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Hacks Will Come Down, But What's the Rush?

Helen Lin--The Tech
Physical Plant workers climb up the right side of the Great Dome to begin dismantling the "beanie" hack early Friday morning.

Column by Thomas R. Karlo
Contributing Editor

So did you get a chance to see Friday's hack on the Great Dome?I heard it was great. I didn't get to see it, though. Seems that for once the MITadministration moved fast, removing the dome's new headgear in less time than it usually takes them to go to lunch.

I'm not saying that MITshould leave hacks up for days. Hackers know their work is transient, and the nearly universal popularity of the hacking tradition is helped by the fact that if you really don't like one, it's going to be gone tomorrow. But for hacks to survive as a part of MIT culture, they have to be given some time to exist and be enjoyed by the people here.

There is, of course, the issue of safety. Any time you're sticking large temporary objects on top of buildings, you're risking that they might blow off and strike someone. Historically, however, hackers have taken great pains to ensure that their creations would not endanger people.

If MIT feels that a hack is dangerous, it should remove it immediately and make clear to the community that it was a risk. But that doesn't mean every hack should be taken down the moment it's discovered. Such a policy would stifle hacking and risk ending one of MIT's few unique traditions.

Hacking brings together the best aspects of MIT life while avoiding many of the negatives. The irreverence and humor which hacks provide MIT make up for what can often be an overly-serious, intense daily routine. Their unexpected, seemingly spontaneous nature breaks the regimented, scheduled drone of classes and meetings.

The anonymous nature of hacks is unique in today's atmosphere of resume-building and name-dropping. Hackers work weeks or months on their creations knowing they'll never be able to publicly take credit. They do it because of how much the community enjoys the hacks and appreciates their value. In creating these anonymous works, they also make them the possession of the MIT community at large. Hacks are a product not just of the individuals who build them, but also the community that nurtures and encourages such creativity.

If the cultural implications of hacking aren't sufficient reason for the administration to treat them more as art and less as vandalism, then the practical benefits of promoting hacking should. Major hacks like the police car on the dome are one of the few times that MIT culture gets national publicity. As a rising school in the nation's mind, MIT is right now establishing its reputation with people hearing about it for the first time.

Coverage of MIT hacking provides people across the country with an insight into MIT life they'll never get from hearing about what awards our professors have won or what our graduates earn. It's the culture and quality of life that help top students decide between otherwise equal academic institutions. If MITwants the top students, it should remember that they're also smart enough to look beyond the numbers and press releases.

I'm not a hacker myself. But during years of taking photos for The Tech, hacks have always been the most enjoyable and exciting events to occur on the MITcampus. Being among people gathering around to look at a good hack gives you a sense of how much energy and continuous excitement the MIT community holds within it.

Ensuring that hacking continues wouldn't take much effort from the MIT administration. As long as our community remains inspired and creative, hacks will flower. All that the administration needs to do is give the community some time to enjoy such creations firsthand and to feel as if they were part of MITwhen the hack happened. If MIT carefully manages its relationship with hackers, it can not only let them survive as part of our local culture, but keep the entire campus a bit happier as well.