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[ox-en] Pekka Himanen * The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age


I just finished reading the book "The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of
the Information Age" by Pekka Himanen (Random House, ISBN: 0375505660,
don't know whether there is a German translation out there). It has
been published last year. This is the

  Table of Contents

  Preface Prologue: What Makes Hackers Tick? a.k.a. Linus's Law, by
  Linus Torvalds

  Part One: The Work Ethic
      Chapter 1: The Hacker Work Ethic
      Chapter 2: Time is Money?

  Part Two: The Money Ethic
      Chapter 3: Money as a Motive
      Chapter 4: The Academy and the Monastery

  Part Three: The Nethic
      Chapter 5: From Netiquette to a Nethic
      Chapter 6: The Spirit of Informationalism

      Chapter 7: Rest

  Epilogue: Informationalism and the Network Society, by Manuel

It's **great** because in spirit it's very close to what people think
on Oekonux. Actually it's by far the best thing I ever saw regarding
the philosophical-societal dimensions of hackers / Free Software.

Unfortunately the book itself doesn't share the spirit of sharing and
even the site `' announced in the book
seems to be non-existent any more :-( . So I can quote only some
smaller pieces.

The book comes with a prologue by Linus Torvalds which is very nice to
read and insightful if you are interested in "What Makes Hackers Tick?
a.k.a. Linus's Law" - the title.

The first part of the book to me seemd the best part of the book. It
compares the Hacker Ethic with the traditional Protestant work ethic
and points out how much they differ. What in our discussion is called
self-unfolding / Selbstentfaltung in the book seems to be called
passion: A hacker does something because s/he has a passion for doing
it. Pekka Himanen, who has a PhD in philosophy, contrasts this
(internal) motivation by passion with the (external) work ethic
pointed out by Max Weber. In addition he uses the monastery as an
early manifestation of the principle of work being an end in itself.
Furthermore he compares both, the Protestant work ethic and the
hackers work ethics to ethics dominant in ancient greece. This part is
BTW interesting to read even if you're not so much interested in

Chapter 1 ends with this section:

			  The Passionate Life

  When the hacker ethic is placed in this large historical context, it
  is easy to see that this ethic - understood not just as the computer
  hackers' ethic but as a general social challenge - resembles the
  pre-Protestant ethic ti a much greater degree than it does the
  Protestant one. In this sense, one could say that for hackers the
  purpose of life is closer to Sunday than to Friday {Sunday and
  Friday are used as synonyms for the pre-Protestant and Protestant
  purposes of life throughout the book -- SM}. But, it is important to
  note, only closer: ultimately, the hacker ethic is not the same as
  the pre-Protestant work ethic., which envisions a paradise of life
  without doing anything. Hackers want to realize their passions, and
  they are ready to accept that the pursuit even of interesting tasks
  many not always be unmitigated bliss.

  For hackers, /passion/ describes the general tenor of their
  activity, though its fulfillment may not be sheer joyful play in al
  its aspects. Thus, Linus Torvalds has described his work on Linux as
  a combination of enjoyable hobby and serious work: "Linux has very
  much been a hobby (but a serious one: the best type)." Passionate
  and creative, hacking also entails hard work. Raymond says in his
  guide "How to Become a Hacker": "Being a hacker is lots of fun, but
  it's a kind of fun that takes a lot of effort." Such effort is
  needed in the creation of anything even just a little bit greater.
  If need be, hackers are also ready for the less interesting parts
  necessary for the creation of the whole. However, the meaningfulness
  of the whole gives even its more boring aspects worth. Raymond
  writes: "The hard work and dedication will become a kind of intense
  play rather than drudgery."

  There's a difference between being permanently joyless and having
  found a passion in life for the realization of which one is also
  willing to take on less joyful but nonetheless necessary parts.

The second chapter is concerned with time which IMHO is an
particularly interesting point. Again, this is an interesting read
even if one is not so much interested in the hacker ethic because
Pekka Himanen points to some very interesting aspects of the
contemporary concept of time - and it's paradoxes. Again he looks to
the monastery rule as one of the roots of our modern concepts of time.

A section from the middle of the chapter:

		      The Sundayization of Friday

  If we use the new technology to further work-centeredness,
  technologies such as the mobile phone easily lead to a work-centered
  dissolution of the boundary between work and leisure {The two
  opponents Pekka Himanen names throughout the book -- SM}. /Both/ the
  optimization and flexibility of time may lead to Sunday becoming
  more and more like Friday.

