Friday, 9 March 2012

Hacking and Re-purposing

Marshall McLuhan in his 1964 book Understanding Media wrote, “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” It is combating this tendency to be controlled by the technology that we have made that hacking is truly about.

It is a shame that the mass media, no doubt inspired by the broadcasting industry afraid of losing control of its copyrighted material, have consistently portrayed hacking and hackers as criminal. Yes, breaking into someone’s mobile phone or computer and stealing their information is bad. Yes, trying to bring down Sony by hacking into their credit card database is not helpful. These hacks are the exceptions. Most hacking is about sharing, open information and about finding new ways to use technology.

The Hacker ethic is:

•    Sharing
•    Openness
•    Decentralization
•    Free access to computers
•    World Improvement

These are noble goals. A good example of the hacker ethic is found in Open Source Software. This is code without copyright that can be used and changed to help programmers. For those without the money to buy Microsoft, Adobe etc. software Open Source Software is an important resource. Sharing drives innovation in the digital world.

Hackerspaces are places where hackers meet to work on their projects and share ideas. Hackerspaces contain not only computer hardware but also machine tools, carbon brushes, soldering equipment and a vast array of equipment.

In a hackerspace it is not only computer geniuses that are at work. These places provide the equipment to bring in broken TVs, type writers, washing machines etc. and to not only repair these machines but also to find new uses for them; to take parts from thing to make another. It is fighting the trend noticed by McLuhan: it is taking control of the technology that threatens to limit our world view. We shaped the tools and should continue to shape the products of those tools.

Re-purposing or hacking also has an important environmental implication: the natural resources in terms of metals, man hours, carbon emissions that go into making a TV should not be lost when the TV becomes obsolete or broken. The broken TV has many components that can be recycled and reused. Sustainable interiors can be made containing equipment fashioned from hacks. This lowers the carbon count of the interior and empowers the consumer.

We should all study hacking at school. Indeed as natural resources dwindle we might well be forced to by future events.

Here is a good video showing what goes on in a Hackerspace.

Here is a list of hackerspaces -