1/10/03: On reading Hacker Culture by Douglas Thomas

I’ve been thinking that this novel can comment on current trends in society, specifically the loss of personal privacy. In the world of the novel (If This Goes On) privacy as we know it will have completely evaporated. The young people will have grown up in this environment and will have a culture that seems very strange to their parents and grandparents (us; in 2051 I’ll be 90). Hacker Culture has a lot to say about the relationship between the Hacker Ethic (Information Wants To Be Free) and the secrecy technologies that the hackers of the 60s and 70s made possible and the hackers of the 80s and 90s made necessary. Speech recognition technology makes universal phone tapping possible, so attractive in fact that it’s nearly inevitable. The same technology makes widespread real-world eavesdropping a possibility; millions of tiny radio microphones, monitored by computer, could be scattered everywhere. In this world, the anti-Tauran terrorists/freedom fighters may adopt sign language to avoid being eavesdropped (is this plausible? yes, sign has not been the subject of nearly 100 years of human research as speech recognition has, and the Taurans don’t have or won’t share gesture-recognition technology). The irony is delicious. I’d also like to talk about the media, how they obscure reality and get things wrong. Not because of any kind of conspiracy, but through simple ignorance and arrogance. Example: there was a big media kafuffle about SATAN (Security Administrator Tool for Analyzing Networks), even though a less powerful version of SATAN had been available for years and it probed only well-known and easily-fixed security holes. But it was the right moment for a story about a horrid automated hacking tool so it took off. Another example is the misinterpretation of Al Gore’s “claim to have invented the Internet.” Once a bad idea takes hold it’s hard to stop. People are sheep. Feh.

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