Notes for Pekka Himanen The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age

Key concepts: .

Related theorists: Manuel Castells, Jim Clark, Catherine Malabou, Eric Raymond, Witold Rybczynski, Linus Torvalds, Weber.


Hacker ethic as passionate relationship to work.

(ix) Looking at the hacker ethic in this way, it becomes a name for a general passionate relationship to work that is developing in our information age.

What Makes Hackers Tick? a.k.a. Linus's Law
Linus's Law

Linus views evolutionary progress through basic motivational categories if survival, social life, entertainment; entertainment is intrinsically interesting and challenging, related to manageable complexity and other terms developed by Gee, Turkle.

(xiv) Linus's Law says that all of our motivations fall into three basic categories. More important, progress is about going through these very same things as “phases” in a process of evolution, a matter of passing from one category to the next. The categories, in order, are “survival,” “social life,” and “entertainment.”
(xv) Entertainment is something intrinsically interesting and challenging.


To the hacker computer is itself entertainment as well as platform providing entertainment; contrast to television, videogames and books.

(xvii) But to the hacker a computer is also entertainment. Not the games, not the pretty pictures on the Net. The computer itself is entertainment.

The WORK Ethic
The Hacker Work Ethic

Raymond hacker passion corresponds to Torvalds entertainment for dedication to an activity that is intrinsically interesting, inspiring and joyous, comparable to Plato passion for philosophy.

(6) In summing up hacker activity's spirit, [Eric] Raymond uses the word passion, which corresponds to Torvarlds's entertainment, as he defined it in the Prologue. But Raymond's term is perhaps even more apt because, even though both words have associations that are not meant in this context, passion conveys more intuitively than entertainment the three levels described above—the dedication to an activity that is intrinsically interesting, inspiring, and joyous.
(6) The attitude of passionate intellectual inquiry received similar expression nearly 2,500 years ago when Plato, founder of the first academy, said of philosophy, “Like light flashing forth when a fire is kindled, it is born in the soul and straightaway nourishes itself” (Letter 7.341c-d).

General challenge to Protestant work ethic, Baxter calling, whose precursor is monastery rather than academy.

(7) We are discussing a general social challenge that calls into question the Protestant work ethic that has long governed our lives and still maintains a powerful hold on us.
(9) [Richard] Baxter sums up this attitude by referring to labor as a “calling,” a good expression of the three core attitudes of the Protestant work ethic: work must be seen as an end in itself, at work one must do one's part as well as possible, and work must be regarded as a duty, which must be done because it must be done.
(9) While the hacker work ethic's precursor is in the academy, Weber says that the Protestant ethic's only history precursor is in the monastery.

The Purpose of Life

Sisyphus a hero under Protestant work ethic.

(14) Augustine emphasizes that in Eden “praiseworthy work as not toilsome”--it was no more than a pleasant hobby.
(18) Sisyphus has truly become a hero.

The Passionate Life

Hacker purpose of life is Sunday rather than Friday; the work week is not a toilsome means to an end.

(18) In this sense, one could say that for hackers the purpose of life is closer to Sunday than to Friday. . . . Hackers want to realize their passions, and they are ready to accept that the pursuit even of interesting tasks may not always be unmitigated bliss.
(19) There's a different between being permanently joyless and having found a passion in life for the realization of which one is also willing to take on less joyful but nonetheless necessary parts.

Time Is Money?
“This Is Money”

Spirit of capitalism arose out of attitude that time is money; Protestant ethic optimization of time now applied to shorter units (Weber and Castells).

(20) This free relation to time has always been typical of hackers, who appreciate an individualistic rhythm of life.
(20) The spirit of capitalism arose out of this attitude toward time.
(21) When we think about the network society's dominant relation to time, it is obvious that even though our new economy differs in many other respects from the old industrial capitalism, it largely follows the precepts of the Protestant ethic in regard to the optimization of time. Now, even shorter units of time are money. [Manuel]
Castells aptly speaks about the network society's trend of time compression.

Optimized Time
(21-22) In his work
The Information Age, Castells has demonstrated empirically how competition intensifies in the global information economy (or informational economy, to be exact, because all economies are based on information, but ours is based on the new information-technology paradigm: the expression information economy will be used as a synonym for this idea. Speedy technological changes make it imperative to get new technology to consumers quickly, before one's competitors do.

