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Bernie Tumbles — Salt Water in the Soda Machine  February 13, 2016 – 05:31 am
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When I was in high school, I drank a lot of Mountain Dew. This was a bad idea because that stuff, while delicious, is not good for you (or, more specifically, me.) But I didn’t just like it, I was /into/ liking it. It was a part of my identity…the kid who liked the Mountain Dew.

One day, someone read somewhere that if you put salty water into the coin slot of a soda machine, it would short out the machine and, if you’re lucky, you’d be able to get free sodas. Like, lots of free sodas. Would you destroy a piece of machinery worth thousands of dollars? Yes. Would that mean that they would take the soda machine away and never being it back, making life more complicated for you and everyone around you? Yes. Would it require soda companies to invest massive amounts of money reinventing soda machines that were more tamper resistant, raising the cost of sodas for everyone? Sure.

But when someone (I don’t know who) did this after hours at my school, I ran to the machine with my book bag open like everyone else, pilling the cool, frosty Mountain Dews on top of my algebra homework.

It didn’t just seem like free Mountain Dew though, it seemed like a very cool thing to have done and to be doing. In no way did it seem to me like stealing. Who was I stealing from, a machine? In our minds, and companies often prefer that we do this, we separate the product from the production. We see a soda can as something that was magically spawned inside a machine…created out of thin air. We weren’t stealing, we’d simply beaten the system. The system wanted to make us pay, and if we could find a way around that then good on us.

I would never have thought that there were any broader affects of my actions, or that I was in fact stealing from a company that was owned by and employed real, normal people and that I was messing with their livelihood (and, to be clear, that company wasn’t Pepsi, it was the vending machine operator.)

This is on my mind right now because I’m now on the other side of this equation. I run a magic soda box called VidCon and, for a lot of people, our systems and policies are just a machine that they want to hack to get access. If that means pouring salt water in the coin slot, then who cares? VidCon, to them, is just another system trying to keep them from the things they want.

So we have to spend tons of time worrying about and dealing with the small percentage of people who see VidCon as a series of systems to hack, and that if they succeed in that hack, they see themselves as not just not thieves…but as heroes.

I understand this mindset completely, although I now know it’s wrong. And I also understand that we have to put tons of systems in place (and spend more money, thus raising the price of the tickets) to ensure that people are safe, that attendees can’t scalp access to signing lines or print up counterfeit badges.

I’m fine with that, we can handle all that. We’re a business and dealing with these problems is part of that, it’s just not the fun part. But whatever, my life is pretty sweet, I can have some un-fun bits.

The bigger problem I see is the overall mentality. The idea that the world is just a series of systems for us to hack and, if we find the right hack, then we get what we want. We get money, we get sex, we get power, we get free soda. Sometimes this mentality comes from actually being denied access to systems to make your life better and give you access to the things you want and need, and I can’t argue with those people seeing society as a bunch of systems designed to oppress them (since it kinda is.)

But others glorify the hacking of systems for the sake of the hack. “Look, I figured out a way to make money without working! Yes, it’s exploitative and maniplulative and relies on me lying to everyone around me…but I’m MAKING MONEY!” Or even worse, “I figured out a way to get girls to sleep with me, all you have to do is make them feel awful about themselves!”

I wish I had a name for this besides “hack” because obviously hacking has been used for good as well as evil, and hacker culture is something that I sometimes admire, but it’s the only word I have right now.


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