Nostalgic Discourse

In the 1960s and 1970s, to be a computer hacker was to wear a badge of honor.
(Hafner and Markoff, 11)

Hackers build things, crackers break them.

The nostalgic discourse, as expressed by Raymond and others, defines hackers as the people who were responsible for many important computer developments such as the Internet, the World Wide Web, and Unix. It holds a nostalgic view of computer programming that idealizes the fifties through seventies. This discourse values myths like that "real programmers," which this discourse calls "hackers," once wrote flawless code in very difficult programming languages such as assembly. Much of its values (proponents might argue all) come from Levy’s hacker ethic. However, where Levy leaves space open for hackers to gain access by illegal means, the nostalgics draw a strict line against illegal means. They call hackers who break into systems "crackers" who deserve jail, and disdain them and phreaks for being stupid kids. They do not distinguish between the white hat and black hat hackers. Stoll (1988), a system administrator whose vigilance led to the successful prosecution of West German hacker Pengo, strongly opposed the white hats for betraying the trust on which the Internet was based and for potentially unintentionally causing damage.

Raymond urges that nostalgic hackers pursue a strategy of cultural separation. Nostalgic hackers should use proper spelling, grammar, and usernames based one’s actual name (instead of mythical ones such as "Lord Xandor"). Raymond recommends, "Don't call yourself a `cyberpunk', and don't waste your time on anybody who do."

Nostalgic hackers are not by any means completely based in the past. Raymond sees the success of nostalgic hackers as being strongly connected to that of open systems like Unix. His definition is strongly rooted in computer programming, specifically programming with the intent of distributing the software for free. According to him an example of a good hacker is Richard Stallman who founded the Free Software Foundation in 1984 which developed a free Unix-clone called GNU’s Not Unix (GNU). Stallman helped inspire Levy’s Hacker Ethic. Another example is how hackers collaborated using the Internet to develop Linux. Linux is a Unix operating system that is available free and may significantly challenge Microsoft’s Windows monopoly. On the political front, he sees hackers as the activists who defeating the Clipper chip and Communications Decency Act in the mid-1990s.

So the nostalgic hackers want to take back "hacker" for themselves.

"At the most recent conference called "Hackers 4.0" we had 200 of the most brilliant computer professionals in the world together for one weekend; this crowd included several PhD's, several presidents of companies ... and various artists, writers, engineers, and programmers. These people all consider themselves Hackers: all derive great joy from their work, from finding ways around problems and limits, from creating rather than destroying. It would be a great disservice to these people, and the thousands of professionals like them, to let some pathetic teenaged criminals destroy the one word which captures their style of interaction with the universe: Hackers

(Bickford 1988, qtd. in Meyer)."

Overall this discourse is an attempt to legitimize hacking’s status in the public view, by countering the media’s "mistake" beginning in the mid eighties when it started using "hacker" instead of "cracker" for the people who were gaining increasing amounts of attention by breaking into computer systems.

Theoretical Framework
Hacking History
Phone Hacking
What is Hacking?
Juvenile Discourse, Black Hats, and White Hats
Hacker Language
Juvenility and Carding
Problems with the White Hat Hacking Discourse
Nostalgic Discourse
Problems with the Nostalgic Discourse
Law Enforcement and Computer Security Discourse
The Legal Discourse
Problems with the Law Enforcement Discourse
Media Discourse
Hackers as Resistance (illegal and legal)
Limitations to Resistance
Works Cited