motto lotto

Friday, May 9, 2008

Eternal September and Godwin's Law

I'm going to write a few more posts introducing people to geek culture. Not that I'm an expert on it, but I've been on the net as a technician, sysadmin or programmer consistently since '95.

Usenet predates the Internet and a few of its rules have been adopted for web discussions. Tech people who have been on the net a long time have recognized certain patterns in dialog and interaction on the net. These aren't the types of conversations had by 'sane' people in 'formal' discussion. This is the raw meat of human expression, where desires are allowed to run a bit too wild probably because of an often assumed anonymity. Also in IRC if you can't come up with interesting or relevant rhetoric a lot of hackers would prefer you stay quiet. At some point or another the more adept hackers make their own elite domains where they can quickly get the type of information they need and speak immediately to other experts. Note that for programmers on the net another programmer isn't an 'expert' because of something on paper, it's all about problem solving ability and demonstrating knowledge. A lot can be gleaned from the information sent over the wire and as a culture, hackers have made a few of their own, often unstated, rules. Godwin's Law is an example of one such rule, another that's commonly assumed on link sharing sites these days is that you shouldn't use link sharing sites for self promotion. Collectively I guess these rules are usually called netiquette. More likely though, whoever is in control of some resource, the tech in charge, will have whatever rules he wants and define what is going to happen where. If he makes sane rules, people stick around, if he makes crazy rules, people take off. In that way everything is fairly democratic.

Anyhow, at some point in USENET history (September 1993 supposedly) the people who tried to have some control over this beast they had created realized their method of acculturation was getting shot to hell. It used to be that students got on the net at universities for the first time every September but as the net became ubiquitous, there was no longer one singular timeperiod for "newbies" to arrive. Ever since then the net in some ways is just one big free for all. So those who have been using these networks for quite some time refer to this stage as Eternal September.

The most important thing to remember about hackers on the net is that they are all problem solvers. That's their job and their passion. If you just think on that for a while everything else makes sense (or nonsense, in either case you start to understand).

The average user of the Internet is no longer a hacker (or even a geek probably) but these are still the people shaping the net. (well, even the programmer pool has been diluted as people pursue programming for the money instead of as a peculiar obsessive outgrowth of personality)

I love this portrait of J. Random Hacker.

No comments: