Research Design

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This study adopts a different approach and draws conclusion mostly from a set of primary sources—hobby electronics magazines and personal computer magazines—which have been largely overlooked by previous researches. Both Levy’s Hackers and Freiberger and Swaine’s Fire in the Valley relied heavily on interviewing the individuals who led the early development of personal computers. Interviews certainly are important and necessary sources to the historical analysis of personal computers in the 1970s, but they are also limited to each person’s memory and interpretation. In some cases, the information gathered through interviews is contradictory. For example, Roberts as well as Solomon and Salsberg, each reported a different story about who initiated the contact that resulted in the creation of the first personal computer, the Altair 8800.[20] Therefore, new sources are needed to clarify such confusions left by existing researches.

On the other hand, the approach of this research is to analyze hackers and computer hobbyists as communities, while Levy’s and Freiberger and Swaine’s investigations focused on some individuals. Hobby electronics magazines and personal computer magazines, such as Popular Electronics, Radio Electronics, Byte, Dr. Dobb’s Journal, and Creative Computing, from the mid-1970s are suitable for this research because they stimulated the birth of the first generation of personal computers and networked the earliest computer hobbyist community. The articles and advertisements in these magazines represented the readers’ background, technical knowledge, and shopping information in which they were interested. Instead of focusing on technological advancements, this research also pays attention to the way that personal computers were gradually portrayed as a mandated household product in these magazines.

However, this study would not be complete if the analysis were limited to hobby electronics and personal computer magazines. To understand the vision of computer liberation, it is necessary to analyze Ted Nelson’s influential Computer Lib / Dream Machines (1974) and his lesser known The Home Computer Revolution (1977). Finally, in order to sketch out the historical and cultural context of the hacker community, this essay will begin by analyzing the Jargon File and The Hacker’