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TUCoPS :: Cyber Culture :: counterc.hac

Hacking Away at the Counterculture by Andrew Ross

                           ANDREW ROSS
                       Princeton University
     Copyright (c) 1990 by Andrew Ross, all rights reserved.
         _Postmodern Culture_ vol. 1, no. 1 (Sep. 1990).
[1]       Ever since the viral attack engineered in November
     of 1988 by Cornell University hacker Robert Morris on
     the national network system Internet, which includes
     the Pentagon's ARPAnet data exchange network, the
     nation's high-tech ideologues and spin doctors have
     been locked in debate, trying to make ethical and
     economic sense of the event.  The virus rapidly
     infected an estimated six thousand computers around the
     country, creating a scare that crowned an open season
     of viral hysteria in the media, in the course of which,
     according to the Computer Virus Industry Association in
     Santa Clara, the number of known viruses jumped from
     seven to thirty during 1988, and from three thousand
     infections in the first two months of that year to
     thirty thousand in the last two months.  While it
     caused little in the way of data damage (some richly
     inflated initial estimates reckoned up to $100m in
     down time), the ramifications of the Internet virus
     have helped to generate a moral panic that has all but
     transformed everyday "computer culture."
[2]       Following the lead of DARPA's (Defence Advance
     Research Projects Agency) Computer Emergency Response
     Team at Carnegie-Mellon University, anti-virus response
     centers were hastily put in place by government and
     defence agencies at the National Science Foundation,
     the Energy Department, NASA, and other sites.  Plans
     were made to introduce a bill in Congress (the
     Computer Virus Eradication Act, to replace the 1986
     Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which pertained solely to
     government information), that would call for prison
     sentences of up to ten years for the "crime" of
     sophisticated hacking, and numerous government agencies
     have been involved in a proprietary fight over the
     creation of a proposed Center for Virus Control,
     modelled, of course, on Atlanta's Centers for Disease
     Control, notorious for its failures to respond
     adequately to the AIDS crisis.
[3]       In fact, media commentary on the virus scare has
     run not so much tongue-in-cheek as hand-in-glove with
     the rhetoric of AIDS hysteria--the common use of terms
     like killer virus and epidemic; the focus on hi-risk
     personal contact (virus infection, for the most part,
     is spread on personal computers, not mainframes); the
     obsession with defense, security, and immunity; and the
     climate of suspicion generated around communitarian
     acts of sharing.  The underlying moral imperative being
     this: You can't trust your best friend's software any
     more than you can trust his or her bodily fluids--safe
     software or no software at all!  Or, as Dennis Miller
     put it on _Saturday Night Live_, "Remember, when you
     connect with another computer, you're connecting to
     every computer that computer has ever connected to."
     This playful conceit struck a chord in the popular
     consciousness, even as it was perpetuated in such sober
     quarters as the Association for Computing Machinery,
     the president of which, in a controversial editorial
     titled "A Hygiene Lesson," drew comparisons not only
     with sexually transmitted diseases, but also with a
     cholera epidemic, and urged attention to "personal
     systems hygiene."^1^  In fact, some computer scientists
     who studied the symptomatic path of Morris's virus
     across Internet have pointed to its uneven effects upon
     different computer types and operating systems, and
     concluded that "there is a direct analogy with
     biological genetic diversity to be made."^2^  The
     epidemiology of biological virus, and especially AIDS,
     research is being closely studied to help implement
     computer security plans, and, in these circles, the new
     witty discourse is laced with references to antigens,
     white blood cells, vaccinations, metabolic free
     radicals, and the like.
[4]       The form and content of more lurid articles like
     _Time_'s infamous (September 1988) story, "Invasion of
     the Data Snatchers," fully displayed the continuity of
     the media scare with those historical fears about
     bodily invasion, individual and national, that are
     often considered endemic to the paranoid style of
     American political culture.^3^  Indeed, the rhetoric of
     computer culture, in common with the medical discourse
     of AIDS research, has fallen in line with the paranoid,
     strategic style of Defence Department rhetoric.  Each
     language-repertoire is obsessed with hostile threats to
     bodily and technological immune systems; every event is
     a ballistic manoeuver in the game of microbiological
     war, where the governing metaphors are indiscriminately
     drawn from cellular genetics and cybernetics alike.  As
     a counterpoint to the tongue-in-cheek AI tradition of
     seeing humans as "information-exchanging environments,"
     the imagined life of computers has taken on an
     organicist shape, now that they too are subject to
     cybernetic "sickness" or disease.  So, too, the
     development of interrelated systems, such as Internet
     itself, has further added to the structural picture of
     an interdependent organism, whose component members,
     however autonomous, are all nonetheless affected by the
     "health" of each individual constituent.  The growing
     interest among scientists in developing computer
     programs that will simulate the genetic behavior of
     living organisms (in which binary numbers act like
     genes) points to a future where the border between
     organic and artificial life is less and less distinct.
[5]       In keeping with the increasing use of biologically
     derived language to describe mutations in systems
     theory, conscious attempts to link the AIDS crisis with
     the information security crisis have pointed out that
     both kinds of virus, biological and electronic, take
     over the host cell/program and clone their carrier
     genetic codes by instructing the hosts to make replicas
     of the viruses.  Neither kind of virus, however, can
     replicate themselves independently; they are pieces of
     code that attach themselves to other cells/programs--
     just as biological viruses need a host cell, computer
     viruses require a host program to activate them.  The
     Internet virus was not, in fact, a virus, but a worm, a
     program that can run independently and therefore
     _appears_ to have a life of its own.  The worm
     replicates a full version of itself in programs and
     systems as it moves from one to another, masquerading
     as a legitimate user by guessing the user passwords of
     locked accounts. Because of this autonomous existence,
     the worm can be seen to behave as if it were an
     organism with some kind of purpose or teleology, and
     yet it has none.  Its only "purpose" is to reproduce
     and infect.  If the worm has no inbuilt antireplication
     code, or if the code is faulty, as was the case with
     the Internet worm, it will make already-infected
     computers repeatedly accept further replicas of itself,
     until their memories are clogged.  A much quieter worm
     than that engineered by Morris would have moved more
     slowly, as one supposes a "worm" should, protecting
     itself from detection by ever more subtle camouflage,
     and propagating its cumulative effect of operative
     systems inertia over a much longer period of time.
[6]       In offering such descriptions, however, we must be
     wary of attributing a teleology/intentionality to worms
     and viruses which can be ascribed only, and, in most
     instances, speculatively, to their authors.  There is
     no reason why a cybernetic "worm" might be expected to
     behave in any fundamental way like a biological worm.
     So, too, the assumed intentionality of its author
     distinguishes the human-made cybernetic virus from the
     case of the biological virus, the effects of which are
     fated to be received and discussed in a language
     saturated with human-made structures and narratives of
     meaning and teleological purpose.  Writing about the
     folkloric theologies of significance and explanatory
     justice (usually involving retribution) that have
     sprung up around the AIDS crisis, Judith Williamson has
     pointed to the radical implications of this collision
     between an intentionless virus and a meaning-filled
          Nothing could be more meaningless than a
          virus.  It has no point, no purpose, no plan;
          it is part of no scheme, carries no inherent
          significance.  And yet nothing is harder for
          us to confront than the complete absence of
          meaning.  By its very definition,
          meaninglessness cannot be articulated within
          our social language, which is a system _of_
          meaning: impossible to include, as an
          absence, it is also impossible to exclude--
          for meaninglessness isn't just the opposite
          of meaning, it is the end of meaning, and
          threatens the fragile structures by which we
          make sense of the world.^4^
[7]       No such judgment about meaninglessness applies to
     the computer security crisis.  In contrast to HIV's
     lack of meaning or intentionality, the meaning of
     cybernetic viruses is always already replete with
     social significance.  This meaning is related, first of
     all, to the author's local intention or motivation,
     whether psychic or fully social, whether wrought out
     of a mood of vengeance, a show of bravado or technical
     expertise, a commitment to a political act, or in
     anticipation of the profits that often accrue from the
     victims' need to buy an antidote from the author.
