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CybertheologyThinking Christianity in the Era of the Internet$

Antonio Spadaro

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780823256990

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: January 2015

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823256990.001.0001

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Hacker Ethics and Christian Vision

Hacker Ethics and Christian Vision

(p.51) Chapter 4 Hacker Ethics and Christian Vision

Antonio Spadaro

Fordham University Press

Abstract and Keywords

In this chapter, the author gives an overview of hacker ethics and associates these with cybertheology through tracing their development and using the works of those who have written on hacker ethics, such as Levy, Raymond, Pitman and Himanen. He notes that Himanen suggests the Sundayization of Friday – overturning the protestant work ethic that Weber had suggested. The hacker sees work as a joy, something playful, yet s/he is never idle. Spadaro uses Wikipedia as an example of what this type of ethic can produce – something that would have been impossible without a great deal of effort and cost, had the world’s experts not built this online encyclopaedia voluntarily. While exulting in the possibilities that such collective works offer, he uses Pierre Lévy’s warnings on the dangers of prevarication and collective stupidity, exploitation and control, as a means of bringing us back to earth. He then outlines two models which have been offered: Raymond’s model of the Cathedral and the Bazaar, and Himanen’s model of the Monastery. While he notes that there are problems with both models, Spadaro asks if open source theology can offer us anything. In Christian terms, he says, Revelation is the open source of theology, but through this open source attitude we may risk what McLaren has called an imperial form, which may become a participative narration that may lead to groups and individuals who have frames and contexts that are culturally disparate being left out. Will such problematics not lead to clashes within the Catholic Church? The narrative then moves on to the concept of the gift, which he associates with Peer to Peer (p2p) sharing. In this p2p logic, the concept of the neighbor is also changed. We do not know to whom it is that we give this gift. As in blood donation, those receiving the donation are unknown to us. This is not horizontal exchange but opens us to the notion of a deductible and inexhaustible grace, this has passed through traditions, hierarchical, sacramental and historical mediation. Were we to stop at this juncture, there would be a radical incompatibility between theology’s logic and the Web’s. The author attempts to explain this through use of the concepts of the ‘freebie’ and the ‘freemium’. Grace does not respond to the logic of profit, nor can ecclesiology be reduced to ecclesial sociology. Spadaro returns to discussing how hacker ethics can assist in argument around the ecclesial surplus that is the Church, and in assisting our search for the transcendent.

Keywords:   Hacker ethics, Sundayization, Cybertheology, Pierre Lévy, Open Source Theology

The term hacker is part of our everyday vocabulary. Newspaper and television reports as well as films and novels have used the term in the context of code, security breaches, and the theft of personal information among other things. In the case of WikiLeaks, its founder, Julian Paul Assange, was described variously as a hacker who was attacking the world and an arsonist Web hacker, in the Italian press. In general, however, the place with which the term hacker commonly is associated is with experts who have managed to attack protected websites and informatics criminals.

Who are the Hackers?

While the media have embraced this image of the hacker, the so-called information pirates really have another name: cracker. The term hacker singles out a person who is much more complex and constructive. “Hackers build things, the crackers break them,” writes Raymond (2001), the present curator of the hacker dictionary Jargon File and the creator of the representative (p.52) symbol of the hacker community. It is true that, in English, “to hack” means “to break to pieces,” “to hit violently,” but there is an informal use of the term that means “to deal with,” “to put up with.” Hackers are therefore people who employ themselves in confronting intellectual challenges so as to bypass or creatively overcome the limitations that are imposed on them in their own areas of interest. Furthermore, the term refers to experts in informatics, but it can itself be extended to people who live many other aspects of their lives in a creative manner. To be a hacker is, in short, a philosophy of life, an attitude that pushes creativity and sharing, opposing models of control and competition, and private ownership. One senses, therefore, that speaking in the actual way of a hacker, one finds oneself not confronted with a problem of a criminal order, but with a vision of human work, knowledge, and life. This raises timely questions.

In his book, Hackers, the technologist Stephen Levy (2002) presented what he judged to be the “seven commandments; of the personal computer revolution.” These have since been the basis of the so-called hacker ethics:

  1. 1. Access to computers must be unlimited and total.

  2. 2. Always give priority to the hands-on, and to personally check.

  3. 3. All information must be free.

  4. 4. Distrust authority, promoting decentralization.

  5. 5. Hackers must be judged by their hacking.

  6. 6. It is possible to create art and beauty on a computer.

  7. 7. Computers can change your life for the better.

In this list, we find a clear synthesis that speaks of freedom of action, of the importance of experimentation and verification, of the distrust of any form of authority, and of a fundamental optimism about the human capacity.

