Hacking – it conjures images of pale teens in darkened rooms, fingers flicking over keyboards, faces lit green by the glow of dot-matrix screens, twisted in concentration. Solving complex puzzles in order to break into the dire digital Fort Knoxes of the world’s malign corporate and military info-plexes.
The definition of a hacker tends to run a long the lines of someone who ‘exploits weaknesses in computer systems or networks for purposes of challenge, protest, espionage or profit’.
Actual programming, or coding, is about as mundane a job as any other. Repetitive, tedious and boring. It’s little wonder that people in that field began to refer to finding solutions for difficult coding problems also as hacking. It adds a certain romance to the banality.
Over the last few years, the same corporations who once may have been the target of hacking, have also appropriated the term, in the form of the Hackathon.
Wikipedia defines the Hackathon thusly; A hackathon (also known as a hack day, hackfest or codefest) is an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers and project managers, collaborate intensively on software projects.
It seems rather ironic that corporations have re-branded hacking to create these brainstorming sweat-shop sessions, whose purpose in the end, is their own product development and profit.
And it seems almost sinister when The White House sponsors a National Day Of Civic Hacking – held on June 1st and 2nd. The purpose seems admirable; to engage the coding community in a project to help improve the services provided by government agencies by better organizing the vast amounts of information those agencies gather. The US Government’s attitude toward the free flow of information in the digital age borders on the paranoiac, while corporate control and ownership of information, with government and legal support, from the insistence by Google that every account be tied to a real name, to the ownership of the very stuff of life, the genetic code of plants, animals and people by bio-tech companies like Monsanto, becomes ever more authoritarian.
Despite the involvement of numerous government agencies and corporate sponsors, representatives of the chief organizer Innovation Endeavours (a venture capital firm co-founded by Google chairman Eric Schmidt) deemed the original event held last year a success, however tangible results may not be apparent for some time. So far it seems the only tangible result from last year’s government and corporate sponsored hackathon, is Medicare authorities in the US released a data-set compiling the fees charged for common procedures by hospitals. As result, at least one hospital has begun a review to increase fees and charges.