Thursday, February 17, 2011

Looking Back: 'The Conscience of A Hacker' by The Mentor

"The Conscience of A Hacker", also known as "The Hacker Manifesto", is a short essay written by The Mentor on January 8, 1986 at the age of 21. It was written after he was arrested due to being caught playing with a computer, or 'hacking it' so to speak. This essay has been passed on to this date, inspiring a lot on the hacking community especially those who are often miscategorized as a 'someone who does bad things'. 

First, let's define what a hacker really is.
(If you already know this, you may skip 3 paragraphs.)

Most non-internet and non-computer folks, when they hear the word 'hacker', thinks about someone who breaks into a security and tries to damage, harm, destroy, or do malicious things. However, by formal definition, a hacker is supposed to be a person who hacks into a code (or a system) whether they have good or bad intentions. Most hackers do hack for the sake of testing their ability or pure curiosity, or both. Some just wanted to identify the security holes of a system and bring it to attention so it could be patched, to prevent others to abuse it.

The logic in here is: A hacker is not always a bad person who hacks. But that bad person who hacks is a hacker.

So what do we call them? If you've heard of SEO (or search engine optimization), there are two types: the white hat and the black hat. As the cliche goes, white is to good as black is to evil. So those who hack and does any damage to the system are called black hat hackers. There is also this term called crackers (not the biscuit!) where what the hacker does is to crack a code, let's say a software which needs a serial key, and makes it available for use even without the key. Or, creates an executable file that generates keys.

Let's go back to the essay. Since those times when the boom of the computers made almost everyone so excited to touch it, some do not like to just touch it. They'd love to dive deep into the electronic pulses inside the computer and mingle with them. This era was when the first hackers came to life, electronically speaking. Back then, there is no formal definition of what a hacker really is and as I said, most people see them as bad guys. But with The Mentor's case and others alike, the damned kids.

Here's the full essay:
(Ctrl and '+' to zoom in if you can't read the essay properly.)
Another one got caught today, it's all over the papers. "Teenager Arrested in Computer Crime Scandal", "Hacker Arrested after Bank Tampering"... 
Damn kids. They're all alike. 
But did you, in your three-piece psychology and 1950's technobrain, ever take a look behind the eyes of the hacker? Did you ever wonder what made him tick, what forces shaped him, what may have molded him? 
I am a hacker, enter my world... Mine is a world that begins with school... I'm smarter than most of the other kids, this crap they teach us bores me... 
Damn underachiever. They're all alike.
I'm in junior high or high school. I've listened to teachers explain for the fifteenth time how to reduce a fraction. I understand it. "No, Ms. Smith, I didn't show my work. I did it in my head..." 
Damn kid. Probably copied it. They're all alike.
I made a discovery today. I found a computer. Wait a second, this is cool. It does what I want it to. If it makes a mistake, it's because I screwed it up. Not because it doesn't like me... Or feels threatened by me... Or thinks I'm a smart ass... Or doesn't like teaching and shouldn't be here...
Damn kid. All he does is play games. They're all alike.
And then it happened... a door opened to a world... rushing through the phone line like heroin through an addict's veins, an electronic pulse is sent out, a refuge from the day-to-day incompetencies is sought... a board is found.
"This is it... this is where I belong..." 
I know everyone here... even if I've never met them, never talked to them, may never hear from them again... I know you all...
Damn kid. Tying up the phone line again. They're all alike... 
You bet your ass we're all alike... we've been spoon-fed baby food at school when we hungered for steak... the bits of meat that you did let slip through were pre-chewed and tasteless. We've been dominated by sadists, or ignored by the apathetic. The few that had something to teach found us willing pupils, but those few are like drops of water in the desert. 
This is our world now... the world of the electron and the switch, the beauty of the baud. We make use of a service already existing without paying for what could be dirt-cheap if it wasn't run by profiteering gluttons, and you call us criminals. We explore... and you call us criminals. We seek after knowledge... and you call us criminals. We exist without skin color, without nationality, without religious bias... and you call us criminals. 
You build atomic bombs, you wage wars, you murder, cheat, and lie to us and try to make us believe it's for our own good, yet we're the criminals. 
Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiosity. My crime is that of judging people by what they say and think, not what they look like. 
My crime is that of outsmarting you, something that you will never forgive me for. 
I am a hacker, and this is my manifesto. You may stop this individual,but you can't stop us all... after all, we're all alike.
The Mentor, January 8, 1986

If you have watched The Social Network, you might notice a poster on Mark Zuckerberg's room which looks like the texts above. Yes, it really is the Hacker Manifesto.

The Hacker Manifesto poster featured in The Social Network on Mark Zuckerberg's room
Look above the curls.
The Mentor, whose real name is Loyd Blankenship, is now considered a "living legend" among hackers around the globe. He never thought that his rage and injustice-driven essay will get into the spotlight and will inspire many people.

In an presentation which was recorded on audio, he told a story of a boy who emailed him and told him that the boy was once forced to go into a private school which is against what he really wants. "I showed my parents the Manifesto and they read it." In hopes that his parents would understand him, and it really made them.

As for me, I can fully relate to what he felt back then. I was surprised that I'm not the only one who's disappointed with the educational system (even if in my case, the educational system of the Philippines). Well maybe in general, the traditional classroom setting bores me to the medullary cavity of every bones present in my body. Because it's a total waste of time and you are forced to do something in a routine basis. It's not just a waste of time, but also effort, money, and amount of learning you should have gained. For me, I could learn more by spending 30 minutes on the Internet than of that of a 3 hour lecture where checking the attendance would even have to go for 10 minutes. Plus, the distractions around you like your seatmates fangirling over some Korean group with disregard to someone who might be distracted hearing them. They say it is for us to be able to socialize with other people, but I'm not on school to socialize anyway. I'm also surprised that even people back then on 1990s felt that we need a change on our formal educational system. Why isn't it changing until now?

That's not all, even mainstreaming is a virus even back then and is spreading almost like a flea injected with some energy boosting drug. And also, overly generalization of almost everything is a disease most of us never noticed. You don't have to say anything about a thing if you don't know much about it. 'Shut up', as they say.

So going back to 1990s is like seeing the same film I'm currently watching. I guess it's really a disease we couldn't cure on human society.

As for the hacking community who continues to grow, learn, and grow, (what?), our code is to improve ourselves and we never finish, we never stop.

Wikipedia - Hacker Manifesto | Loyd Blankenship

hacker. text image and The Social Network screenshot by Gian Faye
Article by Loading-Info

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