Levy lists a series of attitudes that had matured many years previously, at the end of the 1960s and in the 1970s, when a (p.53) generation of young people who were passionate about the computer had emerged in the San Francisco Bay Area. They were united by their interest in spreading the use of those machines even beyond the restricted academic environment, convinced that this could improve people's lives. The first project for the spread and social use of informatics began in 1969 when the Community Memory at Berkeley was founded. Community Memory was formed to put together a data bank linked to the city in such a way that—through terminals set up in places like laundromats, libraries, and shops—the exchange of information and opinions would be possible amongst its inhabitants.

To help improve the actual computer infrastructure so that it would be possible to spread these new machines amongst the population, the Homebrew Computer Club was born. This was an association of engineers, researchers, and technicians who shared the dream of popularizing informatics and to construct a new and revolutionary prototype computer. In 1976 Steve Wozniak, a twenty-five-year-old member of the club, built the Apple I, the first personal computer that was accessible even to ordinary people.

The Playful Effort of Creation

Another member of the Homebrew Computer Club was Tom Pittman, one of the first philosopher hackers. In his manifesto, Deus ex Machina, or the true computerist, he tried to promulgate the idea of the sensation that might accompany the real hacker in this creative process. “I, who am a Christian, felt able to come close to that type of satisfaction that God may have felt when he created the world” (Himanen 2001, 141). In effect, the hacker has a precise perception of the importance of giving a personal and original contribution to knowledge. Pittman (2008), who presents himself as a Christian and a technologist, interprets this action as emotive participation in the creative work (p.54) of God, a work that develops interests, passions, and curiosity and sets the capacity of those who do it in motion, without demeaning it. Substantially, the hacker is a creative person who is always doing research. As a Christian, he lives and interprets his creative gesture as a form of participation in God's “work” of creation.

Applied creativity is one of the salient points of the hacker spirit. Raymond (2001) writes, “the world is full of fascinating problems that wait to be resolved.” The hacker employs himself with the happy spirit and strong motivation to exercise his own intelligence to resolve problems. In this sense, there is a rejection of work that is “repetitive, hard and stupid.” The hacker is capable of great achievements because he is strongly motivated. This does not at all exclude commitment and it abhors idleness, but he feels that its difficulty is gladdened by creative motivation.

Pekka Himanen (2001), lecturer at the University of Helsinki and the University of California at Berkeley, began from these presuppositions and developed a reflection that had nothing directly to do with theology when he wrote The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Age of Information. In particular, he articulates a profound critique of the protestant ethic approach, understood in Max Weber's (2002) capitalist sense, which imposes what he defines as the “Fridayisation of Sunday.” Its thrust is directed against a certain understanding of the existence of the whole unbalanced workflow, which is tied to the clock and to performance and efficiency. Himanen (2001, 32) proposes, alternatively, a vision of human work that is more playful and creative, a “Saturdayisation of Friday.” Himanen puts us on our guard against the Fordist scheme of production, which molds our ordinary life in favor of a new work ethic that is characterized by passion and creativity and not limited by shifts and rigid times, and without the capacity to save. Under accusation are control, competition, and ownership. It is a vision that, rather than being idealized, clearly has a theological origin. His basic question is, (p.55) in fact, the “direction of life,” as an important paragraph in his book tells us: “One can say that the original response of Christianity to the question: ‘What is the direction of life?’ would be ‘The direction of life is Sunday’” (13). His references are Dante's Divine Comedy, “the apotheosis of the vision of the preprotestant world” (15), and Agostino e la Navigatio Sancti Brendani, an anonymous work in Latin prose, that has been handed down through numerous manuscripts since the tenth century. Reflecting on Augustine, who wrote on Genesis against the Manicheans, Himanen notes that for the Saint of Hippo, “living in Eden was more honourable than hard” (14). For the sinners in Dante's hell, instead, “Sunday is always something tempting, but it never arrives. They are condemned to an eternal Friday.” The Reformation, in his judgment, has moved the center of life's gravity from Sunday to Friday, and at this point it became difficult to imagine Paradise as a place of simple fun. While, in visionary mediaeval representations, sinners were punished with hammers and instruments of work, the reformed pastor of the eighteenth century, Johann Kasper Lavater, was able to write that “we cannot be blessed without having an occupation” (16). It is this vision of blessedness that comes from work that constitutes the ideological basis of a novel like Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719).

