Melissa Gregg interviews McKenzie Wark in the LA Review of Books on the 10 year anniversary of ‘A Hacker Manifesto.’
“MG: Where does the maker movement fit in relation to hacking’s histories and politics? How do the branded interests served by this trend (e.g. MakeMagazine, 3D printing companies, tech manufacturers) reconfigure the battles for power and property outlined in The Hacker Manifesto?
MW: If we take hacking in the cultural sense to be something that emerges out of MIT and similar environments in the middle of the twentieth century, then there’s a certain poetic logic to reconnecting it to everyday, hobbyist kinds of tinkering, which after all was one of its origin stories — the MIT model railways club. Something of the ethos of hacking as another kind of labor, one with some degrees of freedom, which creates its own internal codes of use value, seems to have leaked out into maker culture. The hacker, whether as a professional coder doing her day job, or running a hackspace on the weekend, is someone who one can imagine as still having some shred of a utopian practice. Being good at making something good, within the limits of time and materials.
But I think what happened in the ten years since I wrote A Hacker Manifestois that we won the battle and lost the war. We won certain affordances for the gift, for social creation, for use value, within the commodification of information. But what I call the vectoral class, the class which owns and controls the mode of information, regrouped around a more abstracted kind of control. So, OK, we can play with our data, but they control the metadata. And it’s based on unequal exchange. We get these little smidgens of data, but we give up more than we get. Surplus data as “business model” rather than surplus value.
MG: This reminds me of an early line from the manifesto: “We do not own what we produce — it owns us.” I think this is the way many people are starting to feel about data. How does the data economy — surely the ultimate form of power enjoyed by the vectoral class today — extend or challenge the model of property in your book?
MW: Yes, people are still not comfortable with the idea that information is now supposed to be somebody else’s private property. We still think of it as a relation, rather than a thing. Those of us who produce it know this from our everyday experience: a fact or a thought or a feeling emerges out of some activity of relation. That it might then become a thing that someone else, who was not even a part of that activity, owns at our expense… we’re not very happy about that.
It’s even more confusing in that for the most part those who end up owning the product of our intellectual efforts are not all that interested in us anyway. The data is of interest in aggregate, or the users are of interest in aggregate. We and our data are owned for the purposes of selling us on to advertisers or other clients who might make use of that aggregate data. People see the “privacy” side, but they are even more disturbed I think by the opposite: the indifference side. Nobody really cares about your weird sex thing on the internet, other than as a way to sell you products related to your weird sex thing.”
via Biella Coleman.