HACKER FOLKLORE ON USENET:                       [line  52]

                by F. Sapienza
                        Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
                        Department of Language, Literature
                                and Communication


  Hacker subculture greatly affects computer mediated communication
  for all users.  With the emergence of hacker influence comes
  increasing interest in the subculture's values, norms, and rules.
  Stories, and especially folk narratives, are often transmitters of
  cultural presumptions.  This essay argues that hacker stories offer
  insight into the subculture, and it examines one hacker folk
  narrative with the goal of learning how hacker identity, conduct,
  and community are contested, negotiated, and reconstituted through


  The modern growth of the Internet, the World Wide Web, and various
  other online computer networks has given the "hacker subculture" an
  unprecedented position of influence over computer mediated
  communication.  Connected to the nerve centers which make the whole
  net "tick," hacker subculture views itself as having tremendous
  control over the enterprise.  As Martin Lea notes, hacker subculture
  "is a community of experts who see themselves at the forefront of
  social as well as technological change.  This perception is strongly
  and repeatedly communicated to one another and largely defines the
  group in contradistinction from the rest of society" (Lea et al,
  1992:93).  No longer limited to clandestine programming circles, the
  influence of hacker norms and values is felt in most every instance
  of interaction with a computer.
                                                            [line 89]
  Recent scholarship has contributed much information about the norms,
  values, politics and morals of this culture (see Turkle, 1984; Levy,
  1984; Perrolle, 1987; Roszak, 1986).  While this research approaches
  the hacker community from psychological, sociocultural and
  historical perspectives, the research does not fully examine hacker
  subculture from rhetorical perspectives.

  One important rhetorical component of any culture is the art of
  storytelling.  Stories function as instruments which organize,
  store, and transmit knowledge of experience.  As Walter Ong states,
  stories make up the bulk of what constitutes knowledge of human

     Human knowledge comes out of time.  Behind even the
     abstractions of science, there lies narrative of the
     observations on the basis of which the abstractions
     have been formulated. . . . All of this is to say that
     knowledge and discourse come out of human experience
     and that the elemental way to process human experience
     verbally is to give an account of it more or less as it
     really comes into being and exists, embedded in the
     flow of time (1982:140).

  Narrative is an essential component of the construction and
  transmission of human knowledge.  Furthermore, narrative plays an
  essential rhetorical role in persuading community members towards
  certain modes of response and action (see Abrahams, 1968; Fisher,
  1989).  For that reason, any full analysis of a culture requires an
  examination of its storytelling practices.
                                                           [line 119]
  The aim of the present work is to enrich present scholarship about
  hacker subculture through analysis of the rhetorical practices of a
  "hacker" folk narrative.  In particular, I will analyze one story
  which appeared on the Usenet newsgroup comp.society.folklore in
  October 1994.  In the words of the group charter,
  Comp.society.folklore is dedicated to the discussion of "computer
  and Internet history and legends, both the truly legendary and
  'urban legend' style legends" (Group Charter, 11/01/1994).  Within
  this group, participants exchange stories, jests, tall tales and
  practical jokes.  These stories typically involve interaction
  between hackers and non-hackers, a situation whose contrasts and
  confrontations bring the hacker identity into sharp focus.  For this
  reason, the stories on this newsgroup are excellent cultural
  artifacts from which to observe this community.  Through an analysis
  of one of these stories, we will gain a better sense of how language
  is valued by this community, of what elements, both formal and
  substantive, are required to construct a hacker story, and of the
  ways hacker identity, ideology and culture are represented and
  reconstructed rhetorically through narrative.


