The Tribe (Context)

Posted Sunday, September 11, 2022 by Sri. Tagged TROPE
EDITING PHASE:gathering info...

A Historical Anecdote

I was writing about my theory of how a community for the so-called tribe works, using the phrase emphasize the collective of individuals, not the clique, as being the subjective measure of social belonging. On being asked what that meant, I responded with this (lightly edited from the original post as I remembered additional details):

Good reference is that I think of high school cliques that are exclusionary, versus the non-cliques who seem to be open and friendly to everyone.

I went to an international school overseas from age 9 to 18, and there was a group of international kids that I tended to hang out with that had been there a long time. An interesting thing about a school like this is that there are relatively few long-timers and everyone is a foreigner already.

So I think as a group (what might be called "third culture kids" today) they naturally gravitated toward a kind of helpfulness toward each other.

There were cliques, of course, that were based on identity, class, wealth, connections, interests. Even within the interest groups there was a tendency for people to either seek becoming a power of some kind vs those who just got by because they needed the community.

The formative experience I had was being in the computer interest group (this being 1980 and me being in the awkward middle school phase of life, not a popular group or even understood because the idea of computers used by kids was such an odd concept. You might as well have said that these are kids who have their own fighter jets for fun).

Anyway, within this group there were a bunch of kids who had money and connections to go to Hong Kong and get the latest software, which they would use to elevate their standing even within this tiny group. There were these older German kids that would be approached by the younger kids to ask if they could have a copy, and they would have to curry favor with them. There was nothing particularly malicious about it, in hindsight, but there was still a sense of "I have something you want" and "you must be worthy".

On the other end of the side there was me and two other kids who wanted to learn how to write software and we had come to the conclusion that "The Hacker Ethic" (as I later found it was called) was in the best interest of not only ourselves, but for anyone in our small interest group. The word "hacker" has taken on a more malignant meaning since 1980, but at the time it was the idea of "information should be free" and "sharing the learning and knowledge" and "doing no harm".

In the tenth grade, our group of three deliberately decided that we would stand for that. We would freely share what we had: copies of software, techniques we learned, demonstrate our knowledge, to anyone who was interested in it. We would say, "if you find out something neat, let us know!" At the time, I thought of it as a strategy of offering an "better alternative to Jens and Martin". Perhaps the highlight of this Cold War was that Martin, recognizing me as having some power within this group perhaps, offered me a copy of Ultima II which was super new, which I happily accepted. But when I got the game home, it failed to run because it couldn't find some files.

Because I had this group of hacker ethic friends, I had honed my understanding of how the file system worked, used my tools, and saw that there was a part of the disk that was completely blank. Not blank as in something was wrong with the copy, but blank in that it had possibly been erased on purpose, maybe as a prank to be played on me.

So I recovered the lost data (it was part of the index of files on the disk that could be reconstructed), deduced what the filenames were by boot tracing the program's startup code, and got it running. I was able to play it that night!

The next day Martin asked me with an innocent look on his face if I had liked the game, and so I enthusiastically described how much fun it was. And his face got more and more confused, and he asked (I think...memory is dim) whether I had any problem running it. And I said with a straight face, "Oh, there was a bad sector on the catalog track that was mysteriously zeroed out, but I reconstructed the index and got it working,"

After that I noticed that the German kids seemed to warm to me slightly. Martin wasn't a technical guy, so I suspect it was Jens that must have been in on it.

ANYWAY, the takewawy from this long story was:

  • I want to be in groups that help people grow, freely sharing and supporting each other
  • I want to be in a group that offers an alternative to buying into someone else's tyranny, to develop independent strength and principles
  • I want to be in a group that has the skills to defend itself against malicious acts with crushing efficiency, if need be

The last point might just be more for me. It is a double-edged sword. The first two points though still are with me as a general community principle. HOWEVER, it has taken me decades to even gain an understanding of HOW might one recreate that idyllic patch of hackerdom I had in the 7th grade with like-minded nerds with aspirational dreams. It was an extremely lucky accident to have had that experience. Learning to navigate the real world after moving back to the United States for college and feeling out of place in so many ways---survival---took a lot of my attention off this though I kept trying several times. The Coworking Cafe is its latest incarnation though I didn't really see that being the case until maybe a few months ago.