<span class='p-name'>When did “HACK” become a bad word?</span>

When did “HACK” become a bad word?

In recent work and professional development with teachers and colleagues I’ve noticed a subtle trend…hack has become a bad word. Actually I misspoke, hack hasn’t become a bad word…my use of it in conversation has come off as a bad word.

Here’s an example…

Colleague: “Ian, I want to watch videos from YouTube on my iPad.”

Me: “You can do that. You have to use the YouTube app.”

Colleague: “I don’t like YouTube. They [insert belief about how they steal your data, track you, profile you, etc.] I want to move it over and just have it on my iPad.”

Me: “You can do that…you have to download the clip in Chrome or Firefox on your computer, move it to your iPad and you’re good to go. It’s a slight hack.”

Colleague runs screaming at the mention of the word hack.


It seems like a subtle mention of a word but for some reason dropping the term hack into a conversation or discussion seems to bring about severely negative reactions. Talking with another colleague yesterday, I can to the realization that maybe I’m using the wrong word. What I mean to say is that you may have to use a tool for some other reason that it was originally designed. As part of these new and digital literacies, technology iterates and innovates in an almost constant pace. It is possible to define your own affordances for any digital text and tool…and if those don’t exist…wait two months and someone else will design it online.

Reflecting on this discussion, I investigated my own relationship with technology. I read Lifehacker, MakeUseOf and other blogs daily. I consider myself a skilled, novice hacker. I don’t really pay attention to MakeInstructables, or have any clue what an arduino board is. I do root my Android phone, install open source systems at home, and try to deconstruct and repurpose anything I can get my hands on. I do try to bring this mentality into my work in educational technology…and use it to problem solve for teachers and professors.

Looking on Wikipedia it appears that the term hack has varied meanings and histories. Many of the uses listed there have connotations of stealing, breaking, repurposing, play, painful, etc. I most closely align myself with the computer science version: an inelegant solution to a computing problem. Looking on Urban Dictionary, they seem to have the best usage of the term which gave me some solace:


As I continue to think about how hack has become a bad word in my own interactions, I think I’ve come to the nexus of the situation. I’m using the word correctly, but in the wrong discourse community. Greg McVerry is usually there when I have a teacher or colleague calling me a blasphemer for using the term hack. He usually redirects and consoles the teacher by telling them that I didn’t mean to say that word…I meant to say play.

I believe that hacker literacies are at play, and are needed in our classrooms when using educational technology. Teachers have a great history of utilizing and repurposing texts and tools to provide teaching moments for our students. I see no difference in the discussion of the term hack and the literacies associated with it. I do agree that I may be using the word in the wrong discourse community…but perhaps this community of learners needs to start using the term. At the very least we need to respect and appreciate the play or repurposing motive behind the word. I will continue to use the word for now, and anticipate the twinge of regret I’ll see on colleagues faces. Some day I may mature a bit and slowly start to use another term that I think is far more problematic, but on the rise in technology and uses in education.



3 Comments When did “HACK” become a bad word?

    1. wiobyrne

      Thanks Joan. I think I’ve started to include ideas from the “maker” movement in this thinking about hacking as well.


Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.