     Beyond these local intentions, however, which are
     usually obscure or, as in the Morris case, quite
     inscrutable, there is an entire set of social and
     historical narratives that surround and are part of the
     "meaning" of the virus: the coded anarchist history of
     the youth hacker subculture; the militaristic
     environments of search-and-destroy warfare (a virus has
     two components--a carrier and a "warhead"), which,
     because of the historical development of computer
     technology, constitute the family values of information
     techno-culture; the experimental research environments
     in which creative designers are encouraged to work; and
     the conflictual history of pure and applied ethics in
     the science and technology communities, to name just a
     few.  A similar list could be drawn up to explain the
     widespread and varied _response_ to computer viruses,
     from the amused concern of the cognoscenti to the
     hysteria of the casual user, and from the research
     community and the manufacturing industry to the morally
     aroused legislature and the mediated culture at large.
     Every one of these explanations and narratives is the
     result of social and cultural processes and values;
     consequently, there is very little about the virus
     itself that is "meaningless."  Viruses can no more be
     seen as an objective, or necessary, result of the
     "objective" development of technological systems than
     technology in general can be seen as an objective,
     determining agent of social change.
[8]       For the sake of polemical economy, I would note
     that the cumulative effect of all the viral hysteria
     has been twofold.  Firstly, it has resulted in a
     windfall for software producers, now that users' blithe
     disregard for makers' copyright privileges has eroded
     in the face of the security panic.  Used to fighting
     halfhearted rearguard actions against widespread piracy
     practices, or reluctantly acceding to buyers' desire
     for software unencumbered by top-heavy security
     features, software vendors are now profiting from the
     new public distrust of program copies.  So, too, the
     explosion in security consciousness has hyperstimulated
     the already fast-growing sectors of the security system
     industry and the data encryption industry.  In line
     with the new imperative for everything from
     "vaccinated" workstations to "sterilized" networks, it
     has created a brand new market of viral vaccine vendors
     who will sell you the virus (a one-time only
     immunization shot) along with its antidote--with names
     like Flu Shot +, ViruSafe, Vaccinate, Disk Defender,
     Certus, Viral Alarm, Antidote, Virus Buster,
     Gatekeeper, Ongard, and Interferon.  Few of the
     antidotes are very reliable, however, especially since
     they pose an irresistible intellectual challenge to
     hackers who can easily rewrite them in the form of ever
     more powerful viruses.  Moreover, most corporate
     managers of computer systems and networks know that by
     far the great majority of their intentional security
     losses are a result of insider sabotage and
[9]       In short, the effects of the viruses have been to
     profitably clamp down on copyright delinquency, and to
     generate the need for entirely new industrial
     production of viral suppressors to contain the fallout.
     In this respect, it is easy to see that the appearance
     of viruses could hardly, in the long run, have
     benefited industry producers more.  In the same vein,
     the networks that have been hardest hit by the security
     squeeze are not restricted-access military or corporate
     systems but networks like Internet, set up on trust to
     facilitate the open academic exchange of data,
     information and research, and watched over by its
     sponsor, DARPA.  It has not escaped the notice of
     conspiracy theorists that the military intelligence
     community, obsessed with "electronic warfare," actually
     stood to learn a lot from the Internet virus; the virus
     effectively "pulsed the system," exposing the
     sociological behaviour of the system in a crisis
          The second effect of the virus crisis has been
     more overtly ideological.  Virus-conscious fear and
     loathing have clearly fed into the paranoid climate of
     privatization that increasingly defines social
     identities in the new post-Fordist order.  The result--
     a psycho-social closing of the ranks around fortified
     private spheres--runs directly counter to the ethic
     that we might think of as residing at the architectural
     heart of information technology.  In its basic assembly
     structure, information technology is a technology of
     processing, copying, replication, and simulation,  and
     therefore does not recognize the concept of private
     information property.  What is now under threat is the
     rationality of a shareware culture, ushered in as the
     achievement of the hacker counterculture that pioneered
     the personal computer revolution in the early seventies
     against the grain of corporate planning.
[10]      There is another story to tell, however, about the
     emergence of the virus scare as a profitable
     ideological moment, and it is the story of how teenage
     hacking has come to be increasingly defined as a
     potential threat to normative educational ethics and
     national security alike.  The story of the creation of
     this "social menace" is central to the ongoing attempts
     to rewrite property law in order to contain the effects
     of the new information technologies that, because of
     their blindness to the copyrighting of intellectual
     property, have transformed the way in which modern
     power is exercised and maintained.  Consequently, a
     deviant social class or group has been defined and
     categorised as "enemies of the state" in order to help
     rationalize a general law-and-order clampdown on free
     and open information exchange.  Teenage hackers' homes
     are now habitually raided by sheriffs and FBI agents
     using strong-arm tactics, and jail sentences are
     becoming a common punishment.  Operation Sundevil, a
     nationwide Secret Service operation in the spring of
     1990, involving hundreds of agents in fourteen cities,
     is the most recently publicized of the hacker raids
     that have produced several arrests and seizures of
     thousands of disks and address lists in the last two
[11]      In one of the many harshly punitive prosecutions
     against hackers in recent years, a judge went so far as
     to describe "bulletin boards" as "hi-tech street
     gangs."  The editors of _2600_, the magazine that
     publishes information about system entry and
     exploration that is indispensable to the hacking
     community, have pointed out that any single invasive
     act, such as that of trespass, that involves the use of
     computers is considered today to be infinitely more
     criminal than a similar act undertaken without
     computers.^7^  To use computers to execute pranks,
     raids, frauds or thefts is to incur automatically the
     full repressive wrath of judges urged on by the moral
     panic created around hacking feats over the last two
     decades.  Indeed, there is a strong body of pressure
     groups pushing for new criminal legislation that will
     define "crimes with computers" as a special category of
     crime, deserving "extraordinary" sentences and punitive
     measures.  Over that same space of time, the term
     _hacker_ has lost its semantic link with the
     journalistic _hack,_ suggesting a professional toiler
     who uses unorthodox methods.  So, too, its increasingly
     criminal connotation today has displaced the more
     innocuous, amateur mischief-maker-cum-media-star role
     reserved for hackers until a few years ago.
[12]      In response to the gathering vigor of this "war on
     hackers," the most common defences of hacking can be
     presented on a spectrum that runs from the appeasement
     or accommodation of corporate interests to drawing up
     blueprints for cultural revolution.  (a) Hacking
     performs a benign industrial service of uncovering
     security deficiencies and design flaws.  (b) Hacking,
     as an experimental, free-form research activity, has
     been responsible for many of the most progressive
     developments in software development.  (c) Hacking,
     when not purely recreational, is an elite educational
     practice that reflects the ways in which the
     development of high technology has outpaced orthodox
     forms of institutional education.  (d) Hacking is an
     important form of watchdog counterresponse to the use
     of surveillance technology and data gathering by the
     state, and to the increasingly monolithic
     communications power of giant corporations.  (e)
     Hacking, as guerrilla know-how, is essential to the
     task of maintaining fronts of cultural resistance and
     stocks of oppositional knowledge as a hedge against a
     technofascist future.  With all of these and other
     arguments in mind, it is easy to see how the social and
     cultural _management_ of hacker activities has become a
     complex process that involves state policy and
     legislation at the highest levels.  In this respect,
     the virus scare has become an especially convenient
     vehicle for obtaining public and popular consent for
     new legislative measures and new powers of
     investigation for the FBI.^8^
[13]      Consequently, certain celebrity hackers have been
     quick to play down the zeal with which they pursued
     their earlier hacking feats, while reinforcing the
     _deviant_ category of "technological hooliganism"
     reserved by moralizing pundits for "dark-side" hacking.
