Chapter 9. Every Man a God

In June 1974, Lee Felsenstein moved into a one-room apartment over a garage in Berkeley. It didn’t have much in the way of amenities—not even a thermostat—but it only cost $185 a month, and Lee could fit a workbench in the corner and call it home. He preferred low overhead, portability, utility in a place.

Felsenstein had a specific design project in mind. A computer terminal built on the Community Memory concept. Lee abhorred terminals built to be utterly secure in the face of careless users, black boxes that belch information and are otherwise opaque in their construction. He believed that the people should have a glimpse of what makes the machine go, and the user should be urged to interact in the process. Anything as flexible as computers should inspire people to engage in equally flexible activity. Lee considered the computer itself a model for activism and hoped the proliferation of computers to people would, in effect, spread the Hacker Ethic throughout society, giving the people power not only over machines but over political oppressors.

Lee Felsenstein’s father had sent him a book by Ivan Illich titled Tools for Conviviality, and Illich’s contentions bore out Lee’s views (“To me, the best teachers tell me what I know is already right,” Lee would later explain). Illich professed that hardware should be designed not only for the people’s ease, but with the long-term view of the eventual symbiosis between the user and the tool. This inspired Felsenstein ...

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