Reviewer: Katarina Glantz
This is a well-written article that demonstrates a good sense of disposition which ensures a clear line of argumentation throughout the article. The aim of the text is to show that there has been a popularization of the discourse of hacking practices through blogs and popular magazines towards a consumerist mode of conveying information. I think you succeed in this aim, using the case study of MacBook Nano hackintosh, and that your choice of sources texts and theoretical basis in Practice Theory are well motivated. Only a few errata were present, which I have listed toward the very end. Like always there is room for improvement, so what follows are some suggestions and thoughts on your article that you might want to consider, for sake of clarity, argumentation, or expansion of your original ideas.
In the article abstract, one of your initial statements is that hacking practices have been “undergoing a process of popularization and are involving a new segment of the population, different from software experts and informatics geeks, such as amateurs, laypersons and non-experts.” This is then restated in the introduction: “Until recently the world of hacking technologies, computer and devises has remained largely confined to very specific sectors of society, and especially those constituted by informatics experts, software developers and tech activists. In this article it is argued that, during the last few years, hacking practices implicating the modification and subversion of digital devices are undergoing a process of popularization and are involving new segments of the population, different from software experts and informatics geeks, such as amateurs, laypersons and non-experts. More specifically, I want to argue not only that hacking practices are becoming more common and usual in society, but that this shift also implies some sort of change in the contents and forms of the circulation of hacking knowledge and practices.” [my italics]
While these initial statements in the end discussion are recapitulated as not meaning a larger segment of the population: “The question here is not to discuss if the netbook hacking has become a popular and common activity, embraced by the majority of the population. Of course this is not the case.”, all of the above text, and the argumentation throughout the article, makes it clear that you are seeing this as an influx of a new crowd of people into the scene of hacking, which is then mirrored in the consumerization of hacker discourse. Since this is an important point you are making, I’m going to discuss this claim in some depth.
From my point of view there are two ways of criticising this claim of popularization of hacking practices by an implied new or different crowd than before. The first one focuses on the ‘than before’ premise of the statement, the second one on the ‘increased popularization’/’new segments of the population’ part. So, let’s start with the first counter-argument.
This has to do with two types of perspectives which I at times felt lacking in the text. The first is placing the MacBook Nano case study in a wider perspective, not just within hacker or consumer culture, which you do in the article, but involves other hardware platforms that have similar phenomena happening on them today. If you venture onto YouTube or the web you’ll find an abundance of hobbyists, semi-professionals or technical geeks who are doing homebrew hacks for old home computers or video console platforms, transforming these into crossover platforms of old meets new hardware. As just one example of this, see the blog of Benjamin J. Heckendorn:
This seems to me to be part of the same (?) or a similar phenomenon: hybridisation of computer platforms. What do we get at the end of the process of reshaping a C64 in the guise of a laptop? A C64 laptop, yes, but something that never existed before. Neither a C64 in the original meaning nor a PC laptop making the end-result a unicum. What about the hackintosh? For me, this seems to make the statement that computer platforms equals their functionality or performability, nothing else, which I’m sure makes for an interesting statement in relation to the “there is no software” Kittlerian mind-set,1 or against the backdrop of the retro-gaming trend, where the market for old gaming platforms seems to suggest that the only way to experience those games are on their original hardware. On the other hand, there is also a more prominent trend towards emulation of platforms. In various ways this connects to the field of Platform Studies, so you might want to check out Ian Bogost and Nick Montfort’s article “New Media as Material Constraint” (2007)2 or their book Racing the Beam. The Atari Video Computer System ( 2009)3 on the study of the hardware platform, a term they suggest using not only about the hardware and its peripherals, but also about an OS, or a programming language or an environment on top of an OS (see Racing the Beam, “Types of Platforms” p.2). I remain curious as to your thoughts on these issues in defining the platform of the MacBook Nano hackintosh.