  The stories on comp.society.folklore, as David Sewell argues, serve
  as "vehicles for solidifying the folk culture" of the electronic
  frontier (1992).  They are not poorly written anecdotes; they
  contain a rich diversity of sophisticated narrative devices.  This
  fact reflects considerable rhetorical skill on the part of the
  writers -- a skill not always associated with hackers.  The
  individual who relates the story is a frequent participant on Usenet
  and considers himself a hacker.  In his words, a hacker "is a person
  who likes to get into the trenches, play around and see what they
  can get the computer to do" (Dan Newcombe, personal correspondence,

  This hacker's story falls into a genre that Richard Bauman calls
  "trickster" stories, the kind built on "complex structures"
  involving "information management . . . backstage activity, frame
  manipulation, fabrication, concealment, and differential access to
  information about what is going on" (1986:35).  The following
  discussion of the story will reveal that the trickster story not
  only entertains, but serves as moral discourse for the construction
  of hacker ideals and norms.
                                                           [line 162]
  It is important to note that tricks, pranks and practical jokes have
  a long tradition within hacker subculture.  The _New Hacker's
  Dictionary_ identifies jokes as one of most favored forms of hacker
  humor  (Raymond, 1991:203).  Dubrovsky notes, "Pranks, tricks and
  games are benignly tolerated when not actually encouraged. . . .
  Mild larceny, such as faking accounts, breaking codes, stealing
  time, and copying proprietary software, is admired if not regarded
  explicitly." (Dubrovsky, in Lea et al, 1992:93).  The historical
  origin of these behaviors is quite complex.  In part, it is rooted
  in the hacker ethic "Mistrust Authority -- Promote Decentralization"
  (Levy, 1984:30).  Theodore Roszak states that these ethics have a
  connection with the "guerilla" hacker subculture of the late 1950s
  and 1960s, a group of individuals who harbored "anti-establishment,
  anti- war, pro- freedom, anti- discipline attitudes" (1986:142).
  Roszak credits these guerilla hackers as having most affected the
  political image and direction of the computer (138).

  The hacker subculture's approach toward computer mediated
  communication, and toward Usenet in particular, became the general
  public's perception of the Internet:  It is a non- authoritarian,
  open system available for the free, uncensored exchange of ideas.
  This value is articulated in the hacker dictum: "All information
  should be free" (Levy, 1984:30).  David Sewell outlines the dynamics
  of this norm:

     . . . information (both data and text) should flow
     freely; authority over information systems should be
     decentralized; the aesthetics of programming (or any
     other creation; a poem can be a "good hack") is more
     important than the material uses to which it may be
     put. . . .  The core characteristic of Net governance
     is that conventions and rules emerge from community
     practice and consensus rather than being imposed from
     the top (Sewell, 1992).

  The spread of these norms has generated considerable debate both
  among popular media and legislative institutions.  Recent obscenity
  cases on Usenet fueled the debate over the U.S. Communications
  Decency Act (S 314/HR 1004) in Congress, legislation whose prospect
  has prompted heated discussion on Usenet and a campaign to stop
  passage of the bill (see Campaign notice posted to comp.org.eff,
                                                           [line 205]
  Such heated debate about this issue is not surprising.  Principal
  opposition to regulation comes from a culture which prefers
  "community practice" and "consensus" over hierarchical governance.
  Passage of such legislation is viewed as a major threat to the
  fundamental political philosophy of hacker subculture.  Preference
  for a more horizontal versus vertical form of government also
  explains the importance of enacting tricks in the hacker subculture.
  While they may function to amuse perpetrators at the expense of
  victims, tricks also enforce hacker conduct.  A community governed
  by consensus depends on these tricks and the stories about them not
  just for amusement but for its survival.  The story that follows
  illustrates one narrator's attempt to do just that.


  The story to be analyzed is called  "USENET/Internet Revenge."  It
  emerged in response to the following post which appeared on
  comp.society.folklore in October 1994:

     Strange question, but run with it:  What's the best
     case of someone getting even/exacting revenge on
     someone else for something that happened on the
     Internet, or where the revenge took place over the

     Petty shit like mailbombing someone into oblivion need
     not apply -- I'm curious what stories and accounts of
     truly imaginative revenge you can recall.