     Hugo Cornwall, British author of the bestselling
     _Hacker's Handbook_, presents a Little England view of
     the hacker as a harmless fresh-air enthusiast who
     "visits advanced computers as a polite country rambler
     might walk across picturesque fields."  The owners of
     these properties are like "farmers who don't mind
     careful ramblers."  Cornwall notes that "lovers of
     fresh-air walks obey the Country Code, involving such
     items as closing gates behind one and avoiding damage
     to crops and livestock" and suggests that a similar
     code ought to "guide your rambles into other people's
     computers; the safest thing to do is simply browse,
     enjoy and learn."  By contrast, any rambler who
     "ventured across a field guarded by barbed wire and
     dotted with notices warning about the Official Secrets
     Act would deserve most that happened thereafter."^9^
     Cornwall's quaint perspective on hacking has a certain
     "native charm," but some might think that this
     beguiling picture of patchwork-quilt fields and benign
     gentleman farmers glosses over the long bloody history
     of power exercised through feudal and postfeudal land
     economy in England, while it is barely suggestive of
     the new fiefdoms, transnational estates, dependencies,
     and principalities carved out of today's global
     information order by vast corporations capable of
     bypassing the laws and territorial borders of sovereign
     nation-states.  In general, this analogy with
     "trespass" laws, which compares hacking to breaking and
     entering other people's homes restricts the debate to
     questions about privacy, property, possessive
     individualism, and, at best, the excesses of state
     surveillance, while it closes off any examination of
     the activities of the corporate owners and
     institutional sponsors of information technology (the
     almost exclusive "target" of most hackers).^10^
[14]      Cornwall himself has joined the lucrative ranks of
     ex-hackers who either work for computer security firms
     or write books about security for the eyes of worried
     corporate managers.^11^  A different, though related,
     genre is that of the penitent hacker's "confession,"
     produced for an audience thrilled by tales of high-
     stakes adventure at the keyboard, but written in the
     form of a computer security handbook.  The best example
     of the "I Was a Teenage Hacker" genre is Bill (aka "The
     Cracker") Landreth's _Out of the Inner Circle_: The
     True Story of a Computer Intruder Capable of Cracking
     the Nation's Most Secure Computer Systems_, a book
     about "people who can't `just say no' to computers."
     In full complicity with the deviant picture of the
     hacker as "public enemy," Landreth recirculates every
     official and media cliche about subversive
     conspiratorial elites by recounting the putative
     exploits of a high-level hackers' guild called the
     Inner Circle.  The author himself is presented in the
     book as a former keyboard junkie who now praises the
     law for having made a good moral example of him:
          If you are wondering what I am like, I can
          tell you the same things I told the judge in
          federal court: Although it may not seem like
          it, I am pretty much a normal American
          teenager.  I don't drink, smoke or take
          drugs.  I don't steal, assault people, or
          vandalize property.  The only way in which I
          am really different from most people is in my
          fascination with the ways and means of
          learning about computers that don't belong to
     Sentenced in 1984 to three years probation, during
     which time he was obliged to finish his high school
     education and go to college, Landreth concludes:  "I
     think the sentence is very fair, and I already know
     what my major will be...."  As an aberrant sequel to
     the book's contrite conclusion, however, Landreth
     vanished in 1986, violating his probation, only to face
     later a stiff five-year jail sentence--a sorry victim,
     no doubt, of the recent crackdown.
[15]      At the core of Steven Levy's bestseller _Hackers_
     (1984) is the argument that the hacker ethic, first
     articulated in the 1950s among the famous MIT students
     who developed multiple-access user systems, is
     libertarian and crypto-anarchist in its right-to know
     principles and its advocacy of decentralized
     technology.  This hacker ethic, which has remained the
     preserve of a youth culture for the most part, asserts
     the basic right of users to free access to all
     information.  It is a principled attempt, in other
     words, to challenge the tendency to use technology to
     form information elites.  Consequently, hacker
     activities were presented in the eighties as a romantic
     countercultural tendency, celebrated by critical
     journalists like John Markoff of the _New York Times_,
     by Stewart Brand of _Whole Earth Catalog_ fame, and by
     New Age gurus like Timothy Leary in the flamboyant
     _Reality Hackers_.  Fuelled by sensational stories
     about phone phreaks like Joe Egressia (the blind eight-
     year old who discovered the tone signal of phone
     company by whistling) and Cap'n Crunch, groups like the
     Milwaukee 414s, the Los Angeles ARPAnet hackers, the
     SPAN Data Travellers, the Chaos Computer Club of
     Hamburg, the British Prestel hackers, _2600_'s BBS,
     "The Private Sector," and others, the dominant media
     representation of the hacker came to be that of the
     "rebel with a modem," to use Markoff's term, at least
     until the more recent "war on hackers" began to shape
     media coverage.
[16]       On the one hand, this popular folk hero persona
     offered the romantic high profile of a maverick though
     nerdy cowboy whose fearless raids upon an impersonal
     "system" were perceived as a welcome tonic in the gray
     age of technocratic routine.  On the other hand, he was
     something of a juvenile technodelinquent who hadn't yet
     learned the difference between right and wrong---a
     wayward figure whose technical brilliance and
     proficiency differentiated him nonetheless from, say,
     the maladjusted working-class J.D. street-corner boy of
     the 1950s (hacker mythology, for the most part, has
     been almost exclusively white, masculine, and middle-
     class).  One result of this media profile was a
     persistent infantilization of the hacker ethic--a way
     of trivializing its embryonic politics, however finally
     complicit with dominant technocratic imperatives or
     with entrepreneurial-libertarian ideology one perceives
     these politics to be.  The second result was to
     reinforce, in the initial absence of coercive jail
     sentences, the high educational stakes of training the
     new technocratic elites to be responsible in their use
     of technology.  Never, the given wisdom goes, has a
     creative elite of the future been so in need of the
     virtues of a liberal education steeped in Western
[17]      The full force of this lesson in computer ethics
     can be found laid out in the official Cornell
     University report on the Robert Morris affair.  Members
     of the university commission set up to investigate the
     affair make it quite clear in their report that they
     recognize the student's academic brilliance.  His
     hacking, moreover, is described, as a "juvenile act"
     that had no "malicious intent" but that amounted, like
     plagiarism, the traditional academic heresy, to a
     dishonest transgression of other users' rights.  (In
     recent years, the privacy movement within the
     information community--a movement mounted by liberals
     to protect civil rights against state gathering of
     information--has actually been taken up and used as a
     means of criminalizing hacker activities.)  As for the
     consequences of this juvenile act, the report proposes
     an analogy that, in comparison with Cornwall's _mature_
     English country rambler, is thoroughly American,
     suburban, middle-class and _juvenile_.  Unleashing the
     Internet worm was like "the driving of a golf-cart on a
     rainy day through most houses in the neighborhood.  The
     driver may have navigated carefully and broken no
     china, but it should have been obvious to the driver
     that the mud on the tires would soil the carpets and
     that the owners would later have to clean up the
[18]      In what stands out as a stiff reprimand for his
     alma mater, the report regrets that Morris was educated
     in an "ambivalent atmosphere" where he "received no
     clear guidance" about ethics from "his peers or
     mentors" (he went to Harvard!).  But it reserves its
     loftiest academic contempt for the press, whose
     heroization of hackers has been so irresponsible, in
     the commission's opinion, as to cause even further
     damage to the standards of the computing profession;
     media exaggerations of the courage and technical
     sophistication of hackers "obscures the far more
     accomplished work of students who complete their
     graduate studies without public fanfare," and "who
     subject their work to the close scrutiny and evaluation
     of their peers, and not to the interpretations of the
     popular press."^14^  In other words, this was an inside
     affair, to be assessed and judged by fellow
     professionals within an institution that reinforces its
     authority by means of internally self-regulating codes
     of professionalist ethics, but rarely addresses its
     ethical relationship to society as a whole (acceptance
     of defence grants, and the like).  Generally speaking,
     the report affirms the genteel liberal ideal that
     professionals should not need laws, rules, procedural
     guidelines, or fixed guarantees of safe and responsible
     conduct.  Apprentice professionals ought to have
     acquired a good conscience by osmosis from a liberal
     education rather than from some specially prescribed
     course in ethics and technology.
