I found myself in an interesting discussion a few days ago about the term hacking. We all had different perspectives on it – art, piracy, demoscene, textiles – and it was quite obvious that this term can mean maaaany different things.
It can refer to a misuse of a system. I’ve written before about how appropriation reinforces the idea of a normative use and therefore daemonizes other uses which in the long run, I argue, is dangerous. Because then we learn to accept that software has to be approved by one company before it’s made public, or that it’s ok to fine some acne-generating teenage geek billions of dollars because he used internet “the wrong way”.
Hacking can also refer to a new use of a system. Something that hasn’t been done before. That’s often but not always the same thing as appropriation. This strive for the new is built into pop culture, but also in things like urban planning, party politics and science. Or, you know, capitalism. It has to be new and fresh! Creative! Groundbreaking! Share-holder-fantabulastic! Cooool!
But new is not always new. Retromania and remix culture means that it’s ok to just combine or tweek two old things, and then it’s new. In fact, that’s the only thing we can do according to all these artistic and corporate views of creativity. Romantic geniuses and ideas that are not based on focus groups and “public opinions” are out of style. Steve Jobs is dead.
But these things all put the emphasis on two things: humans and results. We can also look at something else instead, which I think brings us closer to the oldschool meaning of hacking with model trains & telephone lines. The interplay between the person and the medium. Man machine. The process. I don’t mean that in some buddhist digi-hippie kind of way, I think. No, I mean it more in a media materialist ooo kind of way.
Then we can say things like:
• Originality is when something is made without too many presets, samples, macros, algorithms and automated processes. The results are irrelevant, it’s the process that matters. Hm.
• It is possible to disrespect the machine much like you disrespect a person. By making it look like something it’s not. Pretending like you know that it can’t do better than it actually can. Machine bullying. Human arrogance. Hm.
• Machines don’t have intended purposes per se and we can never fully understand how it works and what it can do. To say that this is a zombie media or this is unlimited computing is, from a strict materialist perspective, equally irrelevant. It is what it is. Hm.
So: Imagine if a future view of creativity or hacking would be to make the medium act as well as it can, from some sort of “medium-emic” understanding. The role of the human artist would just be to make digital media look as good as possible, sort of like a court painter. Computers understandefine human culture, humans glorify computers for computers.
Finding new combinations of ideas seem like a kind of machinic way of making stuff anyway. Book publishers that are completely automatized might just produce trash so far, but bots are already invading peer review science (!). Pop music has been computer generated since 1956 and classical music since a few years. But in a way, the music itself is not so important anymore because computers can put garbage in the charts anyway.
Disrespectful uses of technology is already illegal, or makes you lose your warranty, or locks the consoles, or makes it impossible to start the car, etc. Fast forward this perspective, and we have a world where artistic uses of technology might be punishable too. By death! Human arrogance leads to electric shock. Bad coding will lead to deadly explosions. Syntax error – cyberbullying detected!
So be nice to your machine. It’s the new cyberkawaii!