  Here is one respondent's revenge story:

     Lets see.  Back in college... (running on a VMS/CMS and
     MUSIC system on an IBM 3090).  There was one kid
     (freshman) who had planted himself in the computer
     center.  He used two terminals and two accounts, one
     for telnet, which he used to connect to Muds, and the
     other for monitoring incoming e-mail, which was a
     tedious job, as he subscribed to both AD&D-L and
     STREK-L.  It wouldn't have bothered a few of us that
     much, but he insisted on using the nice terminals, that
     had some extra keys, extra lines per screen, and did
     graphics (IBM 3179G terminals).                       [line 247]

     Also, the kid never went to classes, so we knew he must
     be failing.  We (being about 3 - 6 people) decided to
     take it upon ourselves to help this kid pass for the
     semester (and get him the hell off the terminals.)
     Here are some of the things that we did that I can

     1. Subscribed his account which he used for MUD's to
     the AD&D, STREK-L, and FREETALK lists, plus a few other
     ones.  We thought it might annoy him out of there...no
     such luck.

     2.  One of us self-proclaimed GPA saviours had access
     to an account that could look up passwords, so she gave
     us his password.  We whipped up a program that looked
     exactly like the CMS Telnet.  It captured his MUD
     characters name and password, sent that information to
     another account for out later viewing, wiped out all
     traces of itself, and caused the terminal to reset
     itself, as if there was a really odd situation.  He
     then logged back in, telneted and all was fine.

     3) Now, armed with this new info, we waited til he left
     for dinner, which gave us a bit of time.  We logged into
     the MUD he used, and had his character go around
     attacking random other players, who would fight back
     and beat the living daylights out of him...or we'd have
     his character "donate" all of his possessions to other
     people.  Anyway, we destroyed his character.

     After he went through the shock of seeing what
     happened, he actually found out who ran the mud, and
     BEGGED them to restore his character, which they did.

     It seems we can not win with him.                     [line 283]

     4) Once again getting into his account, we fixed it
     (using CMS/CP commands) so he couldn't connect to his
     MUD's.  What we did is defined the TAB character [sic]
     to be .   This way, everytime the system sees a . it
     thinks it's a TAB.  This is a major problem for
     entering IP numbers or hostnames, as they translate to
     127001  It would come back saying that
     the address was not found.  He filed a problem report
     on this one.  The sys. admin's response to this report,
     after doing some poking around was : "Works for me...he
     must have pissed someone off on the Internet who has
     cut him off."  Not the most correct, but she didn't
     care if he couldn't get to his precious games.

     Anyway, this brought us to the end of the first
     semester.  He failed out.  He wrote an appeal letter,
     which was accepted, and came back.  Turns out he failed
     all course, except one, which he got a D- in.  He had
     something like a .3 GPA.

     The second semester, we had pretty much given up on
     him, but came up with a few interesting things.

     5) You were not allowed to have food or drinks in the
     computer center.  He always did (can't break from
     mudding to eat/drink, now can we?).  We would send him
     e-mail from some of the student adminstrative accounts
     we had (I worked there, as well as being a student.)
     saying no food or drink allowed.  He would look around
     to see if he could see anyone watching him, but he
     didn't see us (we were good at this.)  He wouldn't
     leave, so we'd send him a second warning, this time
     threatining [sic] to call security.  Sometimes he'd
     stand right outside the door eating.  Once he actually
     threw his food away.

     6) The best thing I remember.  Nature called one night,
     and he had gotten upto take a leak.  It was about 8:30,
     and most people were in class, in dinner, or just plain
     inebriated.  So he would run down the hall to the
     bathroom.  We walked over to his terminal and typed
     'kill guard with sword'.  Now, in MUDs, when you attack
     automatic characters, they, and any other automatiac
     [sic] characters usually attack back - very fierce.
     When he got back, it told him that he had been killed.
     He looked around frantically, and then logged off and
     left (to cry?)  He returned a couple hours later
     though.                                               [line 332]

     A few other odds and ends:
     1) the kid had the palest skin I've ever see
     2) along with the greasiest hair
     3) Once, the power had gone out in a big way (someone
     fell into a transformer or something like that.)
     Anyway, power was out for about 4 hours.  Right after
     it went out, he went running downstairs to where
     operations was, and asked the operations manager if the
     3090 was going to be OK.  When she told me about it, she
     was still laughing.

     Well, that's as best as I can remember.  This was a few
     years ago.