Clark law of continuous acceleration; competition based on promise of delivering future to consumers faster than competitors.

(23) [Jim] Clark's “law of continuous acceleration” compels technological products to be release faster and faster.
(23) Time compression has now proceeded to a point where technological and economic competition consists of promising the future to arrive at the consumer faster than it would by the competitor's mediation.

Network model encourages project-based employment.

(24) Network enterprises concentrate on their core skills and forge networks according to their changing needs with subcontractors and consultants. . . . The network model makes it possible for an enterprise to employ only the personnel required for the projects of the moment, which means that in the new economy the real employers are not the enterprises per se but the projects between or within them.
(24) Second, operations in the network society are speeded up by optimization of processes.
(25) And third, automation, already familiar from industrial society, is still important.

The Fridayization of Sunday

Fridayization of Sunday removing playfulness from play leaving optimized leisure time invites Horkheimer and Adorno in addition to Rybczynski.

(26) First, playfulness was removed from work, then playfulness was removed from play, and what is left is optimized leisure time. In his book Waiting for the Weekend, Witold Rybczynski provides a good example of the change: “People used to 'play' tennis; now they 'work' on their backhand.”
(27) In an optimized life, leisure time assumes the patterns of work time.

Flexible Time

Work-centered organization of time another Protestant work ethic demand, strengthened by flexibility ethic and helped by mobile technologies, so we are constantly on call reacting to all situations as if urgent; compare to Malabou.

(29) In addition to the work-centered optimization of time, the Protestant ethic also means the work-centered organization of time.
(30) In fact, the dominant development in the information economy seems to be that flexibility is leading to the strengthening of work-centeredness.
(32) The paradox is that the highest technology brings us easily to the lowest level of survival life, in which we are constantly on call, reacting to urgent situations.

The Sundayization of Friday

Hacker flextime combines activities less rigidly, leveraging technology so humans can lead less machinelike lives: Sundayization of Friday.

(32-33) In the hacker version of flextime, different areas of life, such as work, family, friends, hobbites, et cetera, are combined less rigidly, so that work is not always at the center of the map. . . . The hacker view is that the use of machines for the optimization and flexibility of time should lead to a life for human beings that is less machinelike—less optimized and routine.

Comparison of hacker flextime to Platonic skhole of academics, able to organize ones own time.

(33-34) Plato defined the academic relation to time by saying that a free person has skhole, that is “plenty of time. When he talks, he talks in peace and quiet, and his time is his own” (Theaetetus 172d). But skhole did not mean just “having time” but also a certain relation to time: a person living an academic life could organize one's time oneself—the person could combine work and leisure in the way that he wanted. Even though a free person could commit to doing certain works, no one else owned his time. Not having this charge of one's time—askholia--was associated with the state of imprisonment (slavery).
(35) This is because the workers of our time no longer enjoy the same freedom to manager their own time a cobbler or shepherd enjoyed in the “dark” Middle Ages.

Monastery Office Hours still influential in information economy; tie in Foucault disciplinarism since absent from bibliography.

(35) Only in monasteries was activity tied to the clock, so, once again, the Protestant ethic's historical precedent can be found in the monastery.
(36-37) Despite its new technology, the information economy is still predominantly based on Office Hours, with no place for individual variations.

The Rhythm of Creativity

Contradiction between need for creativity and inability to be creative in information economy under fixed regimens and work-time supervision.

(39) The pragmatic message is that the information economy's most important source of productivity is creativity, and it is not possible to create interesting things in a constant hurry or in a regulated manner from nine to five.
(39) The culture of work-time supervision is a culture that regards grown-up persons as too immature to be in charge of their lives.

Hacker anti-authoritarianism and respect for the individual lauded by Raymond often inconsistent with results of creative work as noted by Golumbia, Winner, and others.

(40) Hackers have always respected the individual. They have always been anti-authoritarian. Raymond defines the hacker position: “The authoritarian attitude has to be fought wherever you find it, lest it smother you and other hackers.”

The MONEY Ethic
Money as a Motive
The Money Ethic

Himanen, Pekka. The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age. New York: Random House, 2001. Print.