This short outlook also touches upon the second perspective I sometimes lacked, which is historic in a wider sense of the word. I think your main point in your background section of the article stands, yes, consumer culture have been lacking as a perspective in hacker literature. But, there are other ways to access this connection of hacker and consumer culture. You suggest that this is a fairly new phenomenon, and sure, the specific hackintosh hack might be new, but homebrew hardware or software hacking is no new trend from a consumerist perspective. Here you might benefit if you extended you search radius and connected this to both radio amateurs and the owners of the very first home computers, for example of the Altair or the Acorn Atom, who got their ‘consumer product’ as a construction kit and a manual: before use the buyer just had to solder the radio or the computer together.4 Demanding a high degree of technical competence didn’t hinder consumers from buying these construction kits, consumers who might be attributed technical competences but cannot be defined as being professionals in these fields. This rather took place in a hobbyist culture sphere. So, an additional access point for you might be hobbyism-consumerism, which connects well with what you are already saying when you point out the “craft-consumer” as a current trend of today (Colin Campbell 2005). But, here I would rethink the newness of the phenomenon. It also exposes the issue of how one defines the hacker (who gets included in this 1337 subculture?).
In the next step, fully pre-built computers such as the Commodore PET and the Apple II would transform this situation and consumers stopped expecting having to build their computer from scratch. But even then, what remained was an expectation that the end-user was well-informed on the issues of maintenance, of having components fixed or exchanged upon failure (a lot of those early computers had problems due to how the chips or other components were produced). My point is that during the 1980’s the use of a computer came with a variety of technical competences and also hacking in some form as a more widespread consumer practice, not something that only professionals and experts were knowledgeable in. Basically anyone could learn some Basic on a C64 and program their own games or software. The cracker and demo scenes grew out of this premise.5 The big difference from then is that the craft consumer of today can make public their creativity on the Internet, making them much more visible in the rest of society than the demo scene ever was in the 1980’s or the 1990’s. At the time they were just teenagers using their computers, learning by doing going from gamer, to cracker, to demo producer, while today they might have grown up to become the informatics professionals you describe.6 This should remind us that there was a time before ubiquitous computing. There was a time before the computer became a black box magically working behind the scenes hidden away from the consumer. It is this much later development that you refer to when you pose this as a new development. It could as well be described as a return to earlier practices and hobbyist tendencies in consumer practices regarding computers. Or even, it could be a continuation of something that newer really stopped.
But these changes in consumer culture also had an economic background to it as well, which connects to your case study of the MacBook Nano: Why do people make the effort of doing their own homebrew computer or doing an OS hack? You don’t provide the reader with your thought about this, but it makes me wonder. Thinking back, in the 1980’s many in the middle class simply couldn’t afford more than one computer or even the peripherals to the computer.7 They just had to manage with the first one they bought, giving for example the C64 and the Apple II noticeable long life-spans. This is quite a contrasts to the current state of things, how we today tend to upgrade to a new computer every 4-5 years or so,8 meaning throwing out the old one and buying something new. Just like people kept on using the same old computer for years on end, even when new and better models became available in the 1980’s and 1990’s, there were also those who just like the construction-kit radio amateurs saw a way to saving some money by putting together their own PC from components in the 1990’s. While I do not have any statistics on how popular this was, what seems more for certain about this is that there is no longer an economic incitement for this sort of homebrew tinkering with the hardware, considering the cheapness of laptops and computers being sold today. The ordinary consumer don’t have to go out of their way to make a computer affordable, just accept to not have the latest or most advanced specs on the market, which usually means good enough for your needs (unless you are a gamer). Correct me if I’m wrong, but even in the high end of the market, it seems dubious as to whether it is for economic reasons that people make the effort of building their own “Mac” using PC components, see for example these articles on prize comparisons:
The conclusion I drew from this was that someone doing a homebrew pc probably was motivated by something more than money, for example seeing it as a pastime or hobby. Which gets us back to your argument and my second angle of possible critique: Is hacking practices getting more popular in society, and if so, in what way? Who are doing the hacks?
Like I said initially, I think you succeed in showing how consumer culture have come to influence hacker discourse, as well as how hacker practices have influenced consumer practices. But, considering this black box situation where the end-user gets further and further away from the hardware, it remains unclear to me what type of person does a MacBook Nano hackintosh? For example, you might want to provide the reader with more of your thoughts about those 1.2 million of visitors/readers of the Gizmodo hackintosh article that you cite, which you do not compare in any way to the amount of readers other Gizmodo articles have, nor put in light of the fact that both Gizmodo and Wired have a target audience of gadget geeks, professionals, and techie nerds of different kinds. Letting that statement hang in the air without further clarification makes it a rhetorical trick to make the reader induce that there have been a stream of new visitors to the site, other than Gizmodo’s usual target audience. It leaves the reader wondering, if this is an increase, what is it an increase of? Even if these are less obscure as blogs than some out there, regardless of ease of reading these articles, it is my impression that most people simply never venture onto these blogs because (sadly) they have no need to. For info on Gizmodo’s readership (it is 90% males) see:
This connects to the ever-present danger of making too far-reaching conclusions, this doesn’t tell us the popularity of the MacBook Nano hack, just the amassed interest in it as discourse. Sure, where there is smoke there is fire, but to what extent does this mean it is someone else than the same people as ever doing homebrew hacks as a hobby or because they are professionals in the field? This is a question that is difficult to answer mainly because it is actually a methodological problem. In a blended nethnographic approach9 additional support for one’s readings of online texts would have come from IRL facts and statistics. Since that might not be possible in this case (at least not without further research on your part)10 I believe it easiest if you simply brought up your considerations and thoughts on these problems. This is not a general criticism, but like I stated in the beginning it has to do with the interpretation that there is a new segment of the population incorporating hacker practices than before. It certainly is plausible, but hard to prove.
