I always loved a good hack. No – not the “break into computer systems” sort of vandalism, but the clever, playful pranks that smart people will go to great lengths to carry out; pranks that twist our reality or make us see things we didn’t see before. And, not the least, pranks that cleverly break the rules to remind us that the world is a playground.
Ages ago – when I started hacking software and later joined the evolving net – there was a lot of that playfulness and cleverness about in those communities. That was a large part of what attracted me to USENET and other forerunners for what we today know as social networks or social media. And it is fitting, because hacks are first and foremost social – they work by hacking the way people see and understand the world and behave accordingly. By playing on the human tendency to be a little too serious.
The Internet was from the start a wonderful media for that sort of thing – and happily it still is. I was reminded of that today by this xkcd comic. As explained by BBC, it plays wonderfully on both language, wikipedia, and the social mechanisms that govern how wikipedia work. It is at the same time a clever language hack and a brilliant social media hack. And as all good hacks, it has spawned both reactions and controversy. Being perfectly self-referential only make it better.
It makes me smile that things like that are still done, that people still create clever hacks, and that people are finding new ways to hack the new media – by taking advantage of the fact that it’s the same old human nature behind it all.