Cyberspace Web





Enter the web.

Let's listen to the influential cyberphilosopher Steven Levy:

[Referring to his book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution] My first book and probably the most popular, even twelve years after publication. Hackers gets into the mindset of those people who push the computer past the envelopes of expections - sitting at the keyboard these are artists, pioneers, explorers. It is here that I introduced the concept of The Hacker Ethic:

  • Access to computers should be unlimited and total.
  • Always yield to the Hands-On Imperative.
  • All information should be free.
  • Mistrust authority - promote decentralization.
  • Hackers should be judged by their hacking.
  • You can create art and beauty on a computer.
  • Computers can change your life for the better.
  • The book is in three parts, exploring the canonical AI hackers of MIT, the hardware hackers who invented the personal computer industry in Silicon Valley, and the third-generation game hackers in the early 1980s.

    Although I appreciate Steven Levy's contributions to the field, I find it difficult to agree with his view of copyright and authorship when he seems to be experiencing a paradox about it himself. He begins by pointing out that information should be free, which is a paramount notion integral to a hypertextual utopia, or any conceivable utopia in general, yet he then goes on to talk about his book. Maybe it's just that I'm a hopeless cynic, but I find it hard to accept someone as the author of a work when he himself denies the concept of owning intellectual material. If information should be free, who can claim to have gotten to it and arranged it in a particular way first? After all, producing information is producing order is producing beauty (You can create art and beauty on a computer) is producing art. Information should be free, so should art, so should literature, so should vanilla ice cream. Ahem. Except for the bit about vanilla ice cream, though, (which I thought I might be able to get away with) this argument may well have a point. I find it paradoxical that Steven Levy denies and assumes authorship at the same time. Isn't it ironic? Don't you think?

    In fact, information resembles drugs, and not necessarily drugs as limited to nootropics, in that it extends consciousness and creativity in unpredictable ways. Incorporating more information (or yet another dose of L-Tyrosine) into one's neural system alters its infrastructure to make previously inaccessible regions available for exploration (or browsing, if you prefer your reading to incorporate parallel context and content ). Formerly obscure or possibly nonexistent links become available. In the light of new information, connections between seemingly unrelated concepts suddenly appear to be obvious. Just click away. (Oh joy. We're getting more and more context-sensitive.)

    Further information does not, in fact, simply change one's cognitive existence, it becomes a part of it, and one become partially addicted to that piece of information, at least as far as the links it has introduced to one's neural network are concerned. This may well be analogous to getting addicted to the elevated consciousness provided by drugs, rather than to the chemical makeup of the drug itself (which, it must be noted, is mainly responsible for the pleasure and therefore the addiction associated with most drugs, with the notable exception of nootropics).

    Therefore, acquiring a piece of information means making a node a permanent part of one's cerebral existence and basing part of one's intellectual identity on it. Nevertheless, whatever the node may be, it forms part of a gigantic network of nodes, and losing it can be accomodated for by aligning other nodes in particular ways to substitute for the missing node's functionality. For instance, you might, for some reason, forget how to do simple division, yet if you still know how to subtract and how to count, you could keep subtracting the divisor from the divident while keeping count of how many subtractions you've done until your divident becomes less than the divisor. Not the most efficient way of doing things, admittedly, yet this example simply goes to show how decentralization may be crucial to survival in a dynamic and inherently risky environment, such as our everchanging information-based society heading for the twenty first century. An analog to the division example may be giving up smoking - most people take up some alternative habit, such as chewing gum, to oppose the drive to return to the previous addiction. Yet the obvious discussion which awaits our attention is an addiction to drugs.