[19]      The widespread attention commanded by the Cornell
     report (attention from the Association of Computing
     Machinery, among others) demonstrates the industry's
     interest in how the academy invokes liberal ethics in
     order to assist in the managing of the organization of
     the new specialized knowledge about information
     technology.  Despite or, perhaps, because of the
     report's steadfast pledge to the virtues and ideals of
     a liberal education, it bears all the marks of a
     legitimation crisis inside (and outside) the academy
     surrounding the new and all-important category of
     computer professionalism.  The increasingly specialized
     design knowledge demanded of computer professionals
     means that codes that go beyond the old professionalist
     separation of mental and practical skills are needed to
     manage the division that a hacker's functional talents
     call into question, between a purely mental pursuit and
     the pragmatic sphere of implementing knowledge in the
     real world.  "Hacking" must then be designated as a
     strictly _amateur_ practice; the tension, in hacking,
     between _interestedness_ and _disinterestedness_ is
     different from, and deficient in relation to, the
     proper balance demanded by professionalism.
     Alternately, hacking can be seen as the amateur flip
     side of the professional ideal--a disinterested love in
     the service of interested parties and institutions.  In
     either case, it serves as an example of professionalism
     gone wrong, but not very wrong.
[20]      In common with the two responses to the virus
     scare described earlier--the profitable reaction of the
     computer industry and the self-empowering response of
     the legislature-- the Cornell report shows how the
     academy uses a case like the Morris affair to
     strengthen its own sense of moral and cultural
     authority in the sphere of professionalism,
     particularly through its scornful indifference to and
     aloofness from the codes and judgements exercised by
     the media--its diabolic competitor in the field of
     knowledge.  Indeed, for all the trumpeting about
     excesses of power and disrespect for the law of the
     land, the revival of ethics, in the business and
     science disciplines in the Ivy League and on Capitol
     Hill (both awash with ethical fervor in the post-Boesky
     and post-Reagan years), is little more than a weak
     liberal response to working flaws or adaptational
     lapses in the social logic of technocracy.
[21]      To complete the scenario of morality play example-
     making, however, we must also consider that Morris's
     father was chief scientist of the National Computer
     Security Center, the National Security Agency's public
     effort at safeguarding computer security.  A brilliant
     programmer and codebreaker in his own right, he had
     testified in Washington in 1983 about the need to
     deglamorise teenage hacking, comparing it to "stealing
     a car for the purpose of joyriding."  In a further
     Oedipal irony, Morris Sr. may have been one of the
     inventors, while at Bell Labs in the 1950s, of a
     computer game involving self-perpetuating programs that
     were a prototype of today's worms and viruses.  Called
     Darwin, its principles were incorporated, in the
     eighties, into a popular hacker game called Core War,
     in which autonomous "killer" programs fought each other
     to the death.^15^
[22]      With the appearance, in the Morris affair, of a
     patricidal object who is also the Pentagon's guardian
     angel, we now have many of the classic components of
     countercultural cross-generational conflict.  What I
     want to consider, however, is how and where this
     scenario differs from the definitive contours of such
     conflicts that we recognize as having been established
     in the sixties; how the Cornell hacker Morris's
     relation to, say, campus "occupations" today is
     different from that evoked by the famous image of armed
     black students emerging from a sit-in on the Cornell
     campus; how the relation to technological ethics
     differs from Andrew Kopkind's famous statement
     "Morality begins at the end of a gun barrel" which
     accompanied the publication of the do-it-yourself
     Molotov cocktail design on the cover of a 1968 issue of
     the _New York Review of Books_; or how hackers' prized
     potential access to the networks of military systems
     warfare differs from the prodigious Yippie feat of
     levitating the Pentagon building.  It may be that, like
     the J.D. rebel without a cause of the fifties, the
     disaffiliated student dropout of the sixties, and the
     negationist punk of the seventies, the hacker of the
     eighties has come to serve as a visible public example
     of moral maladjustment, a hegemonic test case for
     redefining the dominant ethics in an advanced
     technocratic society.  (Hence the need for each of
     these deviant figures to come in different versions--
     lumpen, radical chic, and Hollywood-style.)
[23]      What concerns me here, however, are the different
     conditions that exist today for recognizing
     countercultural expression and activism.  Twenty years
     later, the technology of hacking and viral guerrilla
     warfare occupies a similar place in countercultural
     fantasy as the Molotov Cocktail design once did.  While
     I don't, for one minute, mean to insist on such
     comparisons, which aren't particularly sound anyway, I
     think they conveniently mark a shift in the relation of
     countercultural activity to technology, a shift in
     which a software-based technoculture, organized around
     outlawed libertarian principles about free access to
     information and communication, has come to replace a
     dissenting culture organized around the demonizing of
     abject hardware structures.  Much, though not all, of
     the sixties counterculture was formed around what I
     have elsewhere called the _technology of folklore_--an
     expressive congeries of preindustrialist, agrarianist,
     Orientalist, antitechnological ideas, values, and
     social structures.  By contrast, the cybernetic
     countercultures of the nineties are already being
     formed around the _folklore of technology_--mythical
     feats of survivalism and resistance in a data-rich
     world of virtual environments and posthuman bodies--
     which is where many of the SF-and technology-conscious
     youth cultures have been assembling in recent
[24]      There is no doubt that this scenario makes
     countercultural activity more difficult to recognize
     and therefore to define as politically significant.  It
     was much easier, in the sixties, to _identify_ the
     salient features and symbolic power of a romantic
     preindustrialist cultural politics in an advanced
     technological society, especially when the destructive
     evidence of America's supertechnological invasion of
     Vietnam was being daily paraded in front of the public
     eye.  However, in a society whose technopolitical
     infrastructure depends increasingly upon greater
     surveillance, cybernetic activism necessarily relies on
     a much more covert politics of identity, since access
     to closed systems requires discretion and
     dissimulation.  Access to digital systems still
     requires only the authentication of a signature or
     pseudonym, not the identification of a real
     surveillable person, so there exists a crucial
     operative gap between authentication and
     identification.  (As security systems move toward
     authenticating access through biological signatures--
     the biometric recording and measurement of physical
     characteristics such as palm or retinal prints, or vein
     patterns on the backs of hands--the hacker's staple
     method of systems entry through purloined passwords
     will be further challenged.)  By the same token,
     cybernetic identity is never used up, it can be
     recreated, reassigned, and reconstructed with any
     number of different names and under different user
     accounts.  Most hacks, or technocrimes, go unnoticed or
     unreported for fear of publicising the vulnerability of
     corporate security systems, especially when the hacks
     are performed by disgruntled employees taking their
     vengeance on management.  So, too, authoritative
     identification of any individual hacker, whenever it
     occurs, is often the result of accidental leads rather
     than systematic detection.  For example, Captain
     Midnight, the video pirate who commandeered a satellite
     a few years ago to interrupt broadcast TV viewing, was
     traced only because a member of the public reported a
     suspicious conversation heard over a crossed telephone
[25]      Eschewing its core constituency among white males
     of the pre-professional-managerial class, the hacker
     community may be expanding its parameters outward.
