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World-View Overview

(updated Autumn 2017)

'The Overview', Part 4 –
  1990s: Then the passive became the activedigital activism as "Frankenstein's hacker"

Things were not going to plan!

The Beeb's early TV work on computer education – The Computer Programme – had presenters in suits playing with spreadsheets and word processors. The overtones were clearly corporate, and the focus was on the role ordinary people had to play in the corporate IT process.

The 'social' use of ICT was never originated from above, as in the case of business-related computing. It was invented from below by hacker-actvists – or hacktivists – over the decade from the late 1980s to the late 1990s.

large hippie image What started to happen at the end of the 80s was that more "creative" types with far less respect for authority – let's call them techo-'anarchists' or 'hippies' – started to use these new technologies to express their own view of the world.

Digital technology and communications networks started to be used for all kinds of activity that their masters had not envisaged.

The technical creation of the scientific and corporate establishment started to be used by lowly, disparate groups to create the same command and control capabilities as multinational organisations; and those in 'control' were not happy (a tendency later to manifest itself in things like The Great Firewall of China, the Echelon system and DRM).

There's a common misconception that 'Frankenstein' was a monster; Frankenstein was the scientist, the monster's name was Adam. And like Frankenstein's 'monster', the name the media gave to this new movement, 'hackers', was also a misnomer.

"Hacker" wasn't a term in widespread use outside of the hacker subculture. Until, that was, the late 1980s, when a progression of factually stretched Hollywood films that referenced a rather narrower definition of the term "hacker" created the popular myth about disaffected youths and computers.

The reality was, and today still is, rather different – and is innately based in certain cultural traits related to society in general. However, out of this swamp of claim and counter-claim people started to realise that beyond the ideological individualism of the US-centric hacker culture lay a possibility of a more collective potential for hacktivism.

Even today that individualism versus collectivism differentiation can still be seems in the fundamental differences between many European- and US-based hacktivist groups.

Who did it first is a moot point; arguably Intervasion and Netstrike were some of the first in 1994 and 1995.

The point at which the concept jumped into the general consciousness was the Zapatista's Net War (see the YouTube videothis has been extracted from a longer documentary called 'Infowar: The Hacktivists' which we'll return to in Part 7).

Then, building on the Zapatista (a.k.a 'Zapatismo') actions through 1997/1998 came the EDT's on-line application, the Zapatista Tactical Floodnet.

What you have to remember was at this time most people were still not aware of "the Net", outside of those questionable TV and Hollywood films. More interestingly, if you put it in the context of the mid-90s, many 'Net users were still using text-based interfaces, especially for email.

What enabled greater participation, both in the on-line world and in on-line social activism, was the development of graphical, WIMP/WYSIWYG web services. This is the reason why, before the world-wide-web took off, on-line activism was not really a viable concept because you simply couldn't gather together enough interested people.

Although the Web idea/system was developed in 1989/90, and released to the world by CERN in 1993, most large organisations didn't start building their 'web presence' until the late 90's (e.g. amongst the UK's major environment groups, Friends of the Earth, RSPB and Greenpeace registered their web addresses in 1994/5, the National Trust in October 1996, but the Green Party and CPRE didn't register its address until 1997!).

So, in the late 1990s, on-line activism was becoming a possibility. At the same time the 'early adopters' of email and Internet communication were spreading there knowledge to enable a whole new generation of campaigners to work collectively within a global or national context. And, at this point in time, what was the first, major global event that brough environment and development issues to the top of the political agenda?

It was the WTO's meeting in Seattle in 1999

Next page: Part 5, 1999: ''Die Electrohippies kommen' – the path to Seattle' »»

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