Personal tools

Hackstory Twitter Hackstory Facebook

Steven Levy (Journalist)

From Hack Story

Jump to: navigation, search

Steven Levy es es un periodista estadounidense que ha escrito varios libros sobre informática, tecnología, criptografía, internet, seguridad informática y privacidad.

Steven Levy

Especialista en temas tecnológicos empezó su carrera allá por 1.975 escribiendo como freelance sobre tecnología, la gente que la llevaba a cabo y su efecto en la sociedad de los 80´s.

Hizo sus pinitos como crítico de Rock, comentarista deportivo y editor de anuncios de enlaces nupciales.

En 1995 comenzó a trabajar en Newsweek como senior editor y responsable de la columna "Technologist" pasando posteriorente a la prestigiosa revista "Wired Magazine".

Tambíen ha colaborado en The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s and Premier

Sus libros y su trabajo han sido motivo de algún que otro premio.

A lo largo de su dilatada carrera nos ha obsequiado con 7 libros:

  • Insanely Great: The Life and Times of Macintosh, the Computer That Changed Everything (1994)
  • Artificial Life: The Quest for a New Creation (1992)
  • The Unicorn's Secret: Murder in the Age of Aquarius (1988)

Hackers, heroes of the computer revolution

Especial transcendencia tuvo este último en su momento pues en él se hacía una pormenorización de las normas que debian regir la "Ética Hacker", hace 30 años sentó las bases éticas y morales de lo que despues se ha dado en llamar "Hacking Ético".

Con motivo del 30 aniversario de la publicación de el libro el periodista Tilman Baumgärtel realizó una entrevista a Steven publicada en Nettime que transcribimos tal cual por su interés:


Ever since I read Steven Levy?s "Hackers. Heroes of the Information Revolution" (a work I never stopped admiring for its combination of journalistic rigor and unbiased, open perspective on its subject), I asked myself how he came up with the "Hacker Ethics" that he codified in this book.

The "Hacker Ethics" seems to me to be among the most important documents of intellectual history of the last decades, and without it there would probably be not be any theoretical justification of the internet, no Wikipedia, no Microsoft, Apple or Google and no Pirate Parties.

As the book has its 30th anniversary this month, I decided to use the opportunity to ask the writer personally about how he came up with these Five Commandments of Hackerdom...

Read and learn!



Interview with Steven Levy

?: How did you get to write this book? The publisher apparently was not such a big company. Did they commission it?

Levy: I never thought of writing a book about hackers, until an editor asked me if I?d be interested. I said ?Sure?, because I just wanted to write a book, and I figured this topic was as good as anything. He also told me: ?I want you to be ambitious here, don?t just dash off something.? And I took that to heart, and decided to write THE book on hackers. But the scope of it is so large, that?s why the scope of it is so broad. It begins at MIT, and goes on until what was then the present.

?: Who was this editor?

Levy: The suggestion came from my wife?s former editor at the Village Voice, who had started to work for Jane Fonda?s film company. She was a producer, and her job was to get magazine writers to research topics, but under the guise of writing magazine stories. So she said: ?Do you think there could be a good movie to be made about hackers? Would you be interested to write a magazine article about it? And we would take an option on the movie rights.? So I did that, and I wrote it for Rolling Stone. Again, at that time I did not know anything about hackers or computers or anything.

?: Did you have a computer at that time?

Levy: Of course not. That was in 1981, and at that time everybody was deciding whether they should get a word processor or an electronic typewriter, you know, one of those that could only memorize a line. After I came back from California, where I researched the Rolling Stone story, I said: ?I need to get a computer, right now.? My girlfriend and I both got Apple computers, and that clinched the deal. The article on hackers was written on a typewriter, but the book was written on an Apple II.

?: I understand that ?Saturday Night Fever? was based on a magazine story. Was the idea to develop story ideas for that kind of movie?

Levy. Yes, that was the impetus, films like ?Saturday Night Fever? or ?Urban Cowboy?. They felt that rather than having to bid for articles after they came out, they?d have a head start. I don?t know if anything was ever made from that. Certainly, I went with the key producers of Jane Fonda?s company to MIT. We hung out there, and met Marvin Minsky, but nothing ever came out of that. They couldn?t figure out a way to do it. And then ?War Games? came out, and they probably figured: ?Well, that has been done.? So the movie was never made, but I had a new career.