  But this is not inevitable. Hackers optimize time to be able to have
  more space for playfulness: Torvalds's way of thinking is that, in
  the middle of the serious work of Linux development, there always
  has to be time for some pool and for some programming experiments
  that do not have immediate goals. The same attitude has been shared
  by hackers since the MIT of the sixties. In the hacker version of
  flextime, different areas of life such as work, family, friends,
  hobbies et cetera, are combined less rigidly, so that work is not
  always at the center of the map. A hacker may join his friends in
  the middle of the day for a long lunch or go out with them for a
  beer in the evening, then resume work late in the afternoon ot the
  next day. Sometimes he or she may spontaneously decide to take the
  whole day off to do something completely different. The hacker view
  is that the use of machines for the optimization and flexibility of
  time should lead to a life for human beings that is less machinelike
  - less optimized and routine. Raymond writes: "To behave like a
  hacker, you have to believe this [that people should never have to
  drudge at stupid, repetitive work] enough to want to automate away
  the boring bits as much as possible, not just for yourself but for
  everybody else." When the hacker ideal of more self-determined use
  of time becomes realized, Friday (the workweek) should become more
  like what Sunday (the "left-overs of life") has traditionally been.


Another section from the end of the chapter:

		        The Rhythm of Creativity


  But, of course, the ethical dimension involved here is even more
  important than these pragmatic considerations: we are talking about
  a worthy life. The culture of work-time supervision is a culture
  that regards grown-up persons as too immature to be in charge of
  their lives. It assumes that there are only a few  people in any
  given enterprise or government agency who are sufficiently mature to
  take responsibility for themselves and the majority of adults are
  unable to do so without continuous guidance provided by the small
  authority group. In such a culture, most human beings find
  themselves condemned to obedience.

  Hackers have always respected the individual. They have always been
  anti-authoritarian. Raymond defines the hacker position: "The
  authoritarian attitude has to be fought wherever you find it, lest
  is smother you and other hackers.

  The hacker ethic also reminds us, in the midst of all the
  curtailment of individual worth and freedom that goes on in the name
  of "work", that our life is here and now. Work is a part of our
  continuously ongoing life, in which there must be room for other
  passions, too. Reforming the forms of work is a matter not only of
  respecting the workers but of respecting human beings as human
  beings. Hackers do not subscribe to the adage "time is money" but
  rather to the adage "it's my life". And certainly this is now our
  life, which we must live fully, not a stripped beta version of it.

The second part of the book is also interesting but IMHO there is not
so much new as in the first part.

In Chapter 3 Pekka Himanen points out another motive besides passion:

			   Money as a Motive


  In the hacker community, social motivations play an important part
  but in a very different way. One cannot actually understand why some
  hackers use their leisure for developing programs that they give
  openly to others without seeing that they have strong social
  motives. Raymond says that these hackers are motivated by the force
  of /peer recognition/. For these hackers, recognition within a
  community that shares their passion is more important and more
  deeply satisfying than money, just as it is for scholars in academe.
  The decisive difference from the Protestant ethic is that for
  hackers it is important that peer recognition is no substitute for
  passion - it must come as a /result/ of passionate action, of the
  creation of something socially valuable to this creative community.
  Under the Protestant ethic, the opposite is often the case: social
  motivations serve to distract attention from the idea that work
  itself should involve the realization of a passion. As a result, the
  Protestant ethic's emphasis on the social features of work becomes a
  double surrogate: for the lack of social life outside of work /and/
  for the absence of an element of passion in the work itself.


From the viewpoint of a more Marxian analysis of capitalism I'd even
disagree with some smaller points Pekka Himanen made in this chapter.

In Chaper 4 Pekka Himanen points out parallels between the scientific
world and the hacker ethic:

		     The Academy and the Monastery


  ... The reason why the original hackers' open-source model works so
  effectively seems to be - in addition to the facts that they are
  realizing their passions and are motivated by peer recognition, as
  scientists are also - that to a degree it conforms to the ideal open
  academic model, which is historically the best adapted for
  information creation.


The end of this chapter I disagree completely with, because he more or
less suggests a LETS system - i.e. based on exchange :-( .

Anyway he seemed to have had a bad time at this point of the book
because the next chapter to me seems to be the worst. Chapter 5
focuses on the freedom of speech inherent in the Internet. Though I
share this important observation his example of the "Letters from
Kosovo" are IMO a particularly bad example: In the beginning of the
Kosovo war a Albanian girl kept contact with an US citizen by email
and told how bad things are. Though in itself this is a good thing of
course Pekka Himanen contradicts himself because this email
communication was made public by exactly the news corporations who do
not have even small bits of interest in Freedom of Speech they do not
control. In fact this email communication was part of the propaganda
war at the beginning of the war. If this would serve as a good
example then: Where similar email communications have been published
when the NATO started bombing Belgrad?

Well, in a way Pekka Himanen points to the right things, but seemingly
they are not yes as developed as Free Software is so you have to be
much more careful looking for germ forms.

