Seven Things Hackers Did Right

by glutton

Absurd visual effects, incorrect terminology, cheesy plot, and rollerblades.

If you're looking for things to criticize about the 1995 movie Hackers, you'll probably find something.  And yet, at its heart, there was something very truthful and flattering about the movie, in part because of the willingness of the film crew to learn about the hacker scene by attending 2600 meetings and using Evil Corley as a consultant.  Therefore, as we approach the 15th anniversary of the flick, let's take a fresh look at the things the movie did right:

1.)  Curiosity

The film's tagline says it all: "Their only crime was curiosity."

If there is one quality about Hackers that is the most admirable, surely it's their curiosity.  While the sheep-like masses are content to follow directions and preserve their warranty, the hacker pokes and prods, seeing how things work and why - and thinking of how to make them better.  Would we have ever learned about Blue Boxes if the original phreaks had been too chicken to tinker?

2.)  Knowledge must be shared.

Okay, I take it back.  This is the most admirable hacker trait.

The movie shows the hackers trading information and passing around reference books.  Since the beginning, hackers have shared things they've learned.  During the BBS-era, the know how was traded in text files and forum messages.  Phreaks talked all night on hacked conference call services.  Even 2600 is the result of a yearning for hackers to share.  Read old episodes of Phrack, borrow a copy of The Best of 2600, or take a look at Jason Scott's excellent to get a taste of this history.

3.)  Hackers are inclusive and tolerant.

While the movie had the expected (((Hollywood))) diversity - the girl hacker, the Black hacker, etc. - the truth is not much different.

Throughout the history of hacking, we've seen countless examples of hackers judged not by how fat or skinny they were, or their skin color, gender, or sexual orientation, but by the awesomeness of their skills, tenacity, and intuition.

4.)  Greed is tacky.

True hackers aren't motivated by a lust for money, and the movie reinforced this by having the villains be money-hungry goons.

Historically, hackers have made lousy criminals, simply because they aren't criminals.  Sure, a little money was made along the way - for example Woz and Jobs selling Blue Boxes.  For the most part, however, hackers pretty much lack the ability to break laws for money.  If we were greed-focused, we wouldn't share our findings with others, or contribute to open-source projects.

5.)  Hackers use handles.

We always have and we always will.

Maybe it's all about a harmless mystique, a little pizzazz we grant ourselves as pioneers of a new medium.  But given the history of authorities' ham-handed attacks on hackers - mostly undeserved - it's obvious it stems from a very real need to protect ourselves.  Even today, in a world where so few authorities understand what we do, sometimes a little secrecy isn't a bad idea.

6.)  Government and industry knowledge is there to be taken.

Information wants to be free, right?

In the movie we saw the hackers accessing information cast aside by gigantic organizations.  Whether it's digging phone company manuals out of the trash or requesting spec sheets from the Government Printing Office, we've always been alert to hoover up data that the big boys cast aside.  These days, of course, we tend to look for everything on the web, but the Internet, too, has countless troves of data waiting to be accessed.

7.)  One man's trash is another man's treasure.

Hackers, especially younger ones, tend to be poor.

Therefore trashing, that time-honored tactic of Dumpster diving for usable hardware or ill-secured information, has been a regular occurrence among hacker types long before it was a feature in the movie.

There you go.

Next time you see Hackers, forget the special effects and goofy (((Hollywood))) dialogue and look at the many wonderful things the movie did to portray hackers in an accurate and positive light.

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