     Hacking, for example, has become a feature of the young
     adult mystery-and-suspense novel genre for girls.^17^
     The elitist class profile of the hacker prodigy as that
     of an undersocialized college nerd has become
     democratized and customized in recent years; it is no
     longer exclusively associated with institutionally
     acquired college expertise, and increasingly it dresses
     streetwise.  In a recent article which documents the
     spread of the computer underground from college whiz
     kids to a broader youth subculture termed "cyberpunks,"
     after the movement among SF novelists, the original
     hacker phone phreak Cap'n Crunch is described as
     lamenting the fact that the cyberculture is no longer
     an "elite" one, and that hacker-valid information is
     much easier to obtain these days.^18^
[26]      For the most part, however, the self-defined
     hacker underground, like many other
     protocountercultural tendencies, has been restricted to
     a privileged social milieu, further magnetised by the
     self-understanding of its members that they are the
     apprentice architects of a future dominated by
     knowledge, expertise, and "smartness," whether human or
     digital.  Consequently, it is clear that the hacker
     cyberculture is not a dropout culture; its
     disaffiliation from a domestic parent culture is often
     manifest in activities that answer, directly or
     indirectly, to the legitimate needs of industrial R&D.
     For example, this hacker culture celebrates high
     productivity, maverick forms of creative work energy,
     and an obsessive identification with on-line endurance
     (and endorphin highs)--all qualities that are valorised
     by the entrepreneurial codes of silicon futurism.  In a
     critique of the myth of the hacker-as-rebel, Dennis
     Hayes debunks the political romance woven around the
     teenage hacker:
          They are typically white, upper-middle-class
          adolescents who have taken over the home
          computer (bought, subsidized, or tolerated
          by parents in the hope of cultivating
          computer literacy).  Few are politically
          motivated although many express contempt for
          the "bureaucracies" that hamper their
          electronic journeys.  Nearly all demand
          unfettered access to intricate and intriguing
          computer networks.  In this, teenage hackers
          resemble an alienated shopping culture
          deprived of purchasing opportunities more
          than a terrorist network.^19^
[27]      While welcoming the sobriety of Hayes's critique,
     I am less willing to accept its assumptions about the
     political implications of hacker activities.  Studies
     of youth subcultures (including those of a privileged
     middle-class formation) have taught us that the
     political meaning of certain forms of cultural
     "resistance" is notoriously difficult to read.  These
     meanings are either highly coded or expressed
     indirectly through media--private peer languages,
     customized consumer styles, unorthodox leisure
     patterns, categories of insider knowledge and
     behavior--that have no fixed or inherent political
     significance.  If cultural studies of this sort have
     proved anything, it is that the often symbolic, not
     wholly articulate, expressivity of a youth culture can
     seldom be translated directly into an articulate
     political philosophy.  The significance of these
     cultures lies in their embryonic or _protopolitical_
     languages and technologies of opposition to dominant or
     parent systems of rules.  If hackers lack a "cause,"
     then they are certainly not the first youth culture to
     be characterized in this dismissive way.  In
     particular, the left has suffered from the lack of a
     cultural politics capable of recognizing the power of
     cultural expressions that do not wear a mature
     political commitment on their sleeves.
          So, too, the escalation of activism-in-the-
     professions in the last two decades has shown that it
     is a mistake to condemn the hacker impulse on account
     of its class constituency alone.  To cede the "ability
     to know" on the grounds that elite groups will enjoy
     unjustly privileged access to technocratic knowledge is
     to cede too much of the future.  Is it of no political
     significance at all that hackers' primary fantasies
     often involve the official computer systems of the
     police, armed forces, and defence and intelligence
     agencies?  And that the rationale for their fantasies
     is unfailingly presented in the form of a defence of
     civil liberties against the threat of centralized
     intelligence and military activities?  Or is all of
     this merely a symptom of an apprentice elite's
     fledgling will to masculine power?  The activities of
     the Chinese student elite in the pro-democracy movement
     have shown that unforeseen shifts in the political
     climate can produce startling new configurations of
     power and resistance.  After Tiananmen Square, Party
     leaders found it imprudent to purge those high-tech
     engineer and computer cadres who alone could guarantee
     the future of any planned modernization program.  On
     the other hand, the authorities rested uneasy knowing
     that each cadre (among the most activist groups in the
     student movement) is a potential hacker who can have
     the run of the communications house if and when he or
     she wants.
[28]      On the other hand, I do agree with Hayes's
     perception that the media have pursued their romance
     with the hacker at the cost of underreporting the much
     greater challenge posed to corporate employers by their
     employees.  It is in the arena of conflicts between
     workers and management that most high-tech "sabotage"
     takes place.  In the mainstream everyday life of office
     workers, mostly female, there is a widespread culture
     of unorganized sabotage that accounts for infinitely
     more computer downtime and information loss every year
     than is caused by destructive, "dark-side" hacking by
     celebrity cybernetic intruders.  The sabotage, time
     theft, and strategic monkeywrenching deployed by office
     workers in their engineered electromagnetic attacks on
     data storage and operating systems might range from the
     planting of time or logic bombs to the discrete use of
     electromagnetic Tesla coils or simple bodily friction:
     "Good old static electricity discharged from the
     fingertips probably accounts for close to half the
     disks and computers wiped out or down every year."^20^
     More skilled operators, intent on evening a score with
     management, often utilize sophisticated hacking
     techniques.  In many cases, a coherent networking
     culture exists among female console operators, where,
     among other things, tips about strategies for slowing
     down the temporality of the work regime are circulated.
     While these threats from below are fully recognized in
     their boardrooms, corporations dependent upon digital
     business machines are obviously unwilling to advertize
     how acutely vulnerable they actually are to this kind
     of sabotage.  It is easy to imagine how organised
     computer activism could hold such companies for ransom.
     As Hayes points out, however, it is more difficult to
     mobilize any kind of labor movement organized upon such
          Many are prepared to publicly oppose the
          countless dark legacies of the computer age:
          "electronic sweatshops," Military technology,
          employee surveillance, genotoxic water, and
          ozone depletion.  Among those currently
          leading the opposition, however, it is
          apparently deemed "irresponsible" to recommend
          an active computerized resistance as a source
          of worker's power because it is perceived as
          a medium of employee crime and "terrorism."
     _Processed World_, the "magazine with a bad attitude"
     with which Hayes has been associated, is at the
     forefront of debating and circulating these questions
     among office workers, regularly tapping into the
     resentments borne out in on-the-job resistance.
[29]      While only a small number of computer users would
     recognize and include themselves under the label of
     "hacker," there are good reasons for extending the
     restricted definition of _hacking_ down and across the
     caste system of systems analysts, designers,
     programmers, and operators to include all high-tech
     workers, no matter how inexpert, who can interrupt,
     upset, and redirect the smooth flow of structured
     communications that dictates their positions in the
     social networks of exchange and determines the
     temporality of their work schedules.  To put it in
     these terms, however, is not to offer any universal
     definition of hacker agency.  There are many social
     agents, for example, in job locations that are
     dependent upon the hope of technological _reskilling_,
     for whom sabotage or disruption of communicative
     rationality is of little use; for such people,
     definitions of hacking that are reconstructive, rather
     than deconstructive, are more appropriate.  A good
     example is the crucial role of worker technoliteracy in
     the struggle of labor against automation and
     deskilling.  When worker education classes in computer
     programming were discontinued by management at the Ford
     Rouge plant in Dearborn, Michigan, union (UAW) members
     began to publish a newsletter called the _Amateur
     Computerist_ to fill the gap.^22^  Among the columnists
     and correspondents in the magazine have been veterans
     of the Flint sit-down strikes who see a clear
     historical continuity between the problem of labor
     organization in the thirties and the problem of
     automation and deskilling today.  Workers' computer
     literacy is seen as essential not only to the
     demystification of the computer and the reskilling of
     workers, but also to labor's capacity to intervene in
     decisions about new technologies that might result in
     shorter hours and thus in "work efficiency" rather than
     worker efficiency.
[30]      The three social locations I have mentioned above
     all express different class relations to technology:
     the location of an apprentice technical elite,
     conventionally associated with the term "hacking"; the
     location of the female high-tech office worker,
     involved in "sabotage"; and the location of the shop-
     floor worker, whose future depends on technological
     reskilling.  All therefore exhibit different ways of
     _claiming back_ time dictated and appropriated by
     technological processes, and of establishing some form
     of independent control over the work relation so
     determined by the new technologies.  All, then, fall
     under a broad understanding of the politics involved in
     any extended description of hacker activities.
