Sunday, March 15, 2009

Social change essay featuring me and a friend.

Dustin Carver: Empowering the Youth with Technology

This is an essay written by a friend about me.

Dustin Carver wears his sunglasses at night. Incidentally, he also wears them during the day; the result of having lost his normal glasses one chaotic weekend combined with a gritty resolution to make due with what's available. He likes to carry around an orange multi-tool and is also fond of wearing a sort of black top-hat with a gray-and-white stripe. The multi-tool that he carries is just one example of the DIY (Do it yourself) mentality that Dustin endorses quite enthusiastically. The black hat symbolizes Black Hat Hacking; which relates Dustin's immersion in the culture of network security and technology with his “Do it yourself” attitude. He is also a strong advocate for Open Source software, such as the operating systems FreeBSD and Linux. His association with FreeBSD eventually gave life to his on-line identity and rhetorical medium: BSD Punk. Through BSD Punk, Dustin spends time teaching his technical know-how to motivated individuals with the desire to learn, in particular the often-ignored youth; on the premise that technology can empower. It follows from his “Do it yourself” personality that he would rather teach a man to fish so that he can feed himself for a lifetime than give a man a fish and feed him for a day.
Dustin is a techie and naturally that's how he makes his living. He's been fascinated by technology since he was young and now he is 24. Over the past several years Dustin has been employed for jobs pertaining to networking and security, as well as other odds and ends that come with the trade. He has a 2 year degree in Computer Networking and Security, his A+ Certification, his Networking+ Certification, and he's also trained as a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP). Currently, he works in Nashville as a Perl Programmer. Working in the field of technology means that Dustin has gotten used to constantly absorbing technical information because there are always innovations and improvements that he has to keep up with. Things that take time and effort to learn can become obsolete rather quick; as an example, the turn-over rate for programming languages can average about five to seven years. Dustin related that he has difficulty reading a casual book as a result of all of the technical reading that he's had to do. In order to efficiently read the many manuals and tutorials required to keep up-to-date in his field, he told me that he constantly scans for the “nugget of information” that the texts contain rather than reading along like with a story. Scanning works well for technical purposes in general but not so well should he try to just enjoy a good book. He also told me that he prefers working as a programmer instead of as a network administrator because then he doesn't have to put his hard-earned knowledge to use on a mundane task like password recovery or installing Windows.
Outside of his professional work, Dustin devotes much of his time to personal projects which use his knowledge and love of technology to facilitate social change. Dustin said that one of the goals of his efforts is to get “younger people to use technology as a tool for change” and, as he put it, “the issue I am addressing is ageism, but the message I am sending is, YOU CAN CHANGE THINGS.” He feels that social change is essential and he tries to enable it by sharing his technical knowledge, particularly to the youth without a voice. He feels that there were a lot of areas he could have improved upon when he was younger, but that he was constantly ignored because of his age. Education is one of the areas that he felt he could have helped improve upon as a child, “Education is my main concern. Education insights are best provided by those who are being educated...i.e. the young. But when you are the young and the one's being educated, no one wants to listen to you.” Because of early experiences in which his youth was subject to prejudice, one of his main social agenda's is helping the youth overcome ageism. And so he works to empower individuals with a voice by teaching them how to reach out with technology.
Dustin focuses on ageism against the youth because he feels that they have a special importance when it comes to social change. Here he explains some of his reasoning, “So if you ask someone what the future is going to be like, who is the most accurate? If you ask a technologist, he tells you about the items that will be available and he is probably about 70 percent accurate about those things. And if you ask a sales guy about what the future is like, he can tell you how things are going to be marketed and neat ideas, and he is about 70 percent accurate. But you know what? If you ask a kindergarten's the Holy Grail. The youth are the future.” His reasoning suggests that people can give you a decent idea of what the future will be like with respect to their fields, and that Kindergarten teachers deal directly with the people that will one day run society. He explained that social change is most powerful in the hands of youth because they have the most time to change their world. Despite what most people may think, Dustin said, young people have the best B.S. meter and they supply fresh perspectives.
Technology such as the Internet is useful for youths because it allows them to have a voice that doesn't give away their age. Dustin said it enables the youth to reach their peers, “who at this point are not traditional peers. They can feel somewhat normalized and build their culture on the net, which is an incredible social change.” In face-to-face interactions, people use appearance and identity to weigh what is being said. With interactions through technology, young people can control those factors and establish an identity independent of their apparent age. Technology allows for new cultures to arise based on common interests; because youths are able to connect with those who are their peers, not owing to their age, but rather their views and passions. These passions are what Dustin appreciates and gravitates towards when he reaches out, “I want to reach the people who want to do something, more than anything I want to enable people who want to share, and young people are always the best at it. [...] The why, the should, I normally leave up to them, I feel that if you don't have a goal or reason, that showing you how to reach your non goal, is not very interesting to me.”
