A Brief History of Culture Hacking

The first people to call themselves culture hackers came from the worlds of activism, fashion, and art. They wanted to shape the way the world looked at itself, to shake up the status quo, and to pull the curtains back on people's preconceived notions. For Mike Myatt, a leadership expert and author, hacking in organizations involves breaking down existing codes and complexity, finding alternatives, and replacing out-of-date or inefficient processes. That's old-school hacking.

Culture hacking is pre-digital, going back to practices like billboard jamming, literally changing the messages on real-world roadside billboards from advertisements to more ironic or anti-corporate messages. These techniques date back to the 1970s, developing in parallel with phone phreaking and the beginning of computer hacking. It wasn't about stealing or defacing private property; it was about retaking control of the system from those who had corrupted it, to make it free again. This was the '70s, remember.

Though it started out fueled by flower power, culture hacking has proven remarkably resilient. As the world changed, so did the focus of the movement. Culture hacking and technology merged with the creation of groups like the

Adbusters Media Foundation, which both uses and critiques digital technologies. In 2011, Adbusters was central in creating the Occupy Wall Street movement. Throughout its history, the mission of culture hackers was to reshape behavior by targeting basic social programming, usually with an anti-authoritarian and anticorporate bias, just like many of the early computer hackers.

Whether or not you grok the whole anti-establishment theme, hacking (computers or cultures) is a set of techniques and tools for exploring and deconstructing complex systems for the express purpose of changing them, making them work differently, evolving them. Depending on what side of the fence you are on, this can be a process of innovation or a process of manipulation and abuse. But then again, you can say that of just about any tool. A hammer can easily become a nasty weapon.

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