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Anthropologist Spends Three Years Living With Hackers 252

Posted by samzenpus
from the going-native dept.
concealment writes "Coleman, an anthropologist who teaches at McGill University, spent three years studying the community that builds the Debian GNU/Linux open source operating system and hackers in the Bay Area. More recently, she's been peeling away the onion that is the Anonymous movement, a group that hacks as a means of protest — and mischief. When she moved to San Francisco, she volunteered with the Electronic Frontier Foundation — she believed, correctly, that having an eff.org address would make people more willing to talk to her — and started making the scene. She talked free software over Chinese food at the Bay Area Linux User Group's monthly meetings upstairs at San Francisco's Four Seas Restaurant. She marched with geeks demanding the release of Adobe eBooks hacker Dmitry Sklyarov. She learned the culture inside-out."
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Anthropologist Spends Three Years Living With Hackers

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  • Great (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    That's awesome. Welcome to the internet. Guess Coleman will talk about how he discovered Reddit in his next article!

    • >he discovered Reddit in his next article!

      she

      ftfy
      • Re:Great (Score:4, Funny)

        by davydagger (2566757) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @10:19PM (#42125825)
        this is the internet

        there are no girls

        you need to give up your ovarys when you login
      • Re:Great (Score:4, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @10:24PM (#42125865)

        She must have a respectable beard by now, after living with hackers for three years. Confusing her with a guy is to be expected. Be careful not to confuse free software with open source near her if you want to keep your fingers.

    • by MacDork (560499)
      She
    • by fotoguzzi (230256)
      Was the Skylarov marching at the beginning or end of her three-year stint?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @10:10PM (#42125753)

    will be studying the grooming habits of Orthodox Stallmanites

  • i hope.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by fliptout (9217) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @10:16PM (#42125797) Homepage

    ..she was not burnt by the hot grits.

  • Ask Slashdot (Score:4, Insightful)

    by oldhack (1037484) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @10:17PM (#42125813)
    Did I just get old? Or did slashdot really gone down the toilet? Both?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If you hadn't come accross it yet, check out http://news.ycombinator.com/ It has similar content to slashdot but the quality of discussion is generally much better these days.

    • Re:Ask Slashdot (Score:5, Insightful)

      by blahplusplus (757119) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @10:53PM (#42126075)

      "Did I just get old? Or did slashdot really gone down the toilet? Both?"

      Generational turn-over. New teens/young adults replace older people with more knowldge = slashdot turns to shit. Welcome to getting older. As you get older you get more knowledge and young people have less life experience/knowledge and hence you have cycles and peaks of greatness and mediocrity. It doesn't help that the net has become so mainstream and children of the next generation know how to use the web so you get morons of all intelligence levels everywhere now. Where as the nerds used to congregate around their favorite sites and not have to worry too much about the IQ level of the readers this is no longer true. The internet is essentially TV now.

      • Re:Ask Slashdot (Score:5, Insightful)

        by gagol (583737) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @11:48PM (#42126399)
        Or maybe, as we all get older and wisdomful, the relative quality of Slashdot seems to go down. We have a chance here to educate the next generation of nerds, let's do it!
      • Re:Ask Slashdot (Score:5, Insightful)

        by TapeCutter (624760) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @11:59PM (#42126463) Journal

        New teens/young adults replace older people with more knowldge = slashdot turns to shit. Welcome to getting older.

        Slashdot has always been full of shit, getting older just means you can recognise it a lot faster.

        • Re:Ask Slashdot (Score:5, Insightful)

          by blahplusplus (757119) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @12:40AM (#42126629)

          "Slashdot has always been full of shit, getting older just means you can recognise it a lot faster."

          Not quite, I can look at trends in the younger generation that worship Steam and DRM where-as most of the olderschool PC gamers during the 90's detest DRM. Earlier this decade if you made pro-steam worshiping DRM statements you'd be downvoted to oblivion. Now with younger mods/steam fans you see many mods give +5 insightful to more and more glowing comments on Steam DRM. This is a generational transformation and you see it in the modding trends of what gets modded up/down or just left alone/ignored.

          Now this doesn't mean all young adults/teens/kids like DRM it just means kids tend to accept what they grow up with and don't question what has always been there. Think about the differences of growing up on command line operating systems like DOS vs say windows xp or windows 7 with fully functional web browsers plus easy-mode steamstore. Huge difference. Night and day kind of difference.

          Kids/teens don't know what has been lost/don't care. People who grew up during the earlier gaming (pre online only games) era are hugely disappointed by the downright criminal changes in the industry because they WATCHED the industry grow from when it was tiny so they have superior understanding and perspective. They were there during game-modding golden years of Quake/duke/doom/etc that has been smothered (Supcom 2 was locked down and made difficult to mod at publisher request). Games like diablo 3 and Starcraft 2 have been increasingly fucked with because of publishers greed.

