This is not a new world. This is the world you grew up in. When Microsoft asks you, “where do you want to go today?” how does it make you feel? Some questions are so rhetorical because of the distance between those asking the questions and their audience is so severe that those asking the questions assume they should ignore their audience.
In the eighties, the part of society vaguely grouped as “hackers” were generally assumed to be pasty computer geeks hiding behind terminals and home PC’s. For the most part, society’s image of the “hacker” was accurate. Today, however, the quality of the term “hacker” is slowly and secretly evolving to encompass an elite underground movement so vague and detached that not even the so-called “hackers” of the eighties are fully aware of it. The new culture growing behind the scenes is an unfamiliar breed of hacker that will come to be known as the “reality hacker.” What is a reality hacker?
Reality as we see it is the conglomeration of images and media stereotypes that nurture us and our children. Things we are used to form our reality. Hacking that reality is as simple as giving up the images that are spoon-fed to us and seeing the “code” behind them. For example:
On April 13, 1981, Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for a story titled “Jimmy’s World” about an 8-year-old heroin addict.
(source www.eighties.com) This is an ideal example of a news troll because the story was created with the specific goal of drawing the attention of the masses. It emphasized the willingness of the people to accept what is given to them as fact. Cooke’s weak point in this manipulation of society is that her success depended on Society’s acceptance of her troll as fact.
On April 15 Cooke confessed that there really was no “Jimmy,” that he represented a composite of child addicts and that her story was, in fact, fiction. The prize Cooke was awarded was returned and she resigned from journalism to seek a job as a sales clerk somewhere in Washington.
Still, Cooke’s manipulation of society is often used as an example of reality hacking.
Culture jamming, poetic terrorism, media hacks and news trolls are all reality hacks. With the increase in our ability to communicate accross great differences, our powers of perception are both numbing and becoming more acute. Those of us who are happy living in the Barby and Ken world of the post-modern Nokia cellular phone society grow less aware of the real urban infrastructure. Those of us who see the red-painted clown noses deposited quietly in the mailboxes of hundreds and who know where those daily security camera tapes end up have for some time quietly observed society’s increasing homeopathy with wry smiles and fingertips poised on the bony wrists of hidden pipes framing forgotten structures behind the walls of department stores and old, converted buildings.
Cultures are begining to grow in the forgotten spaces between the walls. Beneath our cities there are hundreds of miles of abandoned tunnels and neglected causeways, entrances carefully hidden in plain sight by neon billboards and decorative fences. These hidden paths and tunnels symbolize our willingness to ignore what we’ve made and reach for the next biggest thing. Buildings built around and on top of buildings go unnoticed. Entire rooms and in some cases whole floors of structures get walled off but still they are there and waiting to be rediscovered.
As society grows and the distance between cities shrinks, the buildings we know and inhabbit become bricks in the steifling conglomerate orgious technodome of the Microsoft Windows society version You. Soon software is no longer a program delivered on discs but a form of electricity that powers our machine. Resurection of old technology will become an art form, the clattering of keys the tribal dance of masterful technomancers babbling about the old days of the MOS6581, realtime plasma displays and vector balls on Z80 processors.
On our desks and in our cars we have technology that scientists of two decades ago percieved as wet dreams, processing power so phenominal that in those times the equipment required to reproduce it would have filled warehouse upon warehouse and what do we use it for? Dancing hamsters that sing pirated, pitch-shifted samples to us from 1970’s Disney animated features; yodelling cows and the ultimate goal of the post-modern citizen, the golden calf known as the shopping cart.
We live to get more stuff. The stuff we have is never enough. The faster society moves the more we crave the next “killer app.” In the early eighties a computer was introduced known as the Commodore 64. It was a stunning piece of equipment in its time and world-famous for its ability to captivate the creative mind with the ability to create wonderful images and sounds through the use of keystrokes. Assembly and BASIC languages became the consumption of waking hours and the dreams of thousands of technicly-enabled members of society who became known as “computer geeks,” labled by society because of their unwillingness to part from this wonderful thing and glom onto the growing Media’s candy-coated future. Millions of killobytes of machine language poured into keyboards all over the world as children broke the boundries of communication, growing together in the security and knowledge of this thing, this wonderful medium. But to some, sixty-four killobytes wasn’t enough. There had to be more, something bigger, something to shop for! Behold, consumer demand.
With the advent of expandable cases and boards with swappable sockets, Society found a way to embrace computing technology. If it’s not fast enough don’t bother to optimize the program, buy a bigger chip. If the chip won’t fit the board, buy a better board. If the board isn’t versitile enough, buy a bigger chip. Of course, you’ll need a bigger board to take advantage of all the new features offered by the bigger chip that you haven’t even begun to understand. All of the art and the music, the nights spent forcing the eyes open for just one more line of code over a cold cup of coffee were forgotten in favor of a bigger, faster product. The momentous discoveries of how to overcome the limitations of hardware lost importance and thus began the market for kludge technology.
The idea of a kludge began when someone decided it would be a good idea to take a large chunk of a program and make it a universal widget that could be used in all programs of a simmilar nature. Eventually the idea of creating a new and unique program was lost entirely as users became programmers armed with huge blocks of redundant data. If you have one function in a huge chunk of data that gets the job done, who cares if you’re wasting resources by leaving the rest of that stuff in? You can just get a bigger chip, more storage space, bigger faster harder. Lets go shopping!
Not too surprisingly the reality hackers aren’t the computer hackers of the eighties and we didn’t build the shopping widgets for America online. Or maybe we did, but if we did then we’re also responsible for those hidden AOL keywords that have been there since the days when AOL was called Q-link. Some of the more keen Reality hackers out there can point out some surprising and amusing bits of data thanks to a byproduct of our world conglomerate known as data mining.
The Free Online Dictionary of Computing defines data mining as “Analysis of data in a database using tools which look for trends or anomalies without knowledge of the meaning of the data.” In otherwords, it is not necisary to understand all data at hand but to have the reflexive ability to extract what is needed from an overwhelming store of information. What you see when you log on to America Online is what the executives at AOL want you to see: A friendly menu of things to buy. What really scares the executives of America Online, however, is the underlying structure of AOL that cannot be removed because of the pioneering data bits that hold it in place. Certain bits of data are placed so that their removal would result in the necessity to re-invent other parts of the database, which would in turn facilitate a need to fix other parts of the database, and so on. This is far more of an effort than any AOL executive can see fit to expend when it is much easier to simply build a new interface on top of the old data and redirect consumers to the shopping area, while at the same time hiding the real data in plain site. This is why you can call up an AOL keyword that will show you a grainy photo of a police officer chomping on a Duncan donut or just as easilly download version 1.0 of the America Online software. Certainly there is nowhere you can click that will show you these curious features, but if you know where to look for them and other more useful resources, they are indeed at hand. This is only one example of the power of structures hidden in plain sight.
The reality hacker is able to see what is in plain sight. The rest of society only sees what they can buy.