     [This file is continued in ROSS-2 990]
     [Andrew Ross, "Hacking Away at the Counter-culture,"
     part 2, continued from ROSS-1 990.  Distributed by
     _Postmodern Culture_ in vol. 1, no. 1 (Sep. 1990);
     copyright (c) 1990 by Andrew Ross, all rights reserved]
     _The Culture and Technology Question_
[31]      Faced with these proliferating practices in the
     workplace, on the teenage cult fringe, and increasingly
     in mainstream entertainment, where, over the last five
     years, the cyberpunk sensibility in popular fiction,
     film, and television has caught the romance of the
     popular taste for the outlaw technology of
     human/machine interfaces, we are obliged, I think, to
     ask old kinds of questions about the new silicon order
     which the evangelists of information technology have
     been deliriously proclaiming for more than twenty
     years.  The postindustrialists' picture of a world of
     freedom and abundance projects a sunny millenarian
     future devoid of work drudgery and ecological
     degradation.  This sunny social order, cybernetically
     wired up, is presented as an advanced evolutionary
     phase of society in accord with Enlightenment ideals of
     progress and rationality.  By contrast, critics of this
     idealism see only a frightening advance in the
     technologies of social control, whose owners and
     sponsors are efficiently shaping a society, as Kevin
     Robins and Frank Webster put it, of "slaves without
     Athens" that is actually the inverse of the "Athens
     without slaves" promised by the silicon
[32]      It is clear that one of the political features of
     the new post-Fordist order--economically marked by
     short-run production, diverse taste markets, flexible
     specialization, and product differentiation--is that
     the New Right has managed to appropriate not only the
     utopian language and values of the alternative
     technology movements but also the marxist discourse of
     the "withering away of the state" and the more
     compassionate vision of local, decentralized
     communications first espoused by the libertarian left.
     It must be recognized that these are very popular
     themes and visions, (advanced most famously by Alvin
     Toffler and the neoliberal Atari Democrats, though also
     by leftist thinkers such as Andre Gortz, Rudolf Bahro,
     and Alain Touraine)--much more popular, for example,
     than the tradition of centralized technocratic planning
     espoused by the left under the Fordist model of mass
     production and consumption.^24^  Against the
     postindustrialists' millenarian picture of a
     postscarcity harmony, in which citizens enjoy
     decentralized, access to free-flowing information, it
     is necessary, however, to emphasise how and where
     actually existing cybernetic capitalism presents a
     gross caricature of such a postscarcity society.
[33]      One of the stories told by the critical left about
     new cultural technologies is that of monolithic,
     panoptical social control, effortlessly achieved
     through a smooth, endlessly interlocking system of
     networks of surveillance.  In this narrative,
     information technology is seen as the most despotic
     mode of domination yet, generating not just a
     revolution in capitalist production but also a
     revolution in living--"social Taylorism"--that touches
     all cultural and social spheres in the home and in the
     workplace.^25^  Through routine gathering of
     information about transactions, consumer preferences,
     and creditworthiness, a harvest of information about
     any individual's whereabouts and movements, tastes,
     desires, contacts, friends, associates, and patterns of
     work and recreation becomes available in the form of
     dossiers sold on the tradable information market, or is
     endlessly convertible into other forms of intelligence
     through computer matching.  Advanced pattern
     recognition technologies facilitate the process of
     surveillance, while data encryption protects it from
     public accountability.^26^
[34]       While the debate about privacy has triggered
     public consciousness about these excesses, the liberal
     discourse about ethics and damage control in which that
     debate has been conducted falls short of the more
     comprehensive analysis of social control and social
     management offered by left political economists.
     According to one marxist analysis, information is seen
     as a new kind of commodity resource which marks a break
     with past modes of production and that is becoming the
     essential site of capital accumulation in the world
     economy.  What happens, then, in the process by which
     information, gathered up by data scavenging in the
     transactional sphere, is systematically converted into
     intelligence?  A surplus value is created for use
     elsewhere.  This surplus information value is more than
     is needed for public surveillance; it is often
     information, or intelligence, culled from consumer
     polling or statistical analysis of transactional
     behavior, that has no immediate use in the process of
     routine public surveillance.  Indeed, it is this
     surplus, bureaucratic capital that is used for the
     purpose of forecasting social futures, and consequently
     applied to the task of managing the behavior of mass or
     aggregate units within those social futures.  This
     surplus intelligence becomes the basis of a whole new
     industry of futures research which relies upon computer
     technology to simulate and forecast the shape,
     activity, and behavior of complex social systems.  The
     result is a possible system of social management that
     far transcends the questions about surveillance that
     have been at the discursive center of the privacy
[35]      To further challenge the idealists' vision of
     postindustrial light and magic, we need only look
     inside the semiconductor workplace itself, which is
     home to the most toxic chemicals known to man (and
     woman, especially since women of color often make up
     the majority of the microelectronics labor force), and
     where worker illness is measured not in quantities of
     blood spilled on the shop floor but in the less visible
     forms of chromosome damage, shrunken testicles,
     miscarriages, premature deliveries, and severe birth
     defects.  In addition to the extraordinarily high
     stress patterns of VDT operators, semiconductor workers
     exhibit an occupational illness rate that even by the
     late seventies was three times higher than that of
     manufacturing workers, at least until the federal rules
     for recognizing and defining levels of injury were
     changed under the Reagan administration.  Protection
     gear is designed to protect the product and the clean
     room from the workers, and not vice versa.  Recently,
     immunological health problems have begun to appear that
     can be described only as a kind of chemically induced
     AIDS, rendering the T-cells dysfunctional rather than
     depleting them like virally induced AIDS.^28^  In
     corporate offices, the use of keystroke software to
     monitor and pace office workers has become a routine
     part of job performance evaluation programs.  Some 70
     percent of corporations use electronic surveillance or
     other forms of quantitative monitoring on their
     workers.  Every bodily movement can be checked and
     measured, especially trips to the toilet.  Federal
     deregulation has meant that the limits of employee work
     space have shrunk, in some government offices, below
     that required by law for a two-hundred pound laboratory
     pig.^29^  Critics of the labor process seem to have
     sound reasons to believe that rationalization and
     quantification are at last entering their most
     primitive phase.
[36]      These, then, are some of the features of the
     critical left position--or what is sometimes referred
     to as the "paranoid" position--on information
     technology, which imagines or constructs a totalizing,
     monolithic picture of systematic domination.  While
     this story is often characterized as conspiracy theory,
     its targets--technorationality, bureaucratic
     capitalism--are usually too abstract to fit the picture
     of a social order planned and shaped by a small,
     conspiring group of centralized power elites.
     Although I believe that this story, when told inside
     and outside the classroom, for example, is an
     indispensable form of "consciousness-raising," it is
     not always the best story to tell.
