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Hackers by Steven Levy

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Chapter 16. The Third Generation

There were still the born hackers, those blessed with the unrelenting curiosity, the Hands-On Imperative. The last chosen in basketball and the first in arithmetic class to divine the mysteries of fractions. The fifth-graders who would mumble, when adults pressed them for explanation, that they “like numbers.” The cowlicked kids in the back of the junior high classroom who got so far ahead of the class that the math teachers gave up on them, let them skip to future chapters in the text, and finally allowed them to leave the room and wander downstairs to discover, with much the same wonder as Peter Samson stumbling upon the EAM room at MIT, a terminal connected to a time-sharing computer at some university. A gray teletype terminal in the basement of a suburban school, a terminal which held, wonder of wonders, games. You could play the games, but if you were hacker-born, that would not be enough. You would ask, “Why can’t the game do this?” “Why can’t it have that feature?” And since this was a computer, for the first time in your life you would have the power to change this into that. Someone would show you some BASIC, and the system would be at your command.

It happened exactly like that with John Harris. Though he was tall and not unattractive, a towheaded blond with a goofily appealing smile and the breathless verbal delivery of someone whose enthusiasm runs too high to acknowledge cycle-wasting grammatical interrupts, he was a social outcast. ...

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