?: What else did you write about at that time?

Levy: Just anything. I started as a music critic actually.

?: It seems that significant research went into this book. Was the fee that you got for it enough to pay for your work on that book?

Levy: Barely. There was a very small advance. I wrote the book in a year and a half, maybe a little bit more. I got the contract in early 1982 and I handed the manuscript in by the end of 1982. It was very intense. It was the main thing I did. I wasn?t at home very much, and I worked very hard. Everyone?s first book makes ?em crazy, I guess.

?: So you did not think you?d be writing something that would still be in print 30 years later?

Levy. No way. I was just hoping they?d accept the manuscript.

?: Tell me about your research for the book. Even back then, the origins of hackerdom were 20 years in the past. Today, we know about the MIT Tech Model Railroad Club because of your book. How did you learn about them?

Levy: Well, I knew I had come across something very important. MIT was not supposed to be in the book originally. I wanted to start with the Homebrew Computer Club, and then go into this other section about the games. But as I was researching the book, I realized: Wait a minute, there is a place where hacking began. I kept hearing about this, so I decided to look into this whole culture at MIT. It was sort of magical talking to these people, because their amazing story had never been told. They invented computer culture, the whole way we approach computers. Sometimes I came back from an interview, and said to myself: ?Wow, nobody has ever talked to this person before.?

?: A reporter?s dream. Did Usenet play a role in the dissemination of this information about hackers and their history?

Levy: I don?t know if I had internet access at that time. I heard about the MIT hackers from interviewing people in Stanford. Some of them had been at MIT, others had had interaction with this group. At that point that information wasn?t much in circulation, but as you get deeper and deeper into a story, you learn more and more things. With every story it is always a shame to stop researching, because the layers of the onion keep peeling. You get so much more out of interviews you do later, because you know what to ask for and you?re up to speed about the topic. To be honest, I don?t remember when I first came across the Tech Model Railroad Club, but once I started to do interviews at MIT it started to come up very quickly, and that was a surprise. And I was able to find the people and tell the story.

One other helpful connection was Stuart Brand who I had started to work with. I had become the games editor of the Whole Earth Software Catalog that was being prepared then. Stuart had written an article for Rolling Stone ten years before my Rolling Stone article that was mostly about the Stanford AI Lab and about the game Spacewar.

?: Today a lot of people think of hackers as bad people, who break into people?s computers and steal their data. Did you have any preconceptions of that kind?

Levy: No. That whole definition of the word did not exist then. Most people did not know the word. And if people who were not in the community used it, they used it pejoratively for somebody who was a computer addict and not a very social person. In the community, of course, the word had a very positive meaning, and it was complementary if you called someone a hacker. It wasn?t until the movie ?War Games? that the term got this definition of somebody who breaks into computers. So, the main definition is kind of a perversion of the original meaning of the word, but that happened after my book came out.

?: Let?s talk about the hacker ethic. How did you come up with this? Were any of these principles statements things you heard from the people you interviewed? Or is it your version of things you were told and observed?

Levy: As I was researching, I realized that there were these different generations of hackers. There were the MIT people, the Homebrew hardware hackers, and then these young game hackers, who learned computing on the machines that the Homebrew computer people invented. So, on the one hand they were very different, but at the same time, a hacker was a hacker. They had these shared values. They had a very similar mindset, and they implicitly believed a lot of things. So I decided to codify these rules, and called it the ?hacker ethic?. I pulled them together, and started to explain that in the second chapter of the book.

?: So let?s go through the different doctrines of the Hacker Ethic. Please tell me if you have any specific recollection about how you came up with this wording. The first principle is: ?Access to computers?and anything which might teach you something about the way the world works?should be unlimited and total. Always yield to the Hands-On Imperative!?

Levy: I remember I was riding in a car with one of my subjects once, and we started to talk about how we should program all the red lights, and if it was possible to open their boxes and tinker with them. And I realized that hackers really want to get their hands on everything! Not just computers, but particularly computers. And I thought back to the MIT people, and the habit there was to stay up all night to get on the computers. Sometimes they would jimmy locks to get into the computer centers. Anything that prevented them from getting on the computers was a bad thing.

