What is your definition of hacking? What types of hacking are you familiar with? Do you get annoyed when people only take the narrow view of hacking as a negative activity?
I’d like to take a moment to remind everyone of the wholesome origins of hacking, and how the misconceptions of a few journalists can change the meaning of a word worldwide.
Hacker: the loaded word
“A hacker is someone who enjoys playful cleverness—not necessarily with computers. The programmers in the old MIT free software community of the 60s and 70s referred to themselves as hackers. Around 1980, journalists who discovered the hacker community mistakenly took the term to mean “security breaker.” Richard M. Stallman
“Someone who attempts to access secure information over the internet without permission – or someone who likes to customise or recycle computer equipment to invent new things.” BBC Webwise
“Hacking from its beginnings at M.I.T. has always been associated with using technology to subvert institutional systems for personal use”. Dave Wilton
Think of the word “hacker” and you immediately think of bad stuff happening: computer bugs, server crashes, stolen data, misbehavior in government computer networks. This type of hacking brings to mind immoral individuals or organizations who do this purely for causing a stir, malicious intent, or bringing attention to a security failure. And unfortunately, since so much of our lives are online now, stolen identities and bank hacking is a higher risk than ever before.
But then think a little more pragmatically about the word itself. Hacker: to hack; to chip away at something. Think to times before high-tech, and what that would apply to. Woodcutting? Stonework? Very possible. Hammer away at something until the desired result is achieved.
Humans by nature seem to love finding faster and easier ways to get work done. Do we hate working that much? Are we insanely curious about trying new ways of doing everyday stuff, practical or not? Is this what drives our creativity?
Video: Good” hackers TED talk on what hacking really means
Smart has become the new sexy, and hacker is a sexy and (relatively) new word with a devil-may-care attitude and freedom-fighter mentality attached. Our fresh perspective of the nerd as having a bunch of sweet tricks up his sleeve is almost akin to a magician for the less technologically inclined.
Ironically, not all of these hacks are good. Many new ideas are enthusiastically tried out without thinking of the larger consequences—nuclear energy comes to mind. The discovery of harnessing nuclear power to lower energy costs was fantastic; however, storing toxic waste and maintaining the nuclear facilities has proven to be hazardous and with huge and far-reaching implications.
Take back hacking!
Hacking is about ingenuity in any walk of life. From reading stories here on Lifehack itself, you expect to find tips on how to make life easier, make life better, and make life more interesting. We all own items that are the result of hacks; in fact, you could argue that all technology and gadgets are based on hacking philosophy. Each new insight into how to execute a marketing campaign in a new way is a hack, in the same way that using red nail polish on a knife to give it a “bloody” effect for a Halloween costume is a hack.
“Growth hacking as a process is simple. It’s finding a problem. It’s testing to optimize. It’s finding what works. That’s it!” Samantha Siow
“Creative solution” or “being entrepreneurial” have replaced hacking in the vocabulary of most because of the distancing people want to make from the computer hackers. We don’t want to be tainted by the malicious intent that the word hacker has become associated with. I feel like somehow we are doing the word a disservice, and we should make an effort to remind the world that hacking is not a bad thing and that we can all be part of the hacker community. Hacking is what we now call critical thinking to find innovative solutions.
It’s also a lot of fun (see infographic here on some of the BEST lifehacks!)
“Hackathons” are becoming more and more popular—you’ll find one happening on a weekly basis in any city around the world. They still mainly attract techies, but I highly encourage you to go try them out. Break the hackathons open to everyone, as it should be.
Take back hacking!