The hacker ethic wants to overturn the protestant ethic, affirming that the direction of life is nearer to Sunday than to Friday. It is not difficult to recognize the intuition of a “blessed life” in the genetic code of the hacker vision of life; the intuition of the human being is called to another life, to a full realization accomplished by his own humanity. Obviously, the hacker is not an idle man or woman, of “dolce far niente” (it is sweet to do nothing). On the contrary, hackers are very active. They follow their own passions and lives driven by a creative force and knowledge that is never ending. However, they know that their humanity is not realized through a rigidly organized schedule, but through the flexible rhythm of a creativity that (p.56) must become the measure of truly human work, which better corresponds to man's nature.

The Cognitive Surplus and the Question of Authority

Closely connected to the Sunday tension of the hacker ethic is mistrust of the principle of authority. One of the key points of the hacker vision of human action consists in not referring to an authority to whom one owes obedience. As I have noted in regard to Stephen Levy's decalogue, this is founded on decentralization, comes from a decentralized authority, and is playful and creative. With the rise of social networks, today this vision is becoming a mentality. The idea is thus spreading that wide-ranging sharing is an important route to the production and diffusion of ideas and knowledge. The success of the “ecosystem” that is Web 2.0 is changing our productive and social panorama.

In particular, the Web involves connections to resources, time, and ideas about sharing generously. The classic example is that of Wikipedia. Compiling this major collaborative encyclopaedia of the Web took an estimated one hundred million hours of intellectual work, which is about as much time as the citizens of the United States combined spend watching advertising on television in a weekend. Wikipedia is the result of the free convergence of competences, ideas, free time, and the critical capacity of many people on the planet who are connected amongst themselves (Lih 2009). This is a good response to the criteria of hacker ethics: flexible and creative work based on the sharing of passions and interests, which in turn has evoked a sense of Utopia that has always guided the evolution of Wikipedia. Obviously, Utopia has made us consider original sin, that is, imprecisions and errors, in search of a redemption that the system cannot itself give. However, notwithstanding its limits, Wikipedia has signaled a net change: while the traditional media (including books and traditional encyclopaedias) (p.57) substantially permitted consumption of what was produced, the Internet allowed us to be able to imagine, for example, free time as a shared global resource, and we can imagine new types of participation. In this regard, Clay Shirky (2010) reflected on this type of “cognitive surplus,” as the title of one of his celebrated books suggested. In his view, this surplus is being characterized as an emerging and vital force, able to gather a delocalized and fragmented knowledge and to aggregate it into something new. This sharing does not answer to any center, or to any authority. It is a sort of biological process of growth and extension.

The intellectually collaborative organization that emerges on the Web, with its great cognitive surplus, can therefore allow the same idea of cultural production to change. It is a clear outcome of the hacker philosophy, an effect of sorts on a popular and planetary scale of its assumptions. Obviously, it is an optimistic vision that sees only the good in this evolutionary process. We need to ask ourselves better questions about the problems of the management of this surplus value that is created, perhaps always remembering that the “original sin” of Wikipedia is all one with its intrinsic and innovative qualities. Pierre Lévy (2001, 11) was right to put us on guard against the weaknesses and problems of interactive digital networks, where we can also see new forms of isolation and of cognitive superwork, prevarication, control, exploitation, and collective stupidity springing up. In reality, many questions are emerging: What will society do with all of this surplus value? How can a new, quality idea arise? Do we have the right motivations, beyond the opportunities, to do something with them? The possible distortions are clear as well: the traditional organizational forms are being threatened, diminishing the power of institutions and, in the end, taking the power from society to act, for example, as a contrast, to deviant group behaviors.

In particular, what both collaborative and hacker knowledge seem to obscure is the principle of authority, as Stephen Levy's fourth commandment states. This creates a precise mentality (p.58) in a way that confronts the experience of living relationships and of knowing reality.

The Cathedral and the Bazaar

How can we put a value on this mentality? If it is interesting to confront the argument, it is because the model of knowledge, as the fruit of horizontal sharing and not of a hierarchy, is already a given in the lives of many people. I have mentioned this previously in reference to Wikipedia, but already this has become a classic icon of a broader movement, of a mindset that touches many worlds, including the worlds of journalism, education, and research.1

Above all, it is important not to canonize the hacker's needs, that is, not to consider them as though they had no history, since development also has a significance that is tied to a historical period. The origin of hacker culture dates back to the end of the 1960s in the United States, a period that was characterized by the anarchy of the hippy movement and a radical critique of the “system” and of the values that were dominant at the time. The hacker ethic, then, risks expressing needs that are born from an impatience with any form of hierarchy, because it was understood as being necessarily opposed to research and comparison. There is a rejection of the “father” in favor of horizontal dealings amd joint collaborations. In the general valuation of that culture, this element of sociological order, which, in a way, can therefore be considered dated.