[37]      While I am not comfortable with the "paranoid"
     labelling, I would argue that such narratives do little
     to discourage paranoia.  The critical habit of finding
     unrelieved domination everywhere has certain
     consequences, one of which is to create a siege
     mentality, reinforcing the inertia, helplessness, and
     despair that such critiques set out to oppose in the
     first place.  What follows is a politics that can speak
     only from a victim's position.  And when knowledge
     about surveillance is presented as systematic and
     infallible, self-censoring is sure to follow.  In the
     psychosocial climate of fear and phobia aroused by the
     virus scare, there is a responsibility not to be
     alarmist or to be scared, especially when, as I have
     argued, such moments are profitably seized upon by the
     sponsors of control technology.  In short, the picture
     of a seamlessly panoptical network of surveillance may
     be the result of a rather undemocratic, not to mention
     unsocialistic, way of thinking, predicated upon the
     recognition of people solely as victims.  It is
     redolent of the old sociological models of mass society
     and mass culture, which cast the majority of society as
     passive and lobotomized in the face of the cultural
     patterns of modernization.  To emphasize, as Robins and
     Webster and others have done, the power of the new
     technologies to despotically transform the "rhythm,
     texture, and experience" of everyday life, and meet
     with no resistance in doing so, is not only to cleave,
     finally, to an epistemology of technological
     determinism, but also to dismiss the capacity of people
     to make their own uses of new technologies.^30^
[38]      The seamless "interlocking" of public and private
     networks of information and intelligence is not as
     smooth and even as the critical school of hard
     domination would suggest.  In any case, compulsive
     gathering of information is no _guarantee_ that any
     interpretive sense will be made of the files or
     dossiers, while some would argue that the increasingly
     covert nature of surveillance is a sign that the
     "campaign" for social control is not going well.  One
     of the most pervasive popular arguments against the
     panoptical intentions of the masters of technology is
     that their systems do not work.  Every successful hack
     or computer crime in some way reinforces the popular
     perception that information systems are not infallible.
     And the announcements of military-industrial
     spokespersons that the fully automated battlefield is
     on its way run up against an accumulated stock of
     popular skepticism about the operative capacity of
     weapons systems.  These misgivings are born of decades
     of distrust for the plans and intentions of the
     military-industrial complex, and were quite evident in
     the widespread cynicism about the Strategic Defense
     Initiative.  Just to take one empirical example of
     unreliability, the military communications system
     worked so poorly and so farcically during the U.S.
     invasion of Grenada that commanders had to call each
     other on pay phones: ever since then, the command-and-
     control code of Arpanet technocrats has been C5--
     Command, Control, Communication, Computers, and
     Confusion.^31^  It could be said, of course, that the
     invasion of Grenada did, after all, succeed, but the
     more complex and inefficiency-prone such high-tech
     invasions become (Vietnam is still the best example),
     the less likely they are to be undertaken with any
     guarantee of success.
[39]      I am not suggesting that alternatives can be
     forged simply by encouraging disbelief in the
     infallibility of existing technologies (pointing to
     examples of the appropriation of technologies for
     radical uses, of course, always provides more visibly
     satisfying evidence of empowerment), but
     technoskepticism, while not a _sufficient_ condition of
     social change, is a _necessary_ condition.  Stocks of
     popular technoskepticism are crucial to the task of
     eroding the legitimacy of those cultural values that
     prepare the way for new technological developments:
     values and principles such as the inevitability of
     material progress, the "emancipatory" domination of
     nature, the innovative autonomy of machines, the
     efficiency codes of pragmatism, and the linear
     juggernaut of liberal Enlightenment rationality--all
     increasingly under close critical scrutiny as a wave of
     environmental consciousness sweeps through the
     electorates of the West.  Technologies do not shape or
     determine such values.  These values already exist
     before the technologies, and the fact that they have
     become deeply embodied in the structure of popular
     needs and desires then provides the green light for the
     acceptance of certain kinds of technology.  The
     principal rationale for introducing new technologies is
     that they answer to already existing intentions and
     demands that may be perceived as "subjective" but that
     are never actually within the control of any single set
     of conspiring individuals.  As Marike Finlay has
     argued, just as technology is only possible in given
     discursive situations, one of which being the desire of
     people to have it for reasons of empowerment, so
     capitalism is merely the site, and not the source, of
     the power that is often autonomously attributed to the
     owners and sponsors of technology.^32^
[40]      In fact, there is no frame of technological
     inevitability that has not already interacted with
     popular needs and desires, no introduction of new
     machineries of control that has not already been
     negotiated to some degree in the arena of popular
     consent.  Thus the power to design architecture that
     incorporates different values must arise from the
     popular perception that existing technologies are not
     the only ones, nor are they the best when it comes to
     individual and collective empowerment.  It was this
     kind of perception--formed around the distrust of big,
     impersonal, "closed" hardware systems, and the desire
     for small, decentralized, interactive machines to
     facilitate interpersonal communication--that "built"
     the PC out of hacking expertise in the early seventies.
     These were as much the partial "intentions" behind the
     development of microcomputing technology as deskilling,
     monitoring, and information gathering are the
     intentions behind the corporate use of that technology
     today.  The growth of public data networks, bulletin
     board systems, alternative information and media links,
     and the increasing cheapness of desktop publishing,
     satellite equipment, and international data bases are
     as much the result of local political "intentions" as
     the fortified net of globally linked, restricted-access
     information systems is the intentional fantasy of those
     who seek to profit from centralised control.  The
     picture that emerges from this mapping of intentions is
     not an inevitably technofascist one, but rather the
     uneven result of cultural struggles over values and
[41]      It is in this respect--in the struggle over values
     and meanings--that the work of cultural criticism takes
     on its special significance as a full participant in
     the debate about technology.  In fact, cultural
     criticism is already fully implicated in that debate,
     if only because the culture and education industries
     are rapidly becoming integrated within the vast
     information service conglomerates.  The media we study,
     the media we publish in, and the media we teach within
     are increasingly part of the same tradable information
     sector.  So, too, our common intellectual discourse has
     been significantly affected by the recent debates about
     postmodernism (or culture in a postindustrial world) in
     which the euphoric, addictive thrill of the
     technological sublime has figured quite prominently.
     The high-speed technological fascination that is
     characteristic of the postmodern condition can be read,
     on the one hand, as a celebratory capitulation on the
     part of intellectuals to the new information
     technocultures.  On the other hand, this celebratory
     strain attests to the persuasive affect associated with
     the new cultural technologies, to their capacity (more
     powerful than that of their sponsors and promoters) to
     generate pleasure and gratification and to win the
     struggle for intellectual as well as popular consent.
[42]      Another reason for the involvement of cultural
     critics in the technology debates has to do with our
     special critical knowledge of the way in which cultural
     meanings are produced--our knowledge about the politics
     of consumption and what is often called the politics of
     representation.  This is the knowledge which
     demonstrates that there are limits to the capacity of
     productive forces to shape and determine consciousness.
     It is a knowledge that insists on the ideological or
     interpretive dimension of technology as a culture which
     can and must be used and consumed in a variety of ways
     that are not reducible to the intentions of any single
     source or producer, and whose meanings cannot simply be
     read off as evidence of faultless social reproduction.
     It is a knowledge, in short, which refuses to add to
     the "hard domination" picture of disenfranchised
     individuals watched over by some by some scheming
     panoptical intelligence.  Far from being understood
     solely as the concrete hardware of electronically
     sophisticated objects, technology must be seen as a
     lived, interpretive practice for people in their
     everyday lives.  To redefine the shape and form of that
     practice is to help create the need for new kinds of
     hardware and software.
[43]      One of the latter aims of this essay has been to
     describe and suggest a wider set of activities and
     social locations than is normally associated with the
     practice of hacking.  If there is a challenge here for
     cultural critics, then it might be presented as the
     challenge to make our knowledge about technoculture
     into something like a hacker's knowledge, capable of
     penetrating existing systems of rationality that might
     otherwise be seen as infallible; a hacker's knowledge,
     capable of reskilling, and therefore of rewriting the
     cultural programs and reprogramming the social values
     that make room for new technologies; a hacker's
     knowledge, capable also of generating new popular
     romances around the alternative uses of human
     ingenuity.  If we are to take up that challenge, we
     cannot afford to give up what technoliteracy we have
     acquired in deference to the vulgar faith that tells us
     it is always acquired in complicity, and is thus
     contaminated by the poison of instrumental rationality,
     or because we hear, often from the same quarters, that
     acquired technological competence simply glorifies the
     inhuman work ethic.  Technoliteracy, for us, is the
     challenge to make a historical opportunity out of a
     historical necessity.
          1. Bryan Kocher, "A Hygiene Lesson,"
     _Communications of the ACM_, 32.1 (January 1989): 3.