     Hmm...reminds me of a roommate I had once that failed
     out.  Spent most of his time playing nintendo/c-128
     games.  Skipped his Sociology final to solve "Super
     Mario Brothers."  For a 5 page final paper in Creative
     Writing, he wrote a 43-page definition for a
     programming language, which he pretty much copied right
     out of the Turbo Pascal books.

     Boy, does this stuff bring back memories.  Makes me
     wish I was back in school again.
          (Dan Newcombe, posted 10/11/94 comp.society.folklore)


  The narrator's first accomplishment is the construction of his
  "voice" as a legitimate, responsible and trustworthy member of this
  discourse community.  His choice of certain vocabulary words index
  his legitimate standing within the "hacker subculture."  Terms such
  as "IBM 3090," "VM/CMS," "CMS/CP" and "MUSIC," unfamiliar to most
  novice users, are one means by which he constructs his identity as a
  person who knows what he is talking about.  The narrator also
  implements what might be called a looking- back- with- an- air- of-
  nostalgia motif, indicated by  "Let's see . . . Back in college . .
  ." and "Boy, does this stuff bring back memories."  This technique
  is part of a time-honored tradition in hacker subculture.  As
  privileged members of the computer elite, they often wax nostalgic
  about such things as the "old Arpanet days" (posted to
  comp.society.folklore, 10/16/94).  Finally, the narrator adopts the
  "voice" of the person who originally requested the submission of
  stories by dropping subjects from sentences, a device called the
  "pro-drop" parameter (Ferrara et al, 1991:19).  Thus we have
  sentences which begin like, "Subscribed his account..." and "Skipped
  his sociology final..."
                                                          [line 381]
  The borrowing of the requester's voice points out how community
  rules emerge as the result of discursive interaction between
  participants.  When the narrator drops the subject, he adopts what
  he perceives is a legitimate way to articulate this kind of story.
  That legitimacy is reinforced, if not called forth, by the previous
  poster to the newsgroup.  The fluidity of electronic discourse is
  amenable to the kind of rule-sharing that goes on here.  Electronic
  texts emerge as the collective product of the entire discourse
  community rather than of one individual.  As David Sewell points
  out, the development of Usenet stories "resembles the evolution of
  epic in an oral culture: any individual participant is free to
  alter, supplement, or redirect the narrative, but only those
  innovations that are accepted by the community survive" (Sewell,

  Usenet is one arena of computer mediated communication in which this
  kind of participatory process fosters the creation of new texts.
  The proper rules for discursive interaction and, to some extent, the
  direction of a particular narrative, emerge from the more fluid
  aspects of the medium.  The text is not a "closed system" in the
  sense that it alone relates a single-minded authorial voice whose
  meaning is necessarily "immanent" upon its completion.  Rather, as
  Douglas Brent argues, the "sliding together of texts in the
  electronic writing space... [calls for] significantly more effort to
  keep the ownership of the ideas separate" (1991).  The text is owned
  and sanctioned by the community, and the meaning of that text is
  shared as it is reinterpreted and reconstituted.  In this sense, one
  can, as Richard Bauman argues, view "the item of folklore as the
  collective product and possession of society at large, the performer
  ...[in] the role of passive and anonymous mouthpiece or conduit for
  the collective tradition" (1986:8).

  FOLKLORIC NARRATIVE AS MORAL DISCOURSE                  [line 414]

  Let us now turn to a structural analysis of the story.  As mentioned
  earlier, the story falls into a genre of narratives called
  "trickster" stories.  The formal structure of trickster stories is
  comprised of these elements:

     1)  A description of some user who is misusing the
     2)  A description of the backstage machinations of
     constructing the trick(s).
     3)  The implementation of the trick(s).
     4)  Result of the trick(s).
     5)  An "evaluative statement" (Bauman, 1986:35; Labov,

  This story is composed of many shorter trick stories that fit within
  the larger trickster structure.  The description phase occurs in the
  second and third clauses (the "freshman," "planted himself in the
  computer center," etc).  Next comes the description of several
  tricks (subscribing to the multiple lists, resetting the terminal
  and then destroying his character, etc.).  Occasionally, the
  narrator fuses the backstage and implementation elements when the
  trick fails (e.g., "no such luck," "all was fine"), while in the
  more successful tricks, the narrator describes the result in greater
  detail ("BEGGED," filing the report," looking around "frantically").