On the other hand, it is true that a precise research model is emerging, one that goes beyond the historic moment in which it was born. In one of his celebrated stories, entitled “The Cathedral and the Bazaar,” Raymond (2010) counterposes two models of research: the bazaar and the cathedral. Once again, a religious metaphor has emerged, and the reasoning has theological resonance. It is necessary to clarify the two models that have a theological appeal. Raymond's primary intent is to describe a new model of software development. In effect, his text (p.59) generally is considered the movement's open source manifesto. This type of software is considered open because its developers favor free study and the inclusion of modifications that come from other independent programmers. Its source code is open to free and spontaneous collaboration. Open source therefore describes a model of free work, open to collaborations that are not restrained by private ownership. Linux is an operating system that applies this associated model of development. Raymond's story thus distinguished two models of research. The first is that of the cathedral, in which the program is realized by a limited number of experts on the basis of a hierarchical subdivision. The second is that of the bazaar, in which the open source program being developed is freely available. Development is thus decentralized and no rigid subdivision of tasks exists. This is a process of sharing in which participants contribute to the improvement of the program, which continues in small steps toward ever new and better versions. The cathedral becomes a metaphor of a system with clear, defined, and hierarchical roles. The bazaar, by contrast, is a metaphor for the open system.

Pekka Himanen (2001, 63–81) takes up this notion of the cathedral and the bazaar in a more classic manner, using the metaphors of academia and of the monastery. Once again, there is a clear religious metaphor. The academic model comes from platonic origins and is based on collective research, which in turn is based on exchange and self-regulation. In the platonic academy, in fact, drawing closer to the truth was sought through critical dialogue and the free circulation of results. “Students were not considered objectives for the transmission of knowledge, but companions in learning (synthesis). In academic conceptions, the principal task of teaching was that of reinforcing the ability of disciples to pose problems, in developing lines of thought and in advancing critiques” (75). Instead, the monastic model would be a closed, hierarchical model into which only a limited group of people was welcomed and the objective of study was established once and for all. From this it (p.60) can be seen that the cathedral and the monastery single out places from which to flee in favor of the bazaar and academia.

Himanen crystallizes the image of the monastery so as to bend it into a negative icon. This is his principal limitation. We know well that a partial reading of monastic mediaeval life deems it to have been signalled by sociological flattening out, thus killing its significance. It would be rather reductive to consider the cathedral and the monastery models in the sense in which Raymond and Himanen understand them, as though they were ecclesiological models.

Revelation in the Bazaar

Today, the academic model has become popular, especially with the birth of Wikipedia. In confronting this form of collective knowledge on the Web, the stress has been strong. Justin Baeder, the creator of Radical Congruency, asked: “What implications can these Websites have for the Church? What implications can they have for a communitarian approach to theology?”2

With these questions, Baeder's intentions do not solely relate to pastoral applications. He intends to ask whether wikis can inspire a way of doing theology, can become a type of theological method. He responds to the question by indicating so-called “open source theology.” The expression uses informatics jargon, referring to the open source license, in which, as we have seen, the open source program is made available to developers, so that with their collaboration (which is, in general, free and spontaneous) the final product can reach a greater complexity than it would have from the work of a single group of programmers.

By contrast, Andrew Perriman uses “open source theology” to indicate a way of doing theology that is “exploratory, open to conclusions, incomplete, less preoccupied with establishing fixed points and boundaries than with nourishing a dialogue that both reminds us of and is constructive between, text and (p.61) context.”3 It is important to note that this method of collaborative theology, as it has also been defined, attributes to theological reflection, which is understood not as pure academic study but as a communitarian activity that is dynamically developed inside precise historical contexts.

However, the serious case here is the following: what is the open source of theology? Or Revelation? What is left open in the most disparate forms of reading: applications and presentations. Open source theology is very ambiguous because it clearly cedes the risk of a flattening out of sociological order, or it is vaguely humanistic. Is it a loss or misunderstanding of the depositum fide? In fact, if the open source of theology, Revelation, does not solely become elaborated at the level of the interface—that is, at the level of categories of comprehension and communication—but is also modified in itself, then we will no longer be before a Christian theology, but of a more general discussion on themes with theological religious significance. Add to this a vagueness, the rejection of any form of authoritative charisma and a disinterest in traditions, considered an “imperial” form, as Brian McLaren has defined them.4 Christianity will tend to assume the characteristics of a “participative narration,” realized by individuals or groups within frames and contexts that are culturally disparate.

