Trends favored the term “hacker” a few years ago when it became clear that the golden days of hacking, namely burrowing into machines owned by big corporations and government to learn about them, are no longer necessary. You can install the same operating systems at home on your high-speed internet.
Instead, hacking has become like all things which degenerate an “ethical” field in which people want to warn you that if you install sixty-eight pieces of specific software on some machine and your password is “douchebag666,” then you are at risk of getting hacked.
This creates an industry. Security consultants go out and find increasingly far-fetched scenarios under which you can be hacked, legions of H-1Bs hastily write ill-considered patches to fix this, journalists publish breathless articles no one understands, and then they find an exploit in the patch and the cycle begins again.
It is like an industry-wide conspiracy to keep lots of people employed doing nothing significant, while the major sources of hacks continue to be phishing attacks and sloppy data sanitization on unnecessary custom internet interfaces. How do you tell your employees to stop being credulous, lazy fools when that is what they are?
Consequently we get a new generation of security theater. We race to patch our software, most of which is unnecessary anyway, to avoid the published threats, while the unpublished ones continue to run amok and cause billions in losses. Meanwhile the average person has no idea why their personal data is for sale on the dark web.
Since this is now the case, the term “hacker” retains outlaw cred in the same way leather jackets, blue jeans, motorcycles, whisky, and hard rock do for the average normie. It is now another signal of being “edgy,” or still within the frame of socially accepted but pushing boundaries in order to stand out from the herd.
Your average hacker now has no interest in pushing equipment past its rated limits or finding ways to circumvent the system in order to use its resources for more interesting things. These hackers of the modern type mostly want highly-paid jobs at floaty Silicon Valley type places, keeping the patch scam going.
Underground hackers remain but most are politically motivated. They want to take out the enemy and mostly use well-known methods semi-systematically in an attempt to vandalize or escape detection. The aboveground hackers give them a wink and a nod; after all, they are spreading the fear that keeps the patch scam going.
Back in the day, such people were called geeks or nerds to differentiate them from hackers because they were not interested in the technology itself; they are interested in jobs or doing something that appeals to their social group.
The old school hackers faced a burden of a lack of information, all the good hardware and networks being behind early “paywalls” like passwords and phone codes, and an unwillingness for industry to see how much cool stuff you could do with computers and networks. Hackers chased the cool as a good thing in itself.
There was an element of the daredevil in the early hacker. He knew that if caught he would face ugly prosecution. He made no money doing what he did; he did it simply for the love of the possibilities that digital technology afforded. His only hope for glory was to write about what he learned and be appreciated for that contribution to hacking.
The new geeks have a fondness for methods. They will undertake entirely pointless projects just so that they can play with their gadgets and stick another bullet point on their résumés. They want to master existing technology, not repurpose it or expand it.
Hackers of the old school found that it was more fun to imagine than fiddle. They wanted to push the gear beyond its limits, abolish the rules that held back knowledge and use of this cool stuff, and pursue the cool in itself, that frisson of rush when you did something theoretically impossible despite the suits hating you.
Maybe around here some of us bang on about ends-over-means too much, but old school hackers were the original ends-over-means people: they wanted to use the technology to chase the cool, and they would sidestep, circumnavigate, or violate laws and convention in order to do so, more like Galileo than West Side Story bad boys.
In the human world, most people focus on means-over-ends because it is easy and gains social approval. Focus on the ethical thing and what already exists, instead of imagining and creating, and you get jobs, attention, and renown in the media. Focus on dreams and you might end up broke on a watchlist.
Relatively few things need to be made or done. When we focus on what is already here, we miss out on the point of life, which is to expand in all directions, pursuing that which in a transcendent sense is purely cool in itself, instead of caging ourselves in methods and ethics and becoming domesticated meatbots.