?: The second doctrine is: ?All information should be free.? I guess that comes from Stuart Brand?

Levy: No, Stuart was inspired by me, really. Stu gave this definition at the First Hackers Conference. He was playing on ?All information should be free?, and said ?Information wants to be free.? He also said: ?It wants to be expensive, too.? That was kind of a hack of the hack.

?: ?Mistrust authority ? promote decentralization.? Was there any episode or observation that inspired you here?

Levy: Hackers identified authorities as people who wanted to keep secrets and to keep them away from computers. If that power was centralized, it would always be abused, they felt. The thing about computers is that it empowers the people who have them. So by spreading that, you spread power and empowered people. Any centralized authority would be top-down and would not promote the flow of information.

?: ?Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not criteria such as degrees, age, race, sex, or position.?

Levy: The person who triggered that was this guy Peter Deutsch. He was boy, really. He was 12 or 13, when he appeared within the hacker community at MIT. And instead of saying ?Get away, kid?, they let him prove himself by the hacking. Whereas some distinguished computer science professors did not sustain, because they did not hack well. It became non-discriminatory, because they judged you by how you hacked, not who you were.

?: ?You can create art and beauty on a computer.? Today it is hard to see why one would even have to point that out, but at that time this must have been an outlandish claim.

Levy: Absolutely. It would be ridiculous today to argue otherwise. But back then, it was very widely thought that computers were mechanistic and not creative. What I found out, even when I wrote the Rolling Stone story, was that hackers were incredibly creative in the way they wrote code and how they approached problems.

?: ?Computers can change your life for the better.?

Levy: I talk a lot about the childhoods of the people I interviewed. Many of them felt out of place, because they were unusual. They took things apart or they blew things up to understand the way they worked. And when they met the computerists, they found a way to map out who they were. It was a perfect playground for them. It really improved their lives, it gave them a home.

?: ?Hackers? is not an academic work. There are very few footnotes. How about your sources ? did you keep any records?

Levy: I think I cited some books. But basically very little had been done on hackers. There was no research on hackers. I?d like to say: ?I went to the library?, and of course, the internet did not have this kind of stuff back then. There was nothing written about hackers, there were almost no articles. There was another book that came out at the same time that talked about Homebrew. It was called ?Fire in the Valley?, and it talked about the beginnings of the Personal Computer industry, a very good book. We were working in parallel. Basically, it was fresh material, so I did not have a lot to cite.

I talked to these people for the first time. The bulk of the book is hours and hours of interviewing people, and I still have the transcripts of these conversations in my basement. Maybe the mice ate some of it, but it cannot be too much. I probably hand them over to the Computer History Museum at one point.

?: What do you think about groups like Anonymous? Do you think they adhere to the hacker ethics?

Levy: I don?t respect people who use their computer just to steal or to vandalize for the hell of it. But people who have a legitimate political component behind what they are doing are activists. I grew up in the 60s, and I have respect for civil disobedience. I don?t agree with everything they do, though. For instance, if you hack a news site, because you do not like what they write, that?s censorship.

?: You went on to write books about Apple and Google, who both came from a hacker background. Do you feel that these two companies crossed a line at one point, and betrayed their hacker roots?

Levy: It is funny, even in ?Hackers? I talk about how Apple moves away from being a hacker company, how they started to have secrets and things like that, which is sort of inevitable. If you are a big, powerful public company you cannot run it like a hacker. Even though now, the big tech companies start to realize that the hacker spirit really helps. A good example is Facebook. If you visit the Facebook campus, there is a giant sign: ?The Hacker Company?. It is a big company, that tries to portray itself under the guidance of Mark Zuckerberg as a hacker company.

?: Do you think that the way you phrased the hacker ethic still makes sense today?

Levy: I think it still holds water. Today you would not include things anymore like ?You can create art and beauty on a computer.? But I am happy it is in there, because it shows how far ahead of their time these people were.


Dejamos aquí el link a la web de Steven:

Steven Levy - Bibliography

Retrieved from "Steven_Levy_(Journalist)" - La historia nunca contada del underground hacker en la Península Ibérica.