At this point, one should ask: Would the hacker ethic not be on a collision course with the Catholic mind and its vision of authority and tradition? Would it be possible to encompass authority, in the sense in which Catholic theology understands it, in a context that pushes toward decentralization and to the dehierarchization of knowledge? Intrinsically, collective action and the principle of authority are in radical opposition; how would this be taken for granted? The panorama described would, to this point, certainly cause us to confront a forma mentis with which the Catholic faith must develop an ever greater relationship. This calls for a new form of apologetics, which cannot but begin from the changed categories of comprehension of the world and of access to knowledge.

(p.62) Tom Pittman has expressed himself often on the illogicality of atheism and has professed himself to be a Christian, yet other experiences also demonstrate that between the faith and the hacker it is possible to create syntony. For example, the pro-gramming language Perl (which stands for Practical Extraction and Report Language) was originally called Pearl, in reference to the “Pearl of Great Price” (Matthew 13.46), which causes a merchant to sell all he has in order to buy it. It was created in 1987 by the hacker Larry Wall, who is an evangelical Christian. Besides giving such names as “bless,” “apocalypse,” and “exegesis” to functions in his language, often, when speaking at conferences and congresses, Wall makes reference to his Christian faith. Like Pittman and others, he strongly joins his creative action to his own faith: “Perl is obviously my attempt to help others to be creative. Humbly, I am helping people to have a little more understanding about who are the people who please God, who is the absolute model, the ‘cosmic artist’?” (Roblimo 2002). In this vision, the hacker ethic can even take on prophetic resonances for the world of today, which has chosen the logic of profit, to remember that the “human heart longs for a world in which love reigns and where gifts are shared” (Benedict XVI 2009b).

The Gift of the Web: Peer-to-Peer or Face to Face?

It is well understood that one of the critical points for reflection on what is on the Web that goes under the term open is, in reality, the concept of the gift, made even more radical by free software or freeware. The Web is the place of the gift. Concepts like file sharing, free software, open source, creative commons, user-generated content, social networks, all have within them, even if in a different way, the concept of the gift, of the abatement of the idea of profit (Aime and Cossetta 2011). If well considered, however, this is a free exchange that is made possible and significant thanks to a form of reciprocity, profitable for those who participate in this exchange. There is the economic (p.63) idea that has in its mind the concept of the market, and even a business model.5

The Web molds a mentality of sharing that is substantially one of exchange. One of the critical points of the hacker vision is open source, and thus that of the intrinsic limits to every sharing: scarcity. It is true that the hacker culture is a gift culture, but here the gift assumes a free form. Its thrust is not to give and receive, but to take and leave what the others take. Reduction to the gift is something that is a given of the object in itself, risking the obscuring of the perception of a deeper dynamic, of which the gesture of giving is the expression (Mancini 2011, 41–46). With the concept of the gift, the concept of the neighbor changes as well. For the single subject, the receiver, the user is substituted. Under this condition, the donor does not offer an object that in some way represents the relationship between him and the receiver. The donor offers something that is not signaled by a unique affective relationship. On the other hand, he does not even know the receiver: we could say that he gives the gift to society (Aime 2002; Mauss 1990). The model of the Web that most radically reflects this dimension of gift exchange is that of equals, which is called peer-to-peer (P2P). This model does not have any hierarchical nodes, like fixed clients and servers, but a number of equivalent nodes that are open to other nodes on the Web and can receive and transmit at the same time. When I initiate a download on a P2P network, my computer takes bits (videos, music, texts) from many individual computers that are contemporaneously connected on the Web and that contain that document. In its turn, my computer, while it is downloading, permits other computers to load bits of that file, or of other files that I make available. In the end, all will be reassembled on a single computer. The process is called file sharing and is therefore characterized as sharing. This technology easily permits the downloading of multimedia files, even the largest ones, within a reasonable period of time, or to find a multiplicity of rare materials. The motive for this technology has often been contested because it (p.64) permits the downloading of anything without cost, violating prerogative copyrights.

In other words, peer-to-peer logic is thus based on the fact that I download something in its entirety, but not from a unique repository that contains it whole, or in a one-to-one relationship. I share what I have at the same moment that I receive it. However, I never receive content in its entirety. I receive in a process that makes me also a node in a shared network of exchange and I am, at that moment, “rich” since I can now give to others what I have so far received. If this is applied at the ethical level of the distribution of goods, this logic of sharing appears to be without problems and, rather, to be decidedly virtuous.6 In some ways, it comes close to blood donation, which represents a form of gift addressed to unknown people. These people are determined by peculiar characteristics that differentiate them from the traditional Maussian gift (Mauss 1990), which implicates not only the giving but also the receiving and the returning. Neither restitution nor obligation are foreseen; the same object of the altruistic act of blood donation always consists of the same substance: blood, which can be received and given in a vision of the symbolic restitution inside a temporal dimension. This also is symbolic with regard to the perception of the diachronic nearness or farness of the gift received. If we apply this logic to the theological level, however, we understand that the question becomes more problematic just because of the Church's nature and the dynamics of Christian Revelation, which seem to follow a client-server model that is the opposite of peer-to-peer.

