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Hacker Culture

2003
Author:

Douglas Thomas

Hacker Culture

A provocative look at the subculture that has shaped our changing attitudes toward the digital age

Douglas Thomas provides an in-depth history of this important and fascinating subculture, contrasting mainstream images of hackers with a detailed firsthand account of the computer underground.

Hackers may be feared for all they know about computers, but their real power lies in how well they understand the average user. In Hacker Culture, Douglas Thomas provides an unusually balanced history of the computer underground and its sensational representation in movies and newspapers. His account starkly shows what hackers have realized all along: our unease with Kevin Mitnick and his sort actually reflects our discomfort with technology itself.

San Francisco Chronicle

Douglas Thomas offers an in-depth history of this important and fascinating subculture, contrasting mainstream images of hackers with a detailed firsthand account of the computer underground. Thomas studies novels and films (Neuromancer, WarGames, Hackers, and The Matrix) and reveals contemporary views of hackers as technological wizards, high-tech pranksters, and virtual criminals. Thomas then examines the court cases of Kevin Mitnick and Chris Lamprecht to determine how hackers are defined as criminals. Thomas finds that popular hacker stereotypes express the public’s anxieties about the information age far more than they do the reality of hacking.

Hacker Culture

Douglas Thomas is associate professor in the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California.

Hacker Culture

Hackers may be feared for all they know about computers, but their real power lies in how well they understand the average user. In Hacker Culture, Douglas Thomas provides an unusually balanced history of the computer underground and its sensational representation in movies and newspapers. His account starkly shows what hackers have realized all along: our unease with Kevin Mitnick and his sort actually reflects our discomfort with technology itself.

San Francisco Chronicle

Thomas gives the reader a thorough and accurate picture of who hackers are, how they interact, and what their motivations are. A strong and important read.

Computer User Magazine

An interesting and compelling account of the major role hackers have played in the short history of computers and the digital culture.

Choice

Hacker Culture is thankfully not a stylized look at subculture, as an embryonic cult aspriring to become culture, but rather a much broader view of the increasingly computerized networks that comprise society. It is an intelligent exploration beyond, but not excluding, the package-design of software, providing our documents, and the product-design of computers, housing our institutions. Seen from from an autonomous, skilled perspective on the command line, Hacker Culture provides an indispensable insight into a history of computing that it has become increasingly important to understand.

Afterimage

Silently navigating the virtual corridors of the global telecom networks, peeking into restricted files and generally causing mischief, hackers are the tricksters of the digital age. But although Hollywood and the publishing industry have long been fascinated by these technosneaks, they’ve nearly always overestimated hackers’s malicious intents and technical abilities, argues Thomas, a professor at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication. He attempts to set things right, steering a middle course between the alarmists, who perceive hackers as suburban terrorists of the new century, and the apologists, who want to see them as brave revolutionaries against a corporate/government assault on personal liberties. With a real affinity for his subject, Thomas uses hacker publications like 2600 and Phrack for most of his research, instead of the all-too-common procession of online security experts doing their best Chicken Little impersonations. Thomas avoids another trap of this genre by not letting hackers—the publicity-loving, self-aggrandizing ones—spout off at length about their skills and achievements. He presents a sober but sympathetic analysis, maintaining that, more often than not, hackers are simply playing around, testing a system’s security to see if it’s sound: ‘[They] see themselves as educators about issues of security, fulfilling the same function as Consumer Reports.’ Though Thomas may rely too heavily on that old academic touchstone, Foucault, he has produced an intelligent and approachable book on one of the most widely discussed and least understood subcultures in recent decades.

Publishers Weekly

Thomas traces the history and origin of hacker culture within mainstream society, the computer industry, and the media. Thomas effectively argues that the popular image of the hacker reflects more the public’s anxieties about technology than the reality of hacking. Addressing general audiences in a readable, engaging style, his book would be of interest to students of communication and journalism.

Library Journal

Hacker Culture provides an indispensable insight into a history of computing that it has become increasingly important to understand for computer users of all levels.

slashdot

Hacker Culture fills a need for academic research on hacker culture. Although it is not a historical study, it does describe a number of historical incidents, a task that has heretofore been assumed primarily by journalists rather than academics. There is a need for more academic research on hackers, their history, and their culture, and Thomas has started to fill that need with his book.

Technology and Culture