What being a hacker means

aaron swartz quoteUntil Aaron Swartz committed suicide, I didn’t really know what he was about. But with the outpouring of emotion his death provoked, I read numerous articles on what he did and what he stood for. I’m sure you’ve read many yourselves, so I won’t elaborate.

One thing has touched me more personally though. I read this article on the EFF website, which included the image and the quote on the right : “Be curious. Read widely. Try new things. I think a lot of what people call intelligence just boils down to curiosity”. What a wonderful thing to say… I really think he has a point; not only is curiosity something we should foster and encourage, but it also breeds something we sorely needs, as a society: intelligence itself.

I posted the image on Google+, and got a comment by Rémi Pannequin:“This just exactly sum up the hacker philosophy”. He is so right. Rémi reminded me something I had forgotten, because of age maybe, as my own days of Amiga enthusiasm are far behind me, or maybe because of the constant badgering of people who only advocate in absolutes… Whatever the cause, the term “hacker” has become so associated with piracy and cyber crime that we are starting to forget what pushes people to hack, and try new and different things just to see what happens.

Then, this article in The New Yorker pointed out that it is people like Aaron Swartz that build the most innovative and amazing things in our lives. Explorers, dreamers and tinkerers, people who see possibilities where others see limits and rules. And while we do need laws, we should also be very careful that these laws don’t teach our children that they shouldn’t be too curious. We’re not there yet, but I can see how the path we’re on could lead us there. Hacking is a byproduct of curiosity, and in reprimanding the excesses of the former, we should make damn sure we don’t kill the later.

As I said, I won’t go into the issues on wrongdoing and proportionality; many people have done it better than I ever could.

What I do know however, is that I’ve rediscovered the true meaning of the word hacker, and I hope I never forget it again.

January 18th, 2013