These are not the product of a horizontal exchange (which we can define more correctly as “fluid barter”), but are the opening to a deductible and inexhaustible grace that passes through traditions and hierarchical, sacramental, and historical mediation. If we stop here, we risk reaching a radical incompatibility between the logic of theology and that of the Web.

In reality, the question is more complicated. The logic of the gift on the Web seems to be tied to what is called in slang a (p.65) freebie, that is, something that has no price, in the sense that it costs nothing. This is founded on the implicit question, “what does it cost?”; and the vision is all displaced onto who takes (and not on who receives). The freebie is something (on the Web it is generally a program or digital content) that one can take freely. Another version of exchange that follows this logic is what is tied to the freemium: something that can be retrieved or downloaded, for example, a free or trial version of a program that requires payment to unlock its full feature set. The principle on which this model is founded is the business freemium, which is given when it is convenient to gift something to users with the intention of selling them products or services at a more advanced level. In short, one can speak of the “price” of the “freeness” (Anderson 2009).

The Freely Given Gift

Gratia gratis data, as it is theologically understood, means that one does not take but receives, and one always enters into a relationship beyond which we have no understanding. Grace is not a freebie but rather, to quote Bonhoeffer, it has been paid for “at a high price,” and without limitations, and its freeness does not answer to the logic of profit. At the same time, grace is communicated through incarnate mediation and is spread through capillaries in a logic that is compatible with that of peer-to-peer networking, but is not reducible to it. In fact, it can be anonymous, on an individual basis, and impersonal: one can take all that is available, and one doesn't know how much of the actual files will be shared.

The logic of grace creates ties, face to face, as is typical of the logic of the gift, of communicating faces, a thing that is instead extraneous per se of peer-to-peer logic, which is a logic of connections and exchange, of communicating vessels, not of communion. A face is never reducible to a simple node. The true gift has in itself, at least in an implicit way, the potential to create relationships, contrary to the pure market that generates (p.66) exchange. The gift is a gesture that gains significance within an experience of relationship. Obviously, part of the anonymous peer-to-peer file sharing is the logic of the user-generated content of social networks. Formally, the second appears to be more compatible with a theological logic, because the shared content is given within a relationship and as recompense it has the relationship itself, that is, the increment and improvement of reciprocal relationships.

This, as I have said, does not signify in itself that peer-to-peer logic is mistaken or negative. On the contrary, it is significant in the context of general and broad sharing. It is, though, important to understand that the theological logic of the gift is not reducible to this, that, or the other. The logic of the gift that is being developed on the Internet leads us to sharing, solidarity, and cooperation, in which generosity can remain anonymous, as has been demonstrated in the innovative processes of free soft-ware.7 It is the logic of the gift as grace that insists on personal relationships, which it is not possible to leave aside. However, it is actually on this difference that the challenge for believers is founded: from a place of connections, the Web is called to become, as I have said, a place of communion. Only if giving corresponds to receiving, alerting us also to the gratitude that pushes toward recompense (Mauss 1990, 10–23), is it possible to create relationships that are not extraneous to involvement.

The risk of these times is to confound the two terms: connection does not automatically produce a communion; it is also a conditio sine qua non. The connection itself is not enough to make the Web a place where sharing is fully human. It is true that connections create communities, but they are not essential to the actual relations, ties, familiarity, and their consequences (see Bauman 2001). The new communities risk considering physicality to be an accessory, as well as all of the baggage that is tied to the language that is incarnated in the body. Relationships end up by being substantially founded on rhetorical practices, and this would be a gross impoverishment, the key word is thus integration; between the different levels of the lived.

(p.67) By contrast, if the “human heart longs for a world in which love reigns, where gifts are shared,” as Benedict XVI (2009b) has written, then the Web can truly be a privileged environment in which this profoundly human need can take shape. This is, in fact, the most significant and virtuous aspect of the free, as it is understood on the Web: the fact that the gifts are open to the practices of sharing beause they are available, free. Above all, this appears to be evident when we speak of the production of cultural value. When an environment that facilitates collaboration among people is cultivated, a context of creativity and generosity that multiplies the forces and results is created. The wiring of humanity (or at least of that part of it that is effectively joined to the Web) permits the sharing of resources in a global way, and the imagining of new forms of participation and sharing (Shirky 2010, 22).