          2.  Jon A. Rochlis and Mark W. Eichen, "With
     Microscope and Tweezers: The Worm from MIT's
     Perspective," _Communications of the ACM_, 32.6 (June
     1989): 697.
          3. Philip Elmer-DeWitt, "Invasion of the Body
     Snatchers," _Time_ (26 September 1988); 62-67.
          4. Judith Williamson, "Every Virus Tells a Story:
     The Meaning of HIV and AIDS," _Taking Liberties: AIDS
     and Cultural Politics_, ed. Erica Carter and Simon
     Watney (London: Serpent's Tail/ICA, 1989): 69.
          5. "Pulsing the system" is a well-known
     intelligence process in which, for example, planes
     deliberately fly over enemy radar installations in
     order to determine what frequencies they use and how
     they are arranged.  It has been suggested that Morris
     Sr. and Morris Jr. worked in collusion as part of an
     NSA operation to pulse the Internet system, and to
     generate public support for a legal clampdown on
     hacking.  See Allan Lundell, _Virus! The Secret World
     of Computer Invaders That Breed and Destroy_ (Chicago:
     Contemporary Books, 1989), 12-18.  As is the case with
     all such conspiracy theories, no actual conspiracy need
     have existed for the consequences--in this case, the
     benefits for the intelligence community--to have been
     more or less the same.
          6. For details of these raids, see _2600: The
     Hacker's Quarterly_, 7.1 (Spring 1990): 7.
          7. "Hackers in Jail," _2600: The Hacker's
     Quarterly_, 6.1 (Spring 1989); 22-23.  The recent
     Secret Service action that shut down _Phrack_, an
     electronic newsletter operating out of St. Louis,
     confirms _2600_'s thesis: a nonelectronic publication
     would not be censored in the same way.
          8.  This is not to say that the new laws cannot
     themselves be used to protect hacker institutions,
     however.  _2600_ has advised operators of bulletin
     boards to declare them private property, thereby
     guaranteeing protection under the Electronic Privacy
     Act against unauthorized entry by the FBI.
          9. Hugo Cornwall, _The Hacker's Handbook_ 3rd ed.
     (London: Century, 1988) 181, 2-6.  In Britain, for the
     most part, hacking is still looked upon as a matter for
     the civil, rather than the criminal, courts.
          10. Discussions about civil liberties and property
     rights, for example, tend to preoccupy most of the
     participants in the electronic forum published as "Is
     Computer Hacking a Crime?" in _Harper's_, 280.1678
     (March 1990): 45-57.
          11. See Hugo Cornwall, _Data Theft_ (London:
     Heinemann, 1987).
          12. Bill Landreth, _Out of the Inner Circle: The
     True Story of a Computer Intruder Capable of Cracking
     the Nation's Most Secure Computer Systems_ (Redmond,
     Wash.: Tempus, Microsoft, 1989), 10.
          13. _The Computer Worm: A Report to the Provost of
     Cornell University on an Investigation Conducted by the
     Commission of Preliminary Enquiry_ (Ithaca, N.Y.:
     Cornell University, 1989).
          14. _The Computer Worm: A Report to the Provost_,
          15. A. K. Dewdney, the "computer recreations"
     columnist at _Scientific American_, was the first to
     publicize the details of this game of battle programs
     in an article in the May 1984 issue of the magazine.
     In a follow-up article in March 1985, "A Core War
     Bestiary of Viruses, Worms, and Other Threats to
     Computer Memories," Dewdney described the wide range of
     "software creatures" which readers' responses had
     brought to light.  A third column, in March 1989, was
     written, in an exculpatory mode, to refute any
     connection between his original advertisement of the
     Core War program and the spate of recent viruses.
          16. Andrew Ross, _No Respect: Intellectuals and
     Popular Culture_ (New York: Routledge, 1989), 212.
     Some would argue, however, that the ideas and values of
     the sixties counterculture were only fully culminated
     in groups like the People's Computer Company, which ran
     Community Memory in Berkeley, or the Homebrew Computer
     Club, which pioneered personal microcomputing.  So,
     too, the Yippies had seen the need to form YIPL, the
     Youth International Party Line, devoted to "anarcho-
     technological" projects, which put out a newsletter
     called TAP (alternately the Technological American
     Party and the Technological Assistance Program).  In
     its depoliticised form, which eschewed the kind of
     destructive "dark-side" hacking advocated in its
     earlier incarnation, _TAP_ was eventually the
     progenitor of _2600_.  A significant turning point, for
     example, was _TAP_'s decision not to publish plans for
     the hydrogen bomb (which the _Progressive_ did)--bombs
     would destroy the phone system, which the _TAP_ phone
     phreaks had an enthusiastic interest in maintaining.
          17. See Alice Bach's _Phreakers_ series, in which
     two teenage girls enjoy adventures through the use of
     computer technology.  _The Bully of Library Place_,
     _Parrot Woman_, _Double Bucky Shanghai_, and _Ragwars_
     (all published by Dell, 1987-88).
          18. John Markoff, "Cyberpunks Seek Thrills in
     Computerized Mischief," _New York Times_, November 26,
          19. Dennis Hayes, _Behind the Silicon Curtain: The
     Seductions of Work in a Lonely Era_ (Boston, South End
     Press, 1989), 93.
          One striking historical precedent for the hacking
     subculture, suggested to me by Carolyn Marvin, was the
     widespread activity of amateur or "ham" wireless
     operators in the first two decades of the century.
     Initially lionized in the press as boy-inventor heroes
     for their technical ingenuity and daring adventures
     with the ether, this white middle-class subculture was
     increasingly demonized by the U.S. Navy (whose signals
     the amateurs prankishly interfered with), which was
     crusading for complete military control of the airwaves
     in the name of national security.  The amateurs lobbied
     with democratic rhetoric for the public's right to
     access the airwaves, and although partially successful
     in their case against the Navy, lost out ultimately to
     big commercial interests when Congress approved the
     creation of a broadcasting monopoly after World War I
     in the form of RCA.  See Susan J. Douglas, _Inventing
     American Broadcasting 1899-1922_ (Baltimore: Johns
     Hopkins University Press, 1987), 187-291.
          20. "Sabotage," _Processed World_, 11 (Summer
     1984), 37-38.
          21. Hayes, _Behind the Silicon Curtain_, 99.
          22. _The Amateur Computerist_, available from R.
     Hauben, PO Box, 4344, Dearborn, MI 48126.
          23. Kevin Robins and Frank Webster, "Athens
     Without Slaves...Or Slaves Without Athens?  The
     Neurosis of Technology," _Science as Culture_, 3
     (1988): 7-53.
          24. See Boris Frankel, _The Post-Industrial
     Utopians_ (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987).
          25. See, for example, the collection of essays
     edited by Vincent Mosco and Janet Wasko, _The Political
     Economy of Information_ (Madison: University of
     Wisconsin Press, 1988), and Dan Schiller, _The
     Information Commodity_ (Oxford UP, forthcoming).
          26. Tom Athanasiou and Staff, "Encryption and the
     Dossier Society," _Processed World_, 16 (1986): 12-17.
          27.  Kevin Wilson, _Technologies of Control: The
     New Interactive Media for the Home_ (Madison:
     University of Wisconsin Press, 1988), 121-25.
          28. Hayes, _Behind the Silicon Curtain_, 63-80.
          29. "Our Friend the VDT," _Processed World_, 22
     (Summer 1988): 24-25.
          30. See Kevin Robins and Frank Webster,
     "Cybernetic Capitalism," in Mosco and Wasko, 44-75.
          31. Barbara Garson, _The Electronic Sweatshop_
     (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988), 244-45.
          32. See Marike Finlay's Foucauldian analysis,
     _Powermatics: A Discursive Critique of New Technology_
     (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987).  A more
     conventional culturalist argument can be found in
     Stephen Hill, _The Tragedy of Technology_ (London:
     Pluto Press, 1988).

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