Chapter 1-4
Hacker Crackdown

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The community of telephone technicians, engineers, operators
and researchers is the oldest community in cyberspace.
These are the veterans, the most developed group,
the richest, the most respectable, in most ways the most powerful.
Whole generations have come and gone since Alexander Graham Bell's day,
but the community he founded survives; people work for the phone system
today whose great-grandparents worked for the phone system.
Its specialty magazines, such as Telephony, AT&T Technical Journal,
Telephone Engineer and Management, are decades old;
they make computer publications like Macworld and PC Week
look like amateur johnny-come-latelies.

And the phone companies take no back seat in high-technology, either.
Other companies' industrial researchers may have won new markets;
but the researchers of Bell Labs have won SEVEN NOBEL PRIZES.
One potent device that Bell Labs originated, the transistor,
has created entire GROUPS of industries.  Bell Labs are
world-famous for generating "a patent a day," and have even
made vital discoveries in astronomy, physics and cosmology.

Throughout its seventy-year history, "Ma Bell" was not so much
a company as a way of life.  Until the cataclysmic divestiture
of the 1980s, Ma Bell was perhaps the ultimate maternalist mega-employer.
The AT&T corporate image was the "gentle giant,"  "the voice with a smile,"
a vaguely socialist-realist world of cleanshaven linemen in shiny helmets
and blandly pretty phone-girls in headsets and nylons.  Bell System
employees were famous as rock-ribbed Kiwanis and Rotary members,
Little-League enthusiasts, school-board people.

During the long heyday of Ma Bell, the Bell employee corps
were nurtured top-to-bottom on a corporate ethos of public service.
There was good money in Bell, but Bell was not ABOUT money;
Bell used public relations, but never mere marketeering.
People went into the Bell System for a good life,
and they had a good life.  But it was not mere money
that led Bell people out in the midst of storms and earthquakes
to fight with toppled phone-poles, to wade in flooded manholes,
to pull the red-eyed graveyard-shift over collapsing switching-systems.
The Bell ethic was the electrical equivalent of the postman's:
neither rain, nor snow, nor gloom of night would stop these couriers.

It is easy to be cynical about this, as it is easy to be
cynical about any political or social system;  but cynicism
does not change the fact that thousands of people took
these ideals very seriously.  And some still do.

The Bell ethos was about public service; and that was
gratifying; but it was also about private POWER, and that
was gratifying too.  As a corporation, Bell was very special.
Bell was privileged.  Bell had snuggled up close to the state.
In fact, Bell was as close to government as you could get in
America and still make a whole lot of legitimate money.

But unlike other companies, Bell was above and beyond
the vulgar commercial fray.  Through its regional operating companies,
Bell was omnipresent, local, and intimate, all over America;
but the central ivory towers at its corporate heart were the
tallest and the ivoriest around.

There were other phone companies in America, to be sure;
the so-called independents.  Rural cooperatives, mostly;
small fry, mostly tolerated, sometimes warred upon.
For many decades, "independent" American phone companies
lived in fear and loathing of the official Bell monopoly
(or the "Bell Octopus," as Ma Bell's nineteenth-century
enemies described her in many angry newspaper manifestos).
Some few of these independent entrepreneurs, while legally
in the wrong, fought so bitterly against the Octopus
that their illegal phone networks were cast into the street
by Bell agents and publicly burned.

The pure technical sweetness of the Bell System gave its operators,
inventors and engineers a deeply satisfying sense of power and mastery.
They had devoted their lives to improving this vast nation-spanning machine;
over years, whole human lives, they had watched it improve and grow.
It was like a great technological  temple.  They were an elite,
and they knew it--even if others did not; in fact, they felt
even more powerful BECAUSE others did not understand.

The deep attraction of this sensation of elite technical power
should never be underestimated.  "Technical power" is not for everybody;
for many people it simply has no charm at all.  But for some people,
it becomes the core of their lives.  For a few, it is overwhelming,
obsessive;  it becomes something close to an addiction.  People--especially
clever teenage boys whose lives are otherwise mostly powerless and put-upon
--love this sensation of secret power, and are willing to do all sorts
of amazing things to achieve it.  The technical POWER of electronics
has motivated many  strange acts detailed in this book, which would
otherwise be inexplicable.

So Bell had power beyond mere capitalism.  The Bell service ethos worked,
and was often propagandized, in a rather saccharine fashion.  Over the decades,
people slowly grew tired of this.  And then, openly impatient with it.
By the early 1980s, Ma Bell was to find herself with scarcely a real friend
in the world.  Vail's industrial socialism had become hopelessly
out-of-fashion politically.  Bell would be punished for that.
And that punishment would fall harshly upon the people of the
telephone community.