Dustin uses multiple venues to accomplish goals such as “teaching 13 year olds to use open source software to express themselves on the net.” One venue is his blog, HYPERLINK "", which has been on the Internet for over a year now. The blog is about hacker culture and solutions with tech problems. His posts can contain things like requested tutorials on network security as well as informational updates using recent personal projects . He also uses the blog to expose his audience to relevant news in both the hacking and professional community. On-line forums are another venue that Dustin uses in order to interact with his audience. He said that forums tend to have specific topics and contain people who have particular interests such as improving their website. Forums allow people to find answers to their questions, if the question has been asked before, as well as ask new ones. People like Dustin that spend time sharing knowledge and answering questions make up the backbone of these communities. Dustin informed me that it's not uncommon for people from forums or his blog to seek more direct help from him. As a result, he spends a fair amount of time teaching through instant-messaging one-on-one. Although he spends a lot of time helping people, he won't do things like fix your program for you. This is because his goal isn't only to help people get things done but also to show them how to do it on their own; an example of his “Do is yourself” mentality. Dustin said that he sometimes helps people obtain needed resources for their projects; things like a server to host a website or chat service on. He does this “sometimes by actually floating the cost of a rented server, sometimes by showing them the places to get the stuff (shells, servers, etc) for free.”
The kind of person that Dustin likes to spend time working with is exemplified in a teenager named Kye; he has worked extensively with Dustin one-on-one as well as on forums, blogs, and other projects such as chat servers. Kye has excelled with computers and shown enough promise that he is going to be able to go to an Australian Equivalent of Vocational (Programming) School at no cost to him. Known as EdgeX- or CBH on-line, Kye was already running three IRCD's and the servers that they ran on all by himself at the age of 13; there were even two apache web servers running on them as well. IRCD stands for Internet Relay Chat Daemon and is the server software for IRC chat programs that allow people to communicate via the Internet. Regarding Kye, Dustin said that “by controlling those servers, he allows channels of communication that simply wouldn't exist if he didn't know what he was doing; and those channels empower their users to communicate and share ideas.” Dustin feels that IRC networks are important because IRC itself is a social tool. The program provides a connection for people that might not otherwise be able to interact and share ideas. IRC networks allow people to form a community with common interests even when very far apart geographically. These communities expand the concept of locality because people across the globe can influence one another. And as a result, one another's local community. The relationship between Kye and Dustin is a good example of this sort of community because Kye lives in Australia and Dustin in Tennessee. Despite their distance from each other, Dustin is able to mentor Kye by showing him resources and sharing information; consequently Kye has the know-how to control his IRC networks
Kye's technical knowledge has given him influence, as well as enabled him to socialize with less worry. He has gained more influence and clout than most others among the community that uses his IRCD's because they know that he runs the servers. Akin to Dustin, Kye helps the spread of knowledge by keeping his servers populated with tech-enthusiasts. Some common topics of interest among these enthusiasts are programming and network configuration. Kye is better able to socialize in these communities than at school because he needs an aide at school for his bad vision. With the outlets and communities that the Internet has provided, Kye is able to do more socializing “in channels where he has a little more clout...without any awkwardness or concerns over his vision or having an aid.” Dustin proudly summed up Kye's accomplishments by saying that “he has taken a leadership role, in a group of people who he wouldn't have met without the technology itself, and the leadership role was gained by his comprehensive knowledge of that technology.”
The question eventually came up as to whether or not Dustin had any ethical concerns about the “hacker” side of his efforts, since he deals with network security and his blog calls itself a “hacker culture blog”. Dustin did not seem to be particularly concerned about what people were trying to use his help to achieve; he doesn't focus on what the motive is so much as whether or not the person is motivated in the first place. One way to look at hacking involves thinking about what sort knowledge helps people defend their networks and what sort of knowledge hackers use in order to gain access to something that they aren't supposed to. The idea of hacking is basically to know enough about a system to outsmart the system's security measures, and often the people that know the most about a system's security are the people that set up and maintain it. Just as important as being knowledgeable, if not more so, is finding out “intel” on the system such as what software it runs on or the names of administrator's pets, which could potentially be used in passwords. Dustin has little control over intel; keeping it safe from hackers is largely in the hands of the network administrator. Ultimately, the main difference between a network administrator and a hacker is simply what they do with their knowledge and time. If Dustin supplies someone with technical information, that information could ultimately be used both to secure a system as well as break into it. Dustin said that, “ethical concerns are, mainly someone using the technology to do 'evil' things, which concerns me a lot less than the idea that people might use their knowledge to break the systems that empower others.”
Dustin Carver may not look like he's doing much if you catch a glimpse of him sitting on the bus using his tiny eeePC laptop. You might even think that he's just a funny looking guy that wears his sunglasses everywhere, but you'd be mistaken to judge him at face value. He is an advocate for social change; however, the society that he wants to change is not plainly visible. It consists of people searching for a voice; people that can be scattered across the globe. Dustin helps these people by sharing his knowledge via the Internet so that they can use technology to make their voice heard. And he can reach them while riding the bus to work or leeching Wi-fi from a neighbor.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Read the whole thing, so awesome gratz Bsd and EdgeX- ^__^