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Reality hacking is a term used to describe any phenomenon which emerges from the nonviolent use of illegal or legally ambiguous digital tools in pursuit of politically, socially or culturally subversive ends.[citation needed] These tools include website defacements, URL redirections, denial-of-service attacks, information theft, web-site parodies, virtual sit-ins, and virtual sabotage.



The words "hack" and "hacker" come from the 1960s,[citation needed] when the first computer hackers emerged at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and later took root in actions such as phone phreaking, BBS culture, and virtual sit-ins in the '90s.

Art movements such as Fluxus and Happenings in the '70s created a climate of receptibility in regard to loose-knit organizations and group activities where spontaneity, a return to primitivist behavior, and an ethics where activities and socially-engaged art practices became tantamount to aesthetic concerns.

The conflation of these two histories in the mid-to-late '90s[citation needed] resulted in cross-overs between virtual sit-ins, electronic civil disobedience, denial-of-service attacks, as well as mass protests in relation to groups like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. The rise of collectivies, groups, and those concerned with the fluid interchange of technology and real life (often from an environmental concern) gave birth to the practice of "reality hacking".


Reality hacking is a form of activism which relies on tweaking the every-day communications most easily available to individuals with the purpose of awakening the political and community conscience of the larger population. The term first came into use among New York and San Francisco artists, but has since been adopted by a school of political activists centered around culture jamming.

As a principle of political activism, reality hacking takes advantage of the insight of linguists and sociologists who argue that post-twentieth-century popular culture in the advanced world has become particularly impervious to either positive or negative rethinking of community. Negative assertions about community — in the form of negative news stories and mass political protests — tend to fall on ears overloaded by daily tragedy in the news, even when the causes and facts they relate are valid and deserving. Positive reimaginings of community — in the form of utopian havens, alternative religious or political structures, or idealistic protest against the status quo — equally tend to fall upon unbelieving ears of busy individuals who have already accepted the standards, sacrifices, and limits of the reality in which they normally operate.

As an alternative to these dead ends of twentieth-century political activism, reality hacking tries to capture the attention of individuals in their normal course of regular information consumption. It may involve attracting mass media attention to an attention-getting fringe political issue more liable to generate rethinking of cultural norms than standard debates to which the public has already become jaded. Or it may involve harnessing the means of information dissemination itself, using online information sources to disseminate alternative definitions of commonly accepted facts.

Popular culture

The 1999 science fiction-action film The Matrix is most responsible for popularizing the simulation hypothesis - the suggestion that reality is in fact a simulation of which those affected by the simulants are generally unaware - and "reality hacking" as reading and understanding the code which represents the activity of the simulated reality environment but also modifying it in order to bend the laws of physics within simulated reality.

Reality hacking as a mystical practice is explored in the Gothic-Punk aesthetics-inspired White Wolf urban fantasy role-playing game Mage: The Ascension. In this game, the Reality Coders (also known as Reality Hackers or Reality Crackers) are a faction within the Virtual Adepts, a secret society of mages whose magick revolves around digital technology. They are dedicated to bringing the benefits of cyberspace to real space. To do this, they had to identify, for lack of a better term, the "source code" that allows our Universe to function. And that is what they have been doing ever since. Coders infiltrated a number of levels of society in order to gather the greatest compilation of knowledge ever seen. One of the Coders' more overt agendas is to acclimate the masses to the world that is to come. They spread Virtual Adept ideas through video games and a whole spate of "reality shows" that mimic virtual reality far more than "real" reality. The Reality Coders consider themselves the future of the Virtual Adepts, creating a world in the image of visionaries like Grant Morrison or Terence McKenna.

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