Where the Sun Shines, There Hack They

author: Samuel Jay Keyser, Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
published: Aug. 7, 2012,   recorded: October 2005,   views: 2457

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Even if the typical MIT hacker doesn’t qualify as a secret agent, he or she is to be admired for pulling off the collegiate world’s most surreptitious, elegant pranks, believes Jay Keyser. While Harvard students get a chuckle out of “putting panties over statues,” MIT students have placed a telephone booth and a police cruiser on top of the massive MIT dome, and then safely exploded a weather balloon on the field of a Harvard-Yale game. Keyser is a fan of these generally anonymous and extremely clever technical pranks. And he’s burrowed into the psychology behind them. The students “are thumbing their nose at the Institute. ‘You want us to be engineers. You’re so damn hard on us. We’ll show you what we think of you.’ So they take us down a peg or two.” In fact, “hack culture is an important component of the mental health of the MIT student body,” Keyser claims. The difference between MIT and every other university, he says, is that MIT students “have bought into the value system of the university.” They’re under the constant burden of judgment and struggle every day with the knowledge that they’re among the best and the brightest. So hacks are “a coping mechanism, a way of putting on sunglasses on a very bright summer day.”

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