Well that’s about as geeky as history gets.
This weekend I finished “Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution,” Steven Levy’s philosophical chronicle of the origins of computing culture. It traces the evolution of computing values from the brilliant young tinkerers at MIT in the 1950s and ’60s to the tight-knit computer builders of Silicon Valley in the ’70s and, finally, to the third-generation programmers who brought talent and passion to a booming industry in the’ 80s.
At the heart of these stories is a manifesto of what Levy calls the Hacker Ethic, an ideology that prizes openness and collaboration in pursuit of a better program and hates bureaucracy, ownership and whatever keeps good tinkerers out.
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It’s eye-opening, how such an intense, insular subculture managed to embed its values into so many of our technologies, even all these years later.
The Hacker Ethic faced its crises — namely, how to survive the computer’s transition from a hobbyist’s plaything to a lucrative mainstream product. But it survived, and arguably with a stronger heart than ever, as people everywhere fight for principles like online access, net neutrality and shared, open-source applications.
This book took me to a whole new world. I’ve never spent weeks writing a program just for the fun of it. I’ve never stood before one of the cumbersome, room-sized printout computers the MIT hackers mastered. I’ve never looked at one of my umpteen electronic devices and thought, I have to make this better. Let me figure out how I can.
But I’m really glad so many others did. And I’m glad to know so much about how they did it.
“Hackers” was the first of two planned forays into modern technological history for my one-book-a-week summer-long #techbookbinge. Next up: “Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet.”