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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. © 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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