Restoring Curiosity – The Hacker Manifesto

There are some universal experiences that are true for many people. One of these might be how it felt to be a curious child, asking questions every ten seconds about this and that and, in the process, likely annoying most grownups within earshot. Powering that asking was a raging curiosity that wanted to know everything, all at once.

Whether or not we remember how that felt is not the point. The point is that many of us have had, at some point in our young lives, this raging curiosity about how things work.

As time goes on, many of us, and our raging curiosity, become mellowed and subdued by the patterns and process of education, the rhythm of work and life, that leads many of us away from our questioning and curious ways.

At what point do we decide to give up our curiosity and choose to become accepting of whatever we see, read, hear or are told?

There isn’t a good or agreeable answer to that question. Just as there isn’t a good answer to how the word “hacker” got such a bad rap, a profoundly negative reputation, specifically in the context of the fields of Information and Computer Security.

While it’s okay and even brag-worthy to “hack your investment potential” or “hack your learning” or “hack your health” or “hack” so many other things that ring positively in our ears, “hacking” is still burdened with such a negative reputation.

Why? There is no good or agreeable answer.

Perhaps that’s why I re-read The Hacker Manifesto (aka The Conscience of a Hacker) from time-to-time, to remind myself of my own, still vital and raging curiosity.

Why am I re-posting it here? Out of humble respect for the curiosity we have all lost along the way. A loss that closes minds, hearts and disconnects us from each other. The loss of that curiosity creates a hole. In its place, the hole fills up with fear, uncertainty and doubt.

I re-post this in the hope it’s not too late to fix that. To hack fear, uncertainty and doubt back into curiosity.

+++The Mentor+++
Written January 8, 1986
Another one got caught today, it’s all over the papers. “Teenager Arrested in Computer Crime Scandal”, “Hacker Arrested after Bank Tampering”…

Damn kids. They’re all alike.

But did you, in your three-piece psychology and 1950’s technobrain, ever take a look behind the eyes of the hacker? Did you ever wonder what made him tick, what forces shaped him, what may have molded him?

I am a hacker, enter my world…

Mine is a world that begins with school… I’m smarter than most of the other kids, this crap they teach us bores me…

Damn underachiever. They’re all alike.

I’m in junior high or high school. I’ve listened to teachers explain for the fifteenth time how to reduce a fraction. I understand it. “No, Ms. Smith, I didn’t show my work. I did it in my head…”

Damn kid. Probably copied it. They’re all alike.

I made a discovery today. I found a computer. Wait a second, this is cool. It does what I want it to. If it makes a mistake, it’s because I screwed it up. Not because it doesn’t like me… Or feels threatened by me.. Or thinks I’m a smart ass.. Or doesn’t like teaching and shouldn’t be here…

Damn kid. All he does is play games. They’re all alike.

And then it happened… a door opened to a world… rushing through the phone line like heroin through an addict’s veins, an electronic pulse is sent out, a refuge from the day-to-day incompetencies is sought… a board is found. “This is it… this is where I belong…” I know everyone here… even if I’ve never met them, never talked to them, may never hear from them again… I know you all…

Damn kid. Tying up the phone line again. They’re all alike…

You bet your ass we’re all alike… we’ve been spoon-fed baby food at school when we hungered for steak… the bits of meat that you did let slip through were pre-chewed and tasteless. We’ve been dominated by sadists, or ignored by the apathetic. The few that had something to teach found us willing pupils, but those few are like drops of water in the desert.

This is our world now… the world of the electron and the switch, the beauty of the baud. We make use of a service already existing without paying for what could be dirt-cheap if it wasn’t run by profiteering gluttons, and you call us criminals. We explore… and you call us criminals. We seek after knowledge… and you call us criminals. We exist without skin color, without nationality, without religious bias… and you call us criminals. You build atomic bombs, you wage wars, you murder, cheat, and lie to us and try to make us believe it’s for our own good, yet we’re the criminals.

Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiosity. My crime is that of judging people by what they say and think, not what they look like. My crime is that of outsmarting you, something that you will never forgive me for.

I am a hacker, and this is my manifesto. You may stop this individual, but you can’t stop us all… after all, we’re all alike.