On Hacking, Apps Contests, Language and Assumptions

Yes, I know. I know the events I’m putting on are called “hackathons.” Yes. I know they’re actually “apps contests.” As I’ve said before, and will say again (and again and again), hackers are people who tinker with systems other people take as granted. They were the farmers who reappropriated parts from their failing machinery to create things which actually worked for them. They are the traceurs of the world, who play on walls and railings. Yes, they can be people who use a back door to teach an irresponsible company a lesson. And yes, they can be people using new open data to create ways of responding to disaster. Developers are people who build on systems which exist, new ways of interacting with those systems. While the line seems fuzzy at first, and is certainly contextual, it is an important one.

Hackers are therefore the people who are taking responsibility for themselves and their environments, their communities. And that is what gives me hope in this world. While systems are important for efficiency and sharing, those systems should constantly be tested, pushed, bettered. I don’t think we’re so much taking back the word “hacker” as making it into a thing everyone should strive to become. We HAVE to be hacking on things if we are to be engaged and responsible citizens of the world. We HAVE to be testing our friends, our selves, our causes. Through playful testing, we are able to trust one another while creating accesible safe space.

My friend caezar said this in response to me:

In times past, the advancement of humanity happened at a rate that was slow when compared to the individual life experience. That is, people didn’t see evolution happen during their life times. In the information age, we see change at a pace that can only be described as shocking. So when people used to discuss “long” terms, they meant years and decades into the future. Today, long term can mean as little as 18 months. Short term solutions often only apply for weeks or a few months. In this accelerated view of time, short term thinking can be seen for what it is: a waste of energy.

A trail blazer hacks a path through dense jungle. A hacker forges new paths through the tangles of ignorance and complexity, finding and developing the conceptual roads of tomorrow. A hackathon is simply a work party on a new frontier in a village full of idealistic and hard working people. There is no path except what we make. Before big business comes along to designate which roads they think will yield profits, someone must explore the boundaries and find the trails into new territory. Hackers are the scouts of new ideas; they teach us what is possible and afford a hint of the future to those willing to listen. In a world beset on all sides by corruption and suffering, we owe it to ourselves to send out more scouts and to equip them as well as possible to survive outside the plans of our parents.

Random Hacks of Kindness is not unusual at all. It is just a fireside chat, among settlers in a new land, about how to better live each day. We hope to make every life a little better by making a few lives a lot longer.