This anonymous collaboration is a social production, and a commons-based peer production, that is, a work of production created by people who operate on the same level, based on collective, accessible goods, on the part of its participants.8 To define the gift in this way is not communion, but one of the ways in which we can understand solidarity today, or all of the forms of gift that do not imply a face-to-face relationship.

The Surplus of Grace and the Cognitive Surplus

Christian Revelation, “by means of which God turned and gave himself to man” (Catechism 1993, no. 14), is instead a gift deductible from collaborative exchange of a horizontal type. Theologically understood, the freeness of grace does not respond to the logic of profit. This is certainly communicated through incarnate mediation and is spread through capillaries, but is not reducible to a logic of connections, which can be very anonymous, and on an individual and impersonal basis. The risk of a hackertype state of mind is thus that of leading us to understand communion as a connection, and the gift as free exchange. The (p.68) order of knowledge of Revelation is peculiar in this: “Man cannot possibly arrive on his own.” It is instead “by a wholly free decision” that “God reveals himself and gives himself to man, revealing his mystery” (no. 50).

Ecclesiology, in its turn, is not reducible to the sociology of ecclesial relationships: “The Church is in history, but at the same time it transcends it. It is uniquely ‘with the eyes of faith’ that one can make out a contemporary spiritual reality, the carrier of divine life, in its visible reality” (no. 770). The Church is founded, then, not on a collaborative process, but on the “foundation of the Apostles” (Ephesians 2.20), witnesses who were chosen and sent on the mission by Christ himself. She “houses and transmits with the help of the Spirit who lives there, the teaching, the good deposit, the healthy words heard by the Apostle” (no. 857). In short, in the challenge that the hacker mentality begins to put on theology and the faith—that is, preserving human openness to transcendence—is a nondeductible gift to a grace that breaks the system of relationships and is never only the fruit of a connection, nor of a sharing, as much as it is broad and generous. A principle of auctoritas sano will be preserved that enhances the foundation, external to man and to his possibilities for Revelation and grace. In brief, we must remind ourselves that life and its significance are not exhaustible in a horizontal Web, but that humans are always oriented to transcendence. In the final analysis, the problem of authority is a form of the more general problem of the possibility of transcendence. In this context, we should note something that is more important than ever: the distinction between knowledge and wisdom, between notions and values. The Church is not, and will never be, simply a cognitive society, and the logic of grace is different from that of information. These are the reflections that the Catholic vision of authority turns to in a critical manner in the hacker culture.

With the abolition of any hierarchy, we will lose the importance of mediations and of the pedagogic dimensions of access to knowledge. According to this logic, neither past nor knowledge (p.69) is handed down from father to son, because the principle of sameness, of perfect symmetry, is in force. However, we must confirm that the hacker community is not monolithic and that its anti-authoritarian being does not lead it to negate any type of authority. Raymond (2001) writes that anti-authoritarianism “does not signify fighting all of the authorities. Children must be guided and criminals corrected. A hacker can be in agreement with accepting some type of authority.” Governance, with hacker inspiration, can help us to better understand the presuppositions and effects of a form of “distributed authority.”9 In a critical manner, seriously and without complacency, the hacker spirit can help us to understand that the transcendent foundation of the faith sets an open process in motion, which is creative, collaborative, and collegial. Raymond reminds us that the basis of the sharing of the hacker spirit is founded on a moral duty: to ensure that common work problems are resolved more easily and rapidly. This solidarity lives from a relationship of community between people who are ready to help themselves and to collaborate. Further, the call to creativity can help us to understand how “the Spirit builds soul and sanctifies the Church” living in its live body (Compendium, no. 145), animating it from within. In an ecclesial context, we realize what Shirky (2010) called the “surplus.” However, this is not only immanent, the fruit of the efforts of believers, it is a sanctifying surplus that comes from the action of the Spirit, who enlivens the members of the mystic body. Christ, in fact, “has participated His Spirit that, one and the same in head and limbs, gives life to, unifies and energizes the entire body” (Paul VI 1964). The dynamic element of the Church, which makes it much more than the simple sum of its parts, is just that Holy Spirit. In hacker theory, there is at least a specific place in which the transcendent dimensions can cosily express themselves, and this is in the radical call to the fact that Shabbat, Saturday (Sunday, in Christian terms), is the real “homeland” of humans, our true existential dimension. The Jewish Saturday, or the Christian Sunday, can obviously not just be reduced to rest.

