Becky Hogge has published the free book “Barefoot into Cyberspace”. She focusses on the digital counter culture and writes about hackers and visionaries—people who see opportunities of communicating technologies to create a more liberal society. Does the book helps its readers understand the digital counter culture?
The history of hacker culture
The book begins where a lot of hacker stories do: in Berlin—more precisely at the Chaos Communication Congress, organised by the Chaos Computer Club (CCC). The CCC and the history of hacker culture is the first part of Becky Hogge’s book. Readers encounter well-established ideas like “free as in freedom” (loc 200) and learn why freedom is the foundation of the net—as well as why it pays so close attention on any attempts of attacking this freedom.
The author excels in creating empathy for the hacker culture, for example in her treatment of the command line—integral part of a hacker’s life while seeming so cryptic and difficult to understand for many others:
The command line is the best place to see the conversation between man and machine taking place.
Becky Hogge 2011, Barefoot into Cyberspace, loc 151
Therefore, the book is a good introduction to hacker culture. However, you won’t find new insights if you have a basic understanding topic, especially in comparison to Steven Levy’s groundbreaking “Hackers – Heroes of the Computer Revolution“. Luckily, this is not the end of the book.
The WikiLeaks chronicles
Another part of Becky Hogge’s book covers the history of WikiLeaks, one if the younger events in digital history. The author takes a firsthand look at the motivations of the people behind WikiLeaks and asks whether journalism is still in the best position to observe society. She confronts the interviewed persons with critical questions and explains the fast events in several chapters. While doing so, she draws a detailed picture of the fadt events surrounding the whistleblower platform. However, by staying in the journalistic style of reporting and background interviews, this part of the book lacks a bit of profound analysis.
That being said, it still seems to early for a really profound analysis of WikiLeaks, given the confusing and always moving events around the platform. Becky Hogge clearly demonstrates that she is capable of such a profound analysis in the other parts of the book.
Digital politics in the UK
The best chapters are in the middle of the book, discussing central questions of digital politics rarely covered in Germany and explaining interesting ideas.
Her coverage of the situation in Great Britain is impressive. It includes the discussions about the Internet round about the Digital Economy Bill and the No2ID campaign. This is especially interesting for the German reader, because in the UK, the so called left-wing parties were the ones cutting civil rights on the Internet, while in Germany these tend to be the more conservative ones. Therefore, Beggy Hogge explains why digital politics cannot really be situated as either left nor right. She also discusses where the tensions between politics and net culture arise:
Just like Bill Gates, government thinks that web users are not web-creators but web-consumers, and seeks to regulate the web as if it were a service being provided by companies like Google, Yahoo! and Facebook.
Becky Hogge 2011, Barefoot into Cyberspace, loc 1219
Later, Becky Hogge discusses what has become of the hopes of the digital pioneers. The Internet has been regarded as a medium of freedom—and it still is. However, the yearly reports of the Open Net Initiative are more and more pessimistic and talk increasingly of attempts to surveil and control the Internet. The software to do so, often criticized by Western governments, is most often programmed by Western companies. Contradictions like this are interesting topics of discussion.
Interviews with digital residents
In writing the book, the author has conducted an impressive number of interviews with influential people of the digital culture. This gives the reader a firsthand impression of their motivations and anxieties.
An example is Ethan Zuckerman, founder of Global Voices, an international network of citizen journalists. Being an activist for the Internet in Africa, he constantly witnesses the digital divide. He talks about his fear of a “[c]onsolidation in cyberspace“ (loc. 1526), the fact that the Internet is increasingly in the hand of individual companies—a contradiction to the basic idea of a giant, decentralized structure. However, there is a reason for this—simplicity and ease of use. Installing one’s own email server or web hosting takes work and costs money. Even worse is Social Media, being “almost by definition heavily centralised“ (loc. 1551) in order to find one’s friends.
Finally, there is a summary full of resignation: the reality of our net is not what we have hoped for, and freedom is not generated from technology alone:
the web is, ultimately a reflection of its users
Becky Hogge 2011, Barefoot into Cyberspace, loc. 1666
However, in a way, I do see a shimmer of hope in this summary, because people are what people know the most about. There is a lot to do, so let’s keep working.
If you want to get into digital culture with its hopes and realities, you should definitely take a look at “Barefoot into cyberspace”. Especially the middle and later parts offer plenty of ideas to think about. In times of rapid changes, books like this are an invaluable guide, and a good start for an ever growing digital culture reading list.
“Barefoot into Cyberspace“ is available as ebook (epub and PDF) under a Creative Commons BY SA license. Happy reading!