At the beginning of this project I felt that it would be difficult to talk about hackers, because the lack of a consistent “face” and their predisposition towards secrecy over the internet would make it difficult to create an “image” of what hackers were. But with more research, I realized that the media creates the medium which the image of the hacker is created. Works such as film and articles that use the hacker as a character become valuable sources in tracing the changes in what the public thinks about hackers.
It was through media that the public was introduced to the hacker subculture community, where in the 1980s the film War Games features a young hacker played by Matthew Broderick, and his actions unwittingly create as a dangerous situation with the government’s weapons system. The hacker in this film is the first major attempt of creating an image of a hacker, and it reflects public sentiment on what role hackers played in the emerging field of computer programming.
With advancements in computer and information technology, the part hackers played in this field expanded, along with changes in how the public views them. These changes in public opinion on the importance of information would be reflected in the depiction of hackers. In the 1980s the hacker was seen as a free spirit, championing free information while blazing new trails in an expanding internet/computer frontier. But in the 1990s, increasing fears on the damage hackers were capable of would change the hacker character into a more sinister figure, a mercenary working for self interest. The hacker image would shift into a middle road from 2000 into the present, a more diverse group with figures representing both ends of positive and negative portrayals of hacker intentions.
In only a short period of 30 years between 1980 and the present, the image of the hacker has come through numerous changes, reflecting the thoughts and perceptions of the public regarding information technology. Even at the end of this project, I feel that I’ve only scratched the surface of a group that surprisingly is deeper than the initial images they project.