          Not only that, kids are ripe for corporate PR manipulation. Just see this article here where the talk about 'engineering' psychological changes via PR campaigns for the acceptance of F2P / online DRM.

          Quote:"But the most important aspect is there is a psychological transformation of the customers and the publishers that has to happen before everything is F2P on every platform. We are promoting these steps with other titles we're doing right now in our company."

          http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2012-11-12-ditching-far-cry-piracy-gameplay-and-just-about-breaking-even-crytek-on-the-ups-and-downs-of-the-crysis-series [eurogamer.net]

          • Now this doesn't mean all young adults/teens/kids like DRM it just means kids tend to accept what they grow up with and don't question what has always been there.

            I disagree with your premise that people accept what they grow up with. Do not get me wrong, I am sure there is some level of acceptance for things that do not become an issue for a person; however, let me illustrate:

            I bought a game called Armour Geddon published by Psygnosis for my Commodore Amiga. I was playing the game when suddenly the entire screen went black and had flashing red text saying something about a Guru Meditation Mode.

            Now, this was the first "modern" computer that I had bought and to be qui

          • Re:Ask Slashdot (Score:5, Insightful)

            by gman003 (1693318) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @11:56AM (#42130361)

            As a member of the "Steam-worshipping younger generation", I feel I should explain my position. A lot of what you say is right. But there are a few points you get wrong.

            I don't love Steam because it's DRM. I love it despite the DRM it contains.

            You see, I still view DRM as an evil. However, it is not an intolerable one, nor is it a philosophical one. It is, perhaps, a necessary one. As a thought experiment, suppose there is some perfect DRM system - it always stops the software from being used by non-paying customers, and always allows paying ones to use it, regardless of internet connectivity, system profile, phase of the moon, etc. Don't ask how it works - it's magic or something. But it always lets the right people use it, and always stops the wrong ones. I, and most of "my generation", would not object to it. The developer does have a reasonable expectation that they will profit from their work, which DRM can help to protect.

            DRM does two things - it reduces the number of non-paying users, and it drives away otherwise-paying customers due to the inconvenience of it. The "perfect DRM" I posited reaches the limits of those numbers - non-paying users are reduced to zero, and the only people it drives away are those with a deep philosophical opposition to DRM (who are, I think, a relative minority). Actual DRM systems perform worse than the ideal, of course. Some, in fact, drive away more paying customers than non-paying, and ultimately cause a profit loss, not gain.

            Steam is one of the better ones. You can view it as a compromise between two positions. On the one hand, you have the publishers, who want maximum control over their product, as a corollary to their desire for maximum profit. On the other hand, you have the customers, who want maximum convenience. Steam provides significantly less restriction than many publishers would like - it does not encrypt things, it allows offline play, and it is easily broken. Many publishers supplement it with additional DRM, like SecuROM or GFWL (which are, in fact, noted on the store page), because they don't think it goes far enough. On the other side, Steam DRM is significantly more convenient than any other system I have seen. And Steam also offers significantly more features than a standard DRM system, enough that I would argue that the DRM is just one component of the system.

            Steam is fundamentally a content distribution system - the goal is to put software in the hands of as many paying customers as possible. The DRM is secondary to that - it's enough to discourage casual piracy, but anyone who really wants to not pay for their games can bypass it. Rather easily, even - there are fake version of the Steam authentication servers that simply authorizes you for every game, so if you can get the files, you can run the game. If Steam is ever shut down for any reason (and Valve doesn't follow through on their promise to release a DRM-removal tool themselves), I fully plan to use such a server.

            For me, Steam is about at the limit of how "inconvenient" DRM can be before I stop using it. In fact, when combined with some other DRM, I refuse to use it. I try to avoid stuff that uses GFWL unless it's a really good game, and I've been avoiding EA (and Bioware in particular) due to their DRM constantly fucking up.

            I don't use any other similar services, simply because all but one of them contain more DRM than I will tolerate. The only other one I would consider is GOG, but I simply haven't had a reason to buy anything from them yet.

            "Your" generation seems to have refused to compromise, on both sides of the DRM fight. "My" generation is willing to compromise, generally as long as it is an actual compromise, where both sides give up some things in order to get others.

            PS: I also think you're being a bit factually inaccurate when you said that old games didn't have DRM. They most certainly did. I remember not being able to install Warcraft II off a copied disc - it has to be installed from an original, although a copy will w

      • by antdude (79039)

        "Get off my lawn!"

    • by SEE (7681)

      Hmm? This is not nearly as bad as Jon Katz's shit was.

