Atari Ethics

Gregory Alan Bolcer (
Wed, 28 Oct 1998 17:55:16 -0800

Well, admitedly I didn't see it in Wired first, but
in the Atlantic Monthly. David Bennahum talks
about growing up in the Atari culture, reflects
on growing up a computer kid, and speculates on coming of
age in the digital culture. The AM liberally
quotes of his new book "Extra Life: Coming of
Age in Cyberspace" in their digital culture column.

I still have my original Atari set complete with all the
cartridges. In fact, I still play them from time to time.
They are still so popular and have made such an impression on
a whole generation that the games continue to be resurrected.
In fact, Space Invaders for the Nintendo64, despite it's
3D hardware acceleration, will be a polished up version of the
old original.

One of the best parts about the AM is that you get to
personally discuss the articles with the authors.
Bennahum himself posted the following comments below.


I am personally very interested in the history of computer
culture, call it hacker culture. In my work
as a writer and journalist I've done a lot of
excavating of pre-home computer history, and
I feel that the first generation of kids to
grow up with computers on one hand inherited,
through some kind of osmosis, an ethic first
developped in computer science labs and
high-tech companies in the 1960s-- an ethic
rooted in principles of collaboration, peer
review, and openness-- as this was the means
to pioneering the invention of operating
systems, time sharing, and user interfaces in
the 1960s, an ethic that is very much part of
the "hacker ethic" which is sometimes spoken
of. What I think happened with the first
computers, in the 1980s, is that that
relatively obscure, isolated, ethic, which
perhaps penetrated the lives of several
thousand people, mostly in computer science
labs at universities, exploded outwards into
the grass-roots of kids' lives. It went from
say 10,000 people to 100,000 or more. Today
that ethic is part and parcel of the Net, and
a defining characteristic visible in things
like the idea of "open systems," like Linux,
HTML, TCP/IP, and the vast ecology of content
and software that takes advantage of this
inherent openness. It is also under attack
right now, as companies attempt to mutate
parts of open systems into closed systems,
the better to derive royalty streams from
patents and trademarks. Anyway, this is a
thick and rich topic with many layers and
nuances, but at its core, that complexity
validates the idea of something like a
"digital culture," or way of seeing things.