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Not *that* kind of hacker

Two articles that crossed my desk today described the difference between the two kinds of hackers. Howard Rheingold offered this distinction in his memoir of the WELL:

(when “hacking” meant creative programming rather than online breaking and entering)

The New York Times chose to explain it in a story about “hacker hostels”1 this way:

the Mark Zuckerberg variety, not the identity thieves

Obviously both of these descriptions are simplistic, and maybe necessarily so, given the requirements of the overall pieces. But the New York Times distinction is just silly: the only “good” hacker is a capitalist hacker, I guess. Rheingold for his part may simply be acknowledging an evolving and warped perspective perpetuated by the media. As my colleague Molly Sauter explained in a piece about the hacker as a modern folk devil,

The hackers who dominate news coverage and popular culture — malicious, adolescent techno-wizards, willing and able to do great harm to innocent civilians and society at large — don’t exist.

The playful curiosity that actually defines a “hacker” to me seems to be a hard thing to understand for many people, and the polysemy of the word doesn’t help.

  1. Incidentally, fellow Iron Blogger Rich Jones provides another perspective on what hackers would really want in a “hacker hostel” on his own site.