  • by Black Parrot (19622) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @10:18PM (#42125819)

    Hack Like Me [wikipedia.org]

  • first (Score:3, Funny)

    by circletimessquare (444983) <<circletimessquare> <at> <gmail.com>> on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @10:20PM (#42125837) Homepage Journal

    she had to singe and destroy her olfactory nerves

    thus rendered dead to the sense of smell, she was able to continue to function while embedded in the community

    • by c0lo (1497653)

      she had to singe and destroy her olfactory nerves

      thus rendered dead to the sense of smell, she was able to continue to function while embedded in the community

      All good and dandy, but... is she married?

      (grin)

  • by Drakonblayde (871676) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @10:27PM (#42125889)

    Sure, it's a fluff piece.

    The author is trying to sell some books.

    There's nothing wrong with that. If you're part of the culture, I'm sure it seems like a waste of time.

    I don't see a problem with trying to raise awareness of the community, and maybe correct some flawed stereotypes. I don't see why the community wouldn't want their story told.

    • by berashith (222128) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @10:28PM (#42125901)

      because up until this book, the stereotype of fat, smelly, and living in mom's basement has only been rumor.

    • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @10:59PM (#42126099) Homepage Journal

      Having it told right would be good. The community and the world do not need another book talking about hackers's enthusiasm for a text editor called 'Emax" [sic].

      • by Nerdfest (867930)

        You just gave me an incredible idea. I am naming my first male child "Emax". He probably won't get along that well with his sister "Violet" though.

    • by zazenation (1060442) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @02:08AM (#42126945)

      What's not to be cynical about?

      " ... I was blown away by how culturally deep it was."

      Sure. Correct the flawed stereotypes with more subjective flawed stereotypes by a naive observer.

      She was correcting her engrained 'Revenge of the Nerds' stereotype of hackers with an equally arrogant attitude, similar to those of parents who visit a zoo, point to the gorillas and say to their children -- "Hey little Johnny, look at the big monkeys! (while tapping the glass under the sign that says DON"T TAP ON GLASS) Look, at those hands and fingers -- They're just like ours!" -- concluding with huge collective swigs from their BIG GULP clones.

      She seems to be aiming to take the logical, thoughtful, democratic behavior hackers exhibit -- which should be the vanguard for all human interaction -- and bending it into an amusing sidebar for WIRED as to the hackers "unusual" habits. All for a chance to get her name in print for some future book jacket blurb regarding "... her insightful and seminal work as she risked her name, sanity and possibly even her life as she descend into the seamy hacker underworld to collect research data..."

      This is all much like the gorilla inwardly cringing whenever he's called a monkey.

      YMMV

  • She??? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @10:37PM (#42125961)

    You introduced a female into a development group? No wonder Debian didn't get anything done for the past couple of years.

  • Movie? (Score:5, Funny)

    by snspdaarf (1314399) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @10:43PM (#42125997)
    "Hackers in the Mist"
  • Researcher spends three years in living in a basement
  • Anybody seen her in their basement?

  • timeline (Score:5, Funny)

    by bobstreo (1320787) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @10:56PM (#42126085)

    Day 1. OMFG, the smell.
    Day 2. I don't know how long I can live on Doritos and Mountain Dew.
    Day 3. I think I've made contact, they keep saying Boobs or GTFO.
    Year 3. I'm done, going to the spa.

    • Re:timeline (Score:5, Funny)

      by DaveAtFraud (460127) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @01:21AM (#42126791) Homepage Journal

      I figure that she drew the short straw. The other anthropologists got to go live with various aboriginal tribes, live in mud huts or tents, risk various tropical diseases, eat bugs and/or various animal parts not usually considered as edible in the west, whitness cruel ritual sacrifices, not bathe for weeks on end, live without almost any technology or modern convenience, etc. And she got the short straw. Poor girl. I hope she recovers.

      Cheers,
      Dave

  • Not to offend, but was there any insight to this article? So and so did this is more of a twitter comment than an article on slashdot. What did this anthropologist learn from their experience? Anything would really help here.
    • Re:the point? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by AHuxley (892839) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @12:17AM (#42126525) Homepage Journal
      The term "anthropologist" and its modern context and funding in the USA can be very interesting.
      Terms like "Human Terrain program" should offer some counterinsurgency warfare insight vs the projected "global humanitarians".
      http://thebulletin.org/web-edition/columnists/hugh-gusterson/the-us-militarys-quest-to-weaponize-culture [thebulletin.org]
      The "deep hanging out" "earning their trust" "getting them to tell us about their worlds" are the classic opening moves.
      David Price has a good book on this called Weaponizing Anthropology: Social Science in the Service of the Militarized State that might help.
      What was once seen as college hacking, computer games, a better door lock, old movie quotes, 6 years of French and an interest in Lua, a better wheelchair interface, faster servers, community wifi, crypto is now seen by many in the US military as a new front on an internal political battlefield, - great for funding, contractors and advancement.
      First you get the funding for understanding. After understanding comes influtration.
      Another aspect to understanding is for internal testing. You do not want your next young crypto expert back home or in the field to ever have doubts no matter the material they are exposed to.
      You want to keep your geeks happy and enjoying a living wage. Cash or an understanding of humanity from foreign embassies might fill the void in their lives wrt contractors pay or one too many night raids.
      It took some time for the UK and US to understand their staff and just how and why they got turned.
      • Re:the point? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by t4ng* (1092951) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @03:42AM (#42127309)

        *THIS* exactly.

