The term “hacker” has morphed in meaning over the years. It started off as a way to describe folks trying to circumvent computer security (and it still is), then it became more of a pop-culture reference to web developers in general (still is), and today a term that’s frequently appending other types of specialties and industies.
Exploring and debating the “value” of these emerging subcultures is fascinating, and I’d like to throw a new fork into this discusion: The non-technical hacker.
Now I know there are folks who will scoff at this idea, but hear me out.
If you take away the literal tools a hacker has historically used, ultimately this person is “someone who enjoys exploring the limits of what is possible.” To me, that means using any kind of tool in ways they weren’t originally intended. Which also means then that scientists, artists, and essentially any creative person, is a hacker.
While the internet is obviously technical, I believe there’s a perception that there are two types of users out there. Technical people who know how to augment and create their own internet experience through coding, and the rest of us who use the creations that others have coded. You can read a bit more about this in an earlier post I wrote.
I see non-technical hacking as the grey area in between, and it’s a growing group of people from my perspective. They’re the ones who perhaps understand the basics of html, use browser extensions, and use the latest web applications, but it’s much more than that. I think the essence of this type of person is someone who can find existing hacks and leverage them in new ways to change or create how people behave online. This might manifest in the form of using a social network for an unintended purpose, crowdsourcing a product, or even something as simple as weaving together a clever IFTTT formula. I respect this kind of combinatorial creativity on the web, and I encourage readers of this blog to explore how their own web habits can be hacked to produce new open-source tools and ideas for others without ever writing a line of code. Perhaps such a task is even MORE challenging than coding because of how limiting it can be.
Personally, I have a huge respect for technical hackers and I’ve been trying very hard to teach myself Ruby for the last few weeks. While this process will likely continue to be slow for me, the logic and creative process I’ve developed from trying to stitch together other people’s creations has been incredibly valuable. If I’m ever able to achieve my goal of being able to manage machines (thanks Sean Devine for that thinking) I know that I’ll be thankful for the effort I placed on expanding the grey area of non-technical hacking. There are plenty of people out there who understand the mechanics of telling machines what to do, but being able to think of new tasks for our silicon-based friends is something that (even from my non-technical viewpoint), is quite rare.
Kudos to the hackers out there, whatever their choice of tools may be. If you would like to keep tabs on my non-technical hacking discoveries, follow me on Kippt.