Inside the secret world of hackers

Hackerspaces are the digital-age equivalent of English Enlightenment coffee houses. They are places open to all, indifferent to social status, and where ideas and knowledge hold primary value. In 17th-century England, the social equality and merit-ocracy of coffee houses was so deeply troubling to those in power that King Charles II tried to suppress them for being “places where the disaffected met, and spread scandalous reports concerning the conduct of His Majesty and his Ministers”. It was in the coffee houses that information previously held in secret and by elites was shared with an emerging middle class. They were held responsible for many of the social reforms of the 18th century, when English public life was transformed.

Hackerspaces could prove to be as important for reform in the digital age. While collectives of rogue hackers such as Anonymous and Lulzsec have grabbed headlines with their mischievous hacks of personal information from Sony, News International and governments, hackerspaces have quietly focused on creating alternatives to the things they see wrong in society: secretive government, unfettered corporate power, invasion of privacy. Bradley Manning, the US Army intelligence analyst accused of leaking files to WikiLeaks, attended the launch of BUILDS, a hackerspace at Boston University last year. In Sweden the hacker collective Telecomix has been involved in keeping lines of communication open in middle eastern countries when political leaders shut down networks — via redwolf.newsvine.com

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