        As several anthropology professors told me, there are really only two kinds of jobs left in anthropology, teaching and working for the CIA. When an anthropologist starts studying your community, you know you are in for some deep shit! She's clearly a fuckin' spook!

        • by microTodd (240390)

          Well, maybe, except that the second sentence in the article states she's the OTHER kind of anthropologist that you mentioned.

          "Coleman, an anthropologist who teaches at McGill University"

  • by wrencherd (865833) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @11:11PM (#42126185)
    Why didn't Wired ask her how she paid to live for 3 years in one of the most expensive cities in the world?

    Seriously, I'd like to know.

    None of the guidebooks I've ever read say anything about how getting an eff.org email address is a substitute for avg. $2K@month in rent. (Highest in the USA.) [huffingtonpost.com]
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DaveAtFraud (460127)

      Why didn't Wired ask her how she paid to live for 3 years in one of the most expensive cities in the world?

      Seriously, I'd like to know.

      None of the guidebooks I've ever read say anything about how getting an eff.org email address is a substitute for avg. $2K@month in rent. (Highest in the USA.) [huffingtonpost.com]

      Easy. Governent grant. Yours and my tax dollars at work. Think about this next April 15th.

      Cheers,
      Dave

  • by flyingfsck (986395) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @11:12PM (#42126199)
    So a groupie is now called an anthropologist.
    • Re:Geek Groupie (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Grayhand (2610049) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @11:55PM (#42126431)

      So a groupie is now called an anthropologist.

      She learned their language. Learned how to dress like them and ate the same foods they ate. She also studied their history and daily lives. So what's the difference, they don't live in grass huts and they tattoo themselves with Linux Penguins? If it's properly documented it's a legitimate study. Anthropologists have studied subcultures for decades. It's generally referred to as Cultural Anthropology.

  • Hackers? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Shavano (2541114)

    I just want to say I'm deeply disturbed by the article using the same word (hackers) to refer to Linux developers and Anonymous.

    • She noticed the difference, and invented a term for it. She seems to have divided the world into open source hackers, and transgressive hackers. Transgressive hackers are the ones she describes as being "like Infosec." She also noticed that there is some kind of 'hardware explosion' going on.
  • she's hot (Score:4, Funny)

    by RedHackTea (2779623) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @11:29PM (#42126287)
    I could easily be tricked into having her stay with me for weeks. I just don't know if she'd get along with my mom.
  • Shows one thing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shavano (2541114) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @11:33PM (#42126333)
    I think the comments here show something clearly:
    While some antropologists may be interested in understanding hacker culture, the interest is not reciprocal.
  • The last I checked, which admittedly was when I graduated half a decade ago, anthropology was about observation. A certain amount of contact and interaction is of course necessary, but immersion (and marching as a sociopolitical gesture is certainly a sign of cultural immersion) is an obvious indication that the anthropologist has become a participant and not an observer and can no longer be considered unbiased.
  • What puts me off (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bytesex (112972) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @01:34AM (#42126835) Homepage

    She uses 'I was like', 'they were like' an awful lot. That, to me, is not the sign of an intelligent person.

    • Re:What puts me off (Score:4, Informative)

      by Sipper (462582) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @12:41PM (#42131003)

      She uses 'I was like', 'they were like' an awful lot. That, to me, is not the sign of an intelligent person.

      She speaks informally, but I don't think that denotes anything about her intelligence.

      I've met her in person; she's previously spoken about Debian at NYLUG and spoke during DebConf10. During her speeches at DebConf10 she used a bunch of 'lolcats' pictures in the slides; it wasn't just to be cute, it was for effect and to hold everybody's attention, and it worked. I believe this is a matter of choosing her presentation and her words to fit her audience.

  • by Aryeh Goretsky (129230) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @01:36AM (#42126843) Homepage
    Hello,

    This seems similar in nature to the work Dr. Sarah Gordon [wikipedia.org] did while speaking with and investigating computer virus writers back in the 1990s. Unlike Coleman, though, Gordon seems to have focused more on criminal hackers. Very interesting reading.

    Regards,

    Aryeh Goretsky
  • by SilverJets (131916) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @11:10AM (#42129819) Homepage

    Zero Cool? Acid Burn? Cereal Killer?

    Maybe she got to hack The Gibson.

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