of cost and access, the term “hacker”, pertaining to someone that simply utilises their ingenue or some indeterminate way around an issue to its solution is unfortunately misinformed at best, and maligned at worst.


HackRead. 2017. The Anonymous Group: What is it and How big is it. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.hackread.com/anonymous-group-what-is-it-and-how-big-is-it/. [Accessed 18 May 2017].

The History of Phone Phreaking — FAQ. 2017. The History of Phone Phreaking — FAQ. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.historyofphonephreaking.org/faq.php. [Accessed 18 May 2017].

Thomas Macaulay. 2017. Seven white hat hackers you should know | Techworld. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.techworld.com/picture-gallery/security/7-white-hat-hackers-you-should-know-3220909/. [Accessed 18 May 2017].



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