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An Incomplete List of Things That Are Not Actually “Hacking”

Let's wordhack this problem before it's too late.
December 20, 2013, 2:20pm

So, how's your hacking going today? Pretty good? Really slam dunked that upload, eh? Aces, champ. I'm happy for you.

I'm not, however, happy about the course of the word "hack." Near as I can tell it used to have something to do with breaking into a computer system and doing cool or at least meaningful stuff. You know, Swordfishing. While I believe there are people in the world that do that very thing, the word has totally evaporated from their cool or at least meaningful activities. So, I have made this list of things that should never be used in conjunction with "hacking" again and, if we're lucky, in another decade we might be able to again retain the word for functional purposes.

Not hacking/

Body Modification

The act of hacking is not required to implant something pointless into your body, nor is it required to accidentally self-administer an MSRA infection. In fact, one might bloodhack themselves either that potentially lethal infection or hepatitis C or good ol’ HIV much easier and at least get a high out of it.

Not hacking/Perry McKenna

Genetic Modification

Modifying the genes of humans or corn is not hacking because within those very genes, hacking is just the way of life. It's how life gets from A to B. Genes don’t really have security features to begin with and, in fact, welcome mutation and recombination because those are the things that new life and evolution (better life) depend upon. It’s like, I just hacked my truck by putting gas in it. Crazy, right? There’s a thing  found all over in nature called RNAi, or post transcriptional gene silencing, a process by which portions of genes are muted to varying effects. Notably RNAi is part of how your immune system learns to fight viruses. Like evolution itself, generally, genes "hack" themselves.

Being Clever At Things

Serious people have been known to call this “lifehacking.” Generally, the definition reduces to doing stuff that might possibly appear to at least one observer to be neat or clever or smarter than the average bear. In the real world this is not only a very stupid thing to call anything, but has a go figure association with privilege. A friend just “facehacked” this post at me by Jen Dziura: “When ‘Life Hacking’ Is Really White Privilege.” Turns out the ability to break the various rules of day to day life is not actually a talent, nor is it a thing that applies equally or even kinda/sorta equally to all.

Not hacking/Wikipedia


This one is hard. I totally understand the impulse to call this hacking, the prying into and tweaking some well-developed system, whether it’s the global climate or the dissolved nutrients in a pond. But since when is hacking rebuilding or building something, or even additive at all? If you disregard green and/or religious ideologies about “naturalness,” geoengineering looks quite a bit more like fixing or just out and out building something new that takes advantage of some natural cycle.

I understand the always-lurking argument what about the LONG TERM? that comes with the manipulation of what a certain crowd likes to imagine is a perfect and harmonious natural system, rather than the “good enough” of reality. I think hacking here has to involve design, and there is no design in nature. Evolution is not design, and god is dead. Let’s get over both of those notions already.

One more point: Putting engineers at the level of hackers is infuriating. I realize that there are super-high level hackers that are coming up with ways to destroy nuclear power plants with software, but the thing is that those people aren’t actually hackers. They’re software/systems engineers. What gets called hacking today—dumping and DDoSing—feels more like software engineering cargo cultism rather than a realm where way cool things are possible or even being realized.

Not hacking/Wikipedia

Anything with the Human Brain

If there is one realm in science where you are being lied to the most indiscriminately, it is the study of the brain. The myth that somewhere in the near future brains will merge with computers is promoted by no less than Google via its ad campaign head engineer Ray Kurzweil. The idea is that we will be able to look at the brain at the level of single neurons, just like wires in a machine, and at that fine of resolution we will be able to recreate or manipulate or steal information from the brain at a high enough resolution that scientists will be able to mirror actual thoughts. Good luck with that.

The current best resolution of magnetoencephalography is several thousand neurons across. At this stage in the game, we’re able to see the various computers that make up the brain, but we have little to no information about what happens inside of them. Please be aware that when you see someone in an article somewhere appearing to drive or control something with their brain, they’re pretty much stuck just turning it left or right because we know just enough general information about the brain’s left and right orientations to make that happen. Just this past summer, researchers were finally able to add “up” and “down” to the neurohacking repertoire.

Not hacking/Wikipedia

Uploading Data to the Internet

In my travels, it is very common for people like Julian Assange and Edward Snowden to be labeled hackers or some variation. While Snowden did go to some hacking course in India and President Obama called him a hacker one time, the act of republishing information that has been provided to you or that you have access to or even that you stole through hacking, this is not hacking. It is publishing shit on the internet.