What is hacking?
In today’s mainstream parlance the words hacking and hacker have a negative connotation of breaching technological security for malicious purposes. But there is a 50+ year movement with a different meaning that is gaining popularity and influence.
The Wikipedia entry on hacker states:
“A hacker is someone who loves to program or who enjoys playful cleverness, or a combination of the two.
Hackers from this subculture tend to emphatically differentiate themselves from what they pejoratively call “crackers“; those who are generally referred to by media and members of the general public using the term “hacker”, and whose primary focus — be it to malign or benevolent purposes — lies in exploiting weaknesses in computer security.”
A common theme of hacking is exploring and stretching the limits of what is possible.
The hacker ethic is described by journalist Steven Levy in a 1984 book titled Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution as a commitment to access, freedom of information, and improvement to quality of life.
Hacking usually involves the use of technology but is also sometimes more broadly used to describe any act that pushes boundaries and exploits loopholes, a la Tim Ferriss of Four-Hour Workweek, Four-Hour Chef and Four-Hour Body.
How is hacking increasing in popularity and influence?
In the more general sense of exploiting loopholes are projects such as Blueseed which seeks to bypass immigration laws by parking a ship in international waters off the coast of California. The ship will allow “startup entrepreneurs from anywhere in the world to launch or grow their companies near Silicon Valley, without the need for a U.S. work visa.”
Specifically related to technology are hackerspaces or physical or virtual communities where like-minded people can get together to share knowledge and resources about creative thinking or pushing boundaries. Most of them began in Germany and Austria, coming to the United States in the last several years. HacDC, located in Washington, DC was founded in 2008 and features education outreach and workshops to increase innovation.
TechShop is a company that builds hackerspaces in different cities that usually include laser cutters, a machine shop, a wood shop, welding stations, water cutters and more. It’s location in Round Rock, Texas is in partnership with the giant home improvement store chain, Lowe’s.
The energy drink Redbull hosts a “national 72-hour themed innovation competition pitting six teams of makers, hackers and inventors against each other in a live-build format.”
What are the implications for formal education?
At the very least, educators and parents should take notice of this growing trend and begin conversations about what it means for traditional learning. It seems to suggest support for project-based and hands-on learning as well as allowing students to push the boundaries of the traditional subjects instead of “finding the right answer.”
Even more transformative might be the need to dramatically re-think how young people learn. For example: from whom might shift to each other rather than a wise elder, when might shift to as the information is needed for a project rather than when adults decide it’s time to learn it.
Why do we need to consider this trend? Because many kids are choosing to learn outside of school in ways that are dramatically different from traditional schools and even more will likely choose to leave school mentally and then physically once they become old enough. Blogger Andrew Richard Shrock asserts his opinion on why hackerspaces have taken off with such fervor in recent years:
“Much in the same way, I believe that the downturn in public education, lack of formal apprenticeships, demise of user-fixable commodities, and fewer groups for youth to interact in has led to the increasing popularity of hackerspaces.”
And young people won’t just sit and wait for us to adapt. As 30-year old Alexis Ohanian, founder of Reddit.com asserts in his book, Without Their Permission: How the 21st Century Will Be Made Not Managed the power of the internet to create new communities and trends should not be underestimated.