In chapter 6 Pekka Himanen outlines the money-centered optimization of
life brought to us by personal development books and the new economy.
He boils them down to seven principles:

* Money
* Work
* Flexibility
* Goal orientation
* Result accountability
* Optimality
* Stability

At the end of the chapter he talks about the hacker value of caring:


  In addition to the annual NetDay and the Clock of the Long Now,
  there is a third important hacker expression of caring, opposed to
  our time's survival tendency. That is the direct caring about those
  who are on the edge of survival. Some hackers have used the
  resources they have acquired through capitalism to support those who
  must literally fight for their survival. Although here, too,
  hackers' influence has been very limited, they have set an exemplary
  alternative answer to the question, Why would you want to have a lot
  of money? They did not take it as self-evident that the answer is to
  want something for one-self, to buy one's way into being part of the
  establishment; instead their answer is that people can direct
  resources from the egoistic economy toward those who are exploited
  by it. {Some examples skipped -- SM}

  The logic of the network and the computer {he decribed these earlier
  relating to the capitalist viewpoint of this -- SM}} alienate us
  from direct caring, which is the beginning of all ethical behavior.
  We need more of the kind of thinking about the peculiar challenges
  of caring in the information age that some hackers represent. We
  will do well not to expect these thoughts to come from corporations
  or governments. Historically such entities  have not been sources of
  new ethical thinking; instead fundamental changes have been
  initiated by some individuals who care.

In the last chapter Pekka Himanen outlines

		  The Seven Values of the Hacker Ethic


  Each chapter up to now has concentrated on one of these values. The
  first guiding value in hacker life is /passion/, that is, some
  intrinsically interesting pursuit that energizes the hacker and
  contains joy in its realization. In chapter 2 we discussed
  /freedom/. Hackers do not organize their lives in terms of a
  routinized and continuously optimized workday but in terms of a
  dynamic flow between creative work and life's other passions, within
  which rhythm there is also room for play. The hacker /work ethic/
  consists of melding passion with freedom. This part of the hacker
  ethic has been the most widely influential.

  In the hacker /money ethic/, discussed in chapters 3 and 4, the
  striking element is that meany hackers still follow the original
  hackerism in that they do not see money as a value in itself but
  motivate their activity with the goals of /social worth/ and
  /openness/. These hackers want to realize their passion together
  with others, and they want to create something valuable to the
  community and be recognized for that by their peers. And they allow
  the results of their creativity to be used, developed, and tested by
  anyone so that everyone can learn from one another. Even though much
  of the technological development of our information age has been
  done within traditional capitalism and governmental projects, a
  significant part of it - including the symbols of our time, the Net
  aand the personal computer - would not exist without hackers who
  just gave their creations to others.

  As we've seen, a third crucial aspect of the hacker ethic is
  hackers' attitude towards networks, or their /nethic/, which is
  defined by the values /activity/ and /caring/. Activity in this
  context involves complete freedom of expression in action, privacy
  to protect the creation of an individual lifestyle, and a rejection
  of passive receptiveness in favor of active pursuit of one's
  passion. /Caring/ here means concern for others as an end in itself
  and a desire to rid the network society of the survival mentality
  that so easily results from its logic. This includes the goal of
  getting everybody to participate in the network and to benefit from
  it, to feel responsible for longer-term consequences of the network
  society, and to directly help those who have been left on the
  margins of survival. These are still very open challenges, ant it
  remains to be seen if hackers can have an influence here on the same
  scale as they have had on the other two levels.

  A hacker who lives according to the hacker ethic on all three of
  these levels - work, money, nethic - gains the community's highest
  respect. This hacker becomes a true hero when she or he manages to
  honor the seventh and final value. It has appeared in this book all
  along, and now, in the seventh chapter, it can be explicated: it is
  creativity - that is, the imaginative use of one's own abilities,
  the surprising continuous surpassing of oneself, and the giving to
  the world of a genuinely valuable new contribution.

  In his manifesto "Deus Ex Machina, or The True Computerist," the
  Homebrew Computer Club's Tom Pittmann expressed the importance of
  creativity in his description of the feeling that accompanies true
  hacking: "In that instant, I as a Christian thought I could feel
  something of the satisfaction that God must have felt when he
  created the world."


So in this sense it might not be to exaggerating to say: God was the
first hacker. :-)

Later on Pekka Himanen describes what I would call the synthesis
overcoming both, work and leisure:

		        Beyond Friday and Sunday


  Hackers do not feel that leisure time is automatically any more
  meaningful than work time. The desirability of both depends on how
  they are realized. From the point of view of a meaningful life, the
  entire work/leisure duality must be abandoned. As long as we are
  living our work or our leisure, we are not even truly living.
  Meaning cannot be found in work or leisure but has to arise out of
  the nature of the activity itself. Out of passion. Social value.


What could I add to this ;-) ?

						Mit Freien Grüßen



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