Having brought up these possible points of criticism, after all there are always more than one approach to a problem, I want to emphasis that this is mostly a case of nuance and I still think that your case is a solid one. There is definitely something happening in the ongoing production of hacker discourse in relation to consumer culture in the late-capitalist stage we live in. Several thought-provoking points are made in the text and a good use of language makes the article a worthwhile read; it shows that there is much more research to be done in the area of consumer culture – not versus hacker culture, but in the grey zone in-between.
I am no native English speaker, but here are some of the more mundane issues I found in the text (I bet there are as many in my own text):
P 3, “Steven Levy (1984), who and praised” – > “Steven Levy (1984), who praised”
P 6, “doing-it-yourself” -> “do-it-yourself” or D.I.Y.
P6-8, “3. Birth, development and circulation of the hackintosh project” At this point I started to wonder where you got your info from. If this is something you know because you followed the phenomenon as it developed, please refer to this field study and how you procured the facts used here in this text. Or maybe the text simply takes too much as common knowledge. Anyway, there is no way of checking these facts of how the hackintosh project developed, so that is something of an issue.
P7, “The initial concrete results arrived one month later the commercialization of the Intel Mac…” -> “The initial concrete results arrived one month later. The commercialization of the Intel Mac…”
P 8, “These methods started as very complex and evolved in simpler ways” –> “These methods started as very complex and evolved into simpler ways”
P 9 About the first quote here, is it really necessary? It felt somewhat superfluous. Or could it be that there is more in this quote than you let the reader know in the analysis of it? Maybe the point is better understood by some example of how the texts in the wiki usually look like, which you describe as being above the “technical competences and possibilities of laypersons”?
P 10, “We will consider the evolution” -> better to use “I will consider the evolution”. There are also other cases when you use “we” which you might want to reconsider.
P 11 “The story of the MacBook Nano developed not before 2008, after the” -> “The story of the MacBook Nano developed not before 2008 but after the”
P 14 “Anyway, also this article shows a very” -> “Also, this article shows a very”
P 18 “can hardly fit into the traditional visions we have of hacking ethos and practices” ->“can hardly fit into the traditional views we have of hacking ethos and practices”. About that “we”: please don’t assume the readers share your view of what hacking ethos and practices are, but specify your own view on this matter. What exactly is this traditional view?
Is the subject matter relevant?
Yes. . the theme is interesting and could potentially be illuminating re: number of aspects of hacker culture and participatory consumption
2. Is the treatment of the subject matter intellectually interesting?
No there is no match between theory and analysis. The A cites the standard references on participatory consumption but I faill to see the utility of this theoretical framework in actually advancing the argument. Practice theory is introduced but never really used , why?
Are there citations or bodies of literature you think are essential to which the author has not referred?
3. Are there any noticeable problems with the author’s means of validating assumptions or making judgments?
Overall this is a descriptive article, theory is introduced but not used. It might as well be taken out of the piece. The case, as presented, while empiricallyinteresting has no theoretical relevance.
4. Is the article well written?
The English needs to be improved
5. Are there portions of the article that you recommend be shortened, excised or expanded?
. p 4 how does campbell’s argument ‘subvert’ weber’s ?
p.5 concept of prosumption developed much earlier. toffler 1980
p. 9 doing a hackintosh is probably not illegal, but subject to potential civil case of bridge of contract – the A should get the jurisprudence right here
p 17 why practice theory what does it contribute
p. 18 argument that compatibility chart shows consumerization of mackintosh is very, very weak