Broken Rules Should Be a Signal That Change Is Needed

Cape Times (South Africa), January 9, 2012 | Go to article overview

Broken Rules Should Be a Signal That Change Is Needed


When we hear about hacking, it's often a reference to breaking into computer systems.

Rupert Murdoch's News of the World was shut down after journalists hacked into cellphones to find information for their stories. Julian Assange of Wikileaks gets some of his information from people who have made unauthorised use of information on computer systems. Spammers gain access to social media or e-mail accounts to send messages to other accounts. Some hackers worm their way into computer systems of big companies, hoping to make a public point by disabling their systems or somehow embarrassing them.

These examples all have one thing in common: they work around barriers set up to prevent unauthorised access to closed systems. Some hacking is not about getting information, but using something in a way that was not intended by the designer. A car can be hotwired to start without a key; a wall can become a graffiti artist's canvas.

Whether it's the rules and regulations set up to govern how we live, or simply the design of a product, many people will find a way around them to meet their needs. Others will figure out how to modify something that has outlived its original purpose, like an artist who works with discarded or broken products, or someone who turns frayed trousers into a pair of shorts.

Speed humps and four-way stops are used in the battle between drivers and residents who object to speeding or heavy traffic on quiet streets. They are part of the weaponry available to traffic engineers for influencing behaviour, installed to nudge traffic back onto main streets and highways.

And when people feel they are being denied what they deserve, whether it's the ability to travel as quickly as possible to their destination, or the right to basic services, they will break the rules.

Drivers will ignore four-way stops, and residents will tap into Eskom power lines.

Under apartheid-era legislation, people would work around the pass laws - often with the help of employers - not just because they were inhumane, but also because they went against the needs of a healthy economy. These days the laws are different, but everyone still finds ways to overcome inconvenient rules.

In short, people hack the city to make it work for them. …

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