What is a Hacker

The word “Hacker” could be defined in a variety of ways. For instance, When I bring up Dashboard in OS 10.9, Dictionary give me this: “1. A person who uses a computer to gain unauthorized access to data…; 2. A person that hacks or cuts roughly.”

Tech news and Hollywood (I’m guilty of doing it to though more through convenience than out of ignorance) uses the first definition. It’s misleading and refers more to “crackers” than hackers. That doesn’t mean white people. It means people who crack into things, like a safe-cracker (that might not help ;).

Though, the definition I like most is one given to me by Larry Wall in an interview I did with him as a part of my research for ALGORITHM. Larry said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “A hacker is someone who makes the world the way they think it should be.”

At the core of that mentality is the idea that the world, and the systems there in, can be changed. They may be natural things like the direction of a river, or rain falling on us, or man-made things like governments or laws.

With that mentality, the understanding that the entire world is changeable, almost anything becomes possible.

Here are a couple Examples of people who, prior to this, you may not have thought of as hackers, but according to Larry’s Definition, you should:

Abraham Lincoln: He saw that slavery was common and didn’t like it. He fought hard and changed the way the white world sees other races. It took another hundred years for his ideas to really make changes, and another hacker, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. but the change was made. Lincoln was a hacker.

Benjamin Franklin: Yep. He was a hacker too. Even the OS 10.9 Dictionary Definition. Franklin made his riches because he started a newspaper. He got his news because he helped deliver the mail (there was no post office at the time, so things weren’t quite so sealed). He then went on to invent the bifocal lens, and did some of the early experiments in electricity. Oh, and he helped found democracy, as it manifests in the United States. Ben Franklin was a hacker.

Stephen Spielberg: When Spielberg was a kid, he snuck onto (read: broke into) the Warner Brothers Studio lot. He had the audacity to set up his own office. He then learned the business. He went to USC, and taught himself what in computers would be programming, but in movies is how tell a visual story. He then changes movies with Jaws. Spielberg was a hacker.

Albert Einstein: He was in his 20s, working as a patent clerk when he saw that Isaac Newton’s laws for planetary motion didn’t work… well, not as good as they could have. Einstein developed relativity to compensate. From that, we get everything nuclear, and the best definition of gravity that we’ve had. Oh, and he came up with the Photo-electric effect, for which he one the Nobel Prize; that’s the thing that makes laser printers and solar panels work. So, yes. Einstein was a hacker.

Have fun with this. Think of other people in history who changed the world, making in the way they think it should be. Not all of the hackers have been good (think: Godwin’s Law ;).