  Interestingly enough, none of the tricks succeed in getting the
  "kid" "off the terminals," or in helping him to "pass for the
  semester."  Thus the evaluative statements ("It seems we cannot win
  with him," "pretty much given up on him") function not so much to
  glorify the success of the tricksters but rather to heighten the
  impossibility of the task involved.  The story does not diminish the
  effectiveness of the tricks or the craftiness of the tricksters, but
  rather suggests that their ineffectiveness is due more to the
  unusual obsession of the "kid."
                                                          [line 458]
  Indeed, the physical and behavioral labels cast the narrator's
  fellow student as an "Other."  The casting as other is also
  accomplished through paralinguistic means.  The use of brackets to
  distance the "(freshman)" from the narrator is a device that prompts
  readers to recall cultural stereotypes about the ineptitude and
  immaturity of college freshman.  The "freshman" is not equal to the
  narrator and therefore deserves less humane treatment.  The line is
  now drawn between the heroes and villains: The greasy-haired
  pale-skinned computer nerd battles the "self-proclaimed GPA saviors"
  on the battlefield called university computing lab X.

  Casting the "kid" as a "greasy haired" Other is ironic in light of
  the fact that most hackers, as Sherry Turkle's work suggests, are
  conceived as "ugly" men:

     "Dress, personal appearance, personal hygiene, when you
     sleep and when you wake, what you eat, where you live,
     whom you frequent -- there are no rules [for hackers].
     At MIT, that community is known as 'computer hackers.'
     Elsewhere, they are known as 'computer wizards,'
     'computer wheels,' 'computer freaks,' or 'computer
     addicts'" (Turkle, 1984:213).

  Turkle points out that this indexes a greater social narrative which
  identifies the mechanical with ugliness, with the unaesthetic.
  Thus, "In the case of seeing computation as ugly, as perversion, it
  is carried by taking a special community within the computer-science
  world and constructing the image of the 'computer person' around it"
  (1984:200). Turkle notes that at MIT, for instance, this cultural
  narrative is parodied through the yearly ritual of the Ugliest Man
  on Campus Contest.

  The freshman eats, breathes, and lives the computer.  For him, as
  for many hackers, the computer is not just a tool for the
  accomplishment of an end.  The interaction with that tool is the end
  in itself (Turkle, 200).  The "computer hacker" of this story sits
  in contradistinction from the hacker who is narrating the story.
  Like the self-mocking parody instigated by the MIT Ugliest Man
  Contest, this narrative parodies hacker conduct at the risk of
  mocking the hacker narrator himself.  The narrative thus becomes the
  focal point of tension, the battleground on which hacker identity is
  contested, negotiated, and reconstructed.
                                                          [line 493]
  The trickster story also functions rhetorically to convey values
  about conduct.  It conveys these values in part through entertaining
  its audience.  Thus, the playful dimensions of the story are not
  mere embellishments but integral to the success in conveying the
  morals involved.  It is in this sense that folkloric narratives like
  this one can be seen as rhetorical.  As Abrahams notes, the

     "demands a recognition of an intimate sympathetic
     relation between a proposed solution of a recurrent
     societal problem and the movement involved in the
     artistic projection of that problem.  [This linkage is
     made] not at the expense of the play element of
     culture, but rather by insisting on the essential
     utility of the 'playing-out'"  (1968:168).

  Playfulness serves not as an additive but as an essential ingredient
  in the moral import of this passage.  Because of the playful
  portrayal of these problems, and the moral advice proposed through
  their rhetorical enactment, audience members are moved towards
  certain modes of response.


  For the story to be a credible conveyer of its message, its audience
  needs to perceive that the elements and events hang together
  coherently.  To accomplish this, the narrator has to organize and
  present his narrative within a framework of values his audience
  recognizes -- in this case, values regarding the proper rhetorical
  construction of such a narrative.  In other words, the "true" story
  in this case will emerge from the effective mixing of its "play"
  elements and its "literal" elements.  This in turn calls for good
  "performance," a characteristic associated with oral narration but
  relevant to the fluidity of electronic discourse.  Richard Bauman
  explains:  Performance
                                                          [line 529]
     represents a transformation of the basic
     referential... uses of language.  In other words, in
     artistic performance of this kind, there is something
     going on in the communicative interchange which says to
     the auditor, "interpret what I say in some special
     sense; do not take it to mean what the words alone,
     taken literally, would convey."(1977:9)

  Good narratives arise from the effective mixture of aesthetic and
  literal elements, so as to create a coherent and recognizable, and
  thus credible, set of relationships.  But the creation of these
  relationships and the events depicted depends on how well the story
  is performed.  Thus, again, as Bauman states:

     the narrated event, as one dimension of a story's
     meaning, evoked by formal verbal means in the narrative
     text, is in this respect emergent in performance,
     whatever the external status of the narrated event may
     be, whether it in some sense 'actually occurred' or is
     narratively constructed by participants out of cultural
     knowledge of how events are -- or are not, or may be --
     constituted in social life (1986:6).

  The author of this story recognizes the relationship between
  "performing" a good narrative and the actual, "literal" nature of
  the events.  In a private communication, he indicated that he
  shifted events and embellished characters.  He mentioned that the
  kid who got a D- was perhaps his roommate.  Furthermore, the
  freshman had not "BEGGED them to restore his character" but "just
  sent an e-mail."  And for event "3" of his narrative, when the group
  destroyed the freshman's MUD character while he was at dinner, the
  author indicated that the episode might have occurred at a different
  time: "There were various times we were on as his character, so I
  may have something listed here that we did at a later time"
                                                          [line 565]
  Despite these embellishments, the author told me that for the most
  part he considered the events as "true," that he preferred "to
  remain factual about most things" (4/5/95).  His response indicates
  that his narrative, while true "in spirit," is not necessarily an
  absolutely accurate account of the event.  The author felt free to
  shift temporal elements and embellish his descriptions of the "kid."
  These choices were intended to enhance the aesthetic value of the
  work; they recognize that the "truth" is a function of the interplay
  of aesthetic and literal elements.  A "new" event was reorganized by
  and emerged from the performance of the narrative, and it then
  became the "true" event.

  The credibility of the events in the narrative affects its
  rhetorical effectiveness.  For instance, if audience members are to
  properly place the "freshman" as the villain and the "GPA saviors"
  as the heroes, events must hang together in a recognizable, coherent
  way.  This is because the primary aim of the story is to present an
  allegorical problem situation that calls forth "sympathetic" -- to
  borrow Abraham's term -- responses from the audience, not to
  didactically prescribe a set of behaviors.  When it is easy to
  recognize and associate itself with the story's principal characters
  and events, the audience is likely to accept and adopt the conduct
  that the story validates.


  A buried irony in this story is that the tricks are viewed
  positively even though they did not succeed.  The narrator told me
  in a private e-mail message that the purpose of the tricks was "one
  of saving this kid."  The "save" motive raises an important issue
  with respect to hacker tricks.  Earlier, I mentioned that tricks are
  traditionally regarded as important cultural artifacts of hacker
  subculture.  But such tricks have been identified as "adolescent"
  and linked to forms of antinormative conduct ranging from flaming
  (Lea et al, 1992:93) to computer crime (Perrolle, 1987:97; Stoll,

  But the association with criminal and antinormative conduct does not
  sit well with most hackers.  Those interviewed by Sherry Turkle
  expressed dismay "that their vocation has been tainted with the
  image of 'computer crime'" (Turkle, 1984:233).  The author of the
  narrative we are considering bristles at the association of
  criminality with hacking:
                                                          [line 609]
     The media seems to think that a hacker is someone who
     steals creditc [sic] cards, breaks into computers,
     etc...  I guess in a sense that is hacking as it is
     pushing the limits of what can be done, but personally
     I tend to think of them as assholes.  Hacking should be
     non-destructive, except perhaps to your own stuff (ie.
     you shouldn't cancel someones [sic] credit cards just
     to see if you could do it, but if you happen to fry you
     [sic] video card while playing around, that really
     doesn't hurt anyone else (Dan Newcombe, personal
     correspondence, 4/5/95).

  This declaration strongly implies that hackers by and large are
  aware of and able to function within accepted social boundaries.
  But inside their own, smaller community they want to enforce their
  own norms by their own methods -- including the kinds of
  "tricks" narrated above.

  I have already discussed the linkage to guerilla hacker norms
  informed by the anti- establishment atmosphere of the 1960s.  Other
  relatively "horizontal" organizing constructs include Usenet and the
  Unix operating system.  Usenet was created to let the developers of
  Unix share programming ideas, problems, and solutions.  Both Usenet
  and Unix were to serve as environments "around which a fellowship
  could form" (Unsworth, 1995:6).

  The desire for fellowship mirrors the technical organization of the
  Unix system itself.  Unix does not need rigid, hierarchical
  operating structures like those found in the MS-DOS system.  It is
  much more "open," permitting users a wide range of alternatives for
  modification and customization of the operating environment.  As one
  of the original developers of Unix noted, Unix grew from the ground
  up rather than "by some major management figure sitting at his desk"
  (Unsworth 1995:5).
                                                          [line 644]
  The absence of hierarchical rigidity is clearly a valued
  characteristic of hacker subculture.  And flexible, "horizontal"
  social organization requires a set of self- governed procedures for
  policing improper hacker behavior.  Such procedures are illustrated
  in the Hacker Narrative.  Casting the freshman as an Other indicates
  that he is the transgressor of proper computer behavior, and that
  the narrator is justified in trying to "save" him.  Moving the
  transgressor outside the sphere of hacker fellowship is the
  equivalent of putting the dunce cap on him and sending him to the
  front of the room.  He is placed in a "liminal" -- an in-between --
  state, separated from the good hackers (i.e., the GPA-saviors).
  Because he is no longer a fellow hacker colleague, tricking him with
  the hope of "reaggregating" him into normal hacker conduct is
  appropriate behavior.  (The terms "liminal" and "reaggregating" are
  borrowed from Victor Turner's _The Ritual Process_ (1969).)

  Coming to the defense of these pranks implies awareness that they
  might be perceived by outsiders as wrong, even though the hacker
  subculture may be tolerant of them.  The trickster element of hacker
  subculture must be understood in terms of the sociocultural need to
  preserve their community.  The stories about such tricks, with their
  implications about who is Out and whose behavior deserves applause,
  are a gentle but powerful part of the "enforcement" structure of the
  "horizontal" hacker subculture.

  The fact that the story is narrated within a kind of "playground"
  frame of language (delimited by the "USENET/Revenge" thread) further
  suggests that the narrator and audience recognize that such trickery
  is appropriate only in certain special contexts.  But if someone
  violates the context, then, Who knows? -- perhaps that person too
  will become the next Outsider in a USENET/Revenge narrative.

  CONCLUSION                                              [line 677]

  This paper argues that stories like the Hacker Narrative are
  essential artifacts for examining the hacker subculture.  Through
  examination of these stories, one comes to a fuller understanding of
  how hacker identity, conduct, and community are contested,
  negotiated, and reconstituted.  Such understanding is important
  because the hacker subculture greatly affects network environments
  for all of us, not just hackers.  Even though there has been much
  attention to the psychological and historical dimensions of hacker
  subculture, there is a need for more analysis of the linguistic
  norms of this culture, and especially its storytelling.

  This particular narrative shows that "pranks" need to be understood
  within the larger sociocultural ethos of proper computer-using
  behavior, as defined by the hacker subculture.  Rather than as
  immature jokesters, the "guardians of the enterprise" see themselves
  as members of a horizontally governed community and therefore both
  responsible and authorized to correct misbehavior.  In this sense,
  the story's "mild larceny" is far from illegal within the hacker
  subculture.  Such trickery, and the stories about it, are necessary
  for its survival.


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                  F. Sapienza
                        Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
                        Department of Language, Literature
                                and Communication
                        [sapief@rpi.edu]                  [line 789]


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