(p.70) However, the hacker Sunday is not even a simple “holiday” in which, at least implicitly, a reference to God lives, in as much as He is the creative origin of the world. The creation is able to give to the hacker vision of the world, and of humans, that “point of departure” that is transcendent, without there being a risk of finishing in an alley that is colorful, but blind.

Himanen (2001), the self-proclaimed popularizer of the hacker ethic, remembers that “in one of his two Apologetics in favour of the Christianity of the second century, one of the Fathers of the Church, Justin the Martyr, eulogises Sunday” (149). He cites his source: “We all gather together on the day of the Sun, because this is the first day in which God, having transformed the shades and matter, created the world. On this day also, Jesus Christ, our Saviour, was resurrected from the dead” (149). At this point, Himanen poses the question which we find in St. Augustine, “Why did God create the world?”; he continues: “We can say that the hackers reply to Augustine's question is that God, as he is perfect, had no need to make absolutely anything, but wanted to create” (152). In the story of the free and removeable creative actions of God, the hacker finds the image of his own existence.

Genesis can be seen as a story about a mode of creative activity. In this, talents are used in an imaginative way. It reflects on the joy that you feel when you begin to surprise yourself by outdoing yourself. Not a day passes when God is not present with an idea that is even more extraordinary: like actualizing hairless, bipedal creatures. He is so excited at having created a world made for others that he is even ready to stay awake for six nights in a row, resting a little only on the seventh day. (152)

If this biblical model is removed from its profoundly theological value, then it is able to maintain the memory of an initiative that is the fruit of a creative act of God.


(1) . It is worth highlighting a study on formation for the consecrated life, which might, however, also be useful in understanding how digital communication can be a challenge to more general formation. See Riccieri (2011) and Alday (2011). In regard to formation for the consecrated life, or for that of a priest, it is important to (p.114) understand that the objective must not only be the assumption of competences and specific abilities, since “to educate” does not signify “to instruct.” The first meaning of “to educate” must be to understand what we are living, that is, to reason through experience and, above all, through our own experience. The first task of a trainer is not to make us attend specific courses on how we can make a blog, or how we can be present on a social network, but to discuss with those being formed how they are living in the digital environment, how they are present on the Web, and with what means, and where there are good and bad experiences, if they have had them. What are their enthusiasms, delusions, temptations, and virtues? Today, seminarians or religious in formation generally already have a presence in the digital world. There is no need to imagine the young as a tabula rasa or, worse, as a tabula da radere. Asceticism, in this sense, has a value. Sometimes it is good to know when to close connections. However, the objective must not simply be detachment, as if the virtual environment were perhaps in itself a temptation, but to learn a mature way of living (both on-and offline, we only have one life!). It is only from evaluation of his own experience that is as mature as possible that it is possible to form an ordained minister or religious who is called to help others to live up to their humanity and spirituality.

(2) . In http://www.radicalcongruency.com. Among the various personal sites about the emerging Church, see Paul Teusner's Net-work for New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies, http://digitalreligion.tamu.edu/users/paul-emerson-teusner.

(3) . See Perriman's website at http://www.opensourcetheology.net.

(5) . See Tapscott and Williams (2008, 289–315) and Anderson (2009), who has a chapter dedicated to synthesizing a sort of “story of free.” See also “Religion and Mass Collaboration,” https://www.socialtext.net/wikinomics/index.cgi?religion_and_mass_collabora-tion, and the suggestions on “Faith & Wikinomics—Will Mass Collaboration Change Church?,” http://thedigitalsanctuary.org/2007/03/14/faith-wikinomics-will-mass-collaboration-change-church (page no longer available).

(6) . We understand that, on a commercial level, this poses a problem with rights, since it allows exchange, that is, the sharing of (p.115) material protected by copyright, through which sharing, even by those who legally hold rights, becomes a crime. As a result, a movement that holds open source software—and the copyright, or the copyleft, or the author's permission—is emerging. See, for example, the chapter “Dono versus copyright” (Gift versus copyright) in Doronzo (2009, 151–60).

(7) . See Berra and Meo (2006), in particular the chapter “Dono e cooperazione: un nuovo modello di produzione e di sviluppo” (Gift and cooperation: a new model of production and development), 162–200.

(8) . See Shirky (2010, 78 and 119) and Benkler (2002). Benkler writes, “Commons-based peer production, the emerging third model of production, I describe here, relies on decentralized information gathering and exchange to reduce the uncertainty of participants. It has particular advantages as an information process for identifying and allocating human creativity available to work on information and cultural resources” (375).