The problem here is that sharing may work for software, but it doesn’t work for hardware. Moore’s Law has driven much of the computer revolution, but it requires that companies like Intel spend more and more money each year to create the next generation of superfast chips. Take away Intel’s copyright and patent protection, and knock-off companies would create clone Intel processors for a fraction of the cost. These chips would be dramatically cheaper than Intel’s, and Intel would not have the money to create the next generation of still-faster devices. Moore’s Law depends upon vectoral control.
Wark’s opus doesn’t just ignore hardware – it ignores hardware hacking, the tradition of modifying circuits and computers to do things that the original designers never intended. Hardware hackers are pros at both adding new features and removing arbitrary restrictions – like the region codes on DVD players that won’t let European DVDs play in U.S. players. Yet increasingly, hardware is where the action is. Books such as Hacking the Xbox: An Introduction to Reverse Engineering are exposing secrets to the masses that once were strictly the province of MIT and Caltech midnight seminars. Hardware hackers are largely motivated by exactly the same antivectoralist tendencies as the hackers creating file-sharing networks: the desire to get around restrictions that have been artificially imposed upon their beloved technology. Hackers are people who use technical means to break restrictive rules and, as a result, create new possibilities. They are agents of disruptive change, no matter whether they hack code, networks, video-game consoles or copyright. By failing to address hardware and its hackers, Wark’s work once again falls short of its title.
And what of information yearning to be free? The quotation comes from Stewart Brand, editor of the Whole Earth Catalog, speaking at the first Hacker’s Conference back in 1984. According to a transcript of the conference printed in Brand’s May 1985 issue, the full quotation was: “On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.”
If I might be so bold as to reëngineer Brand’s quotation while looking through Wark’s glasses, it’s the hackers who want information to be free, and it’s the vectoralists who want information to be expensive. Having known and admired Stallman for more than 20 years, I’ve long understood the concept of the hacker. Wark’s contribution in his misnamed volume is the identification of the hacker’s enemy, the vectoral class. It is a battle, I fear, that we cannot win. But it is one that must be fought.
Simson Garfinkel is a researcher in the field of computer security. He is the author of Database Nation: The Death of Privacy in the 21st Century (2000). He is currently a doctoral candidate at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.