To the hackers that grew older

A rant about the need to create more community-centered software, instead of focusing too much on the individual.

The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age, by Pekka Himanen, was one of those essays that had a big influence on my early years. It resonated with how I felt about a lot of things: the joy of learning and work that has a purpose are two that I remember now. It was the first time I had thought about how we compartmentalize our lives into chunks of time, which are more or less isolated.

One thing I didn’t realize at the time was who this essay was written for: a generation of individuals, with friends & family, but that see themselves self-contained, as units of life on Earth. Given that the book defined the zeitgeist that has driven one of the major social and cultural changes of the human race, this is no minor issue. Like Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean, this generation had a mindset of fighting for their liberty against companies and governments – as individuals.

This attitude towards life, I believe, is one of the reasons why the products we create and consume are tailored to the individual and not to the communities: we have a personal music account, a personal pictures account, a personal email account, etc. Solutions that take the group into account are rare and mostly exist for production-driven organizations (companies or volunteer based bodies), but less for leisure or consumer communities.

As we grew older and our communities became online, they asked us for help. So we created the “pay the service for user” feature as to pay for our relatives accounts, the family plans in our music and video stores, or the network setup for our publishing platform. These changes reflect a fundamental and more human way to interact with others through technology. We are still in the early stages, but I expect this pattern to become stronger because one of the drivers for this to happen is that we have grown older in the same way that any other generation did in the past; realizing that we are weak as individuals, our natural state is to thrive within groups. Jack Sparrow struggled with this as well; he found out that the Black Pearl can be easily lost if you are on your own, and that you need a team if you want to navigate the ocean in freedom.

I, for one, look forward to a more community-centered future. What specific shapes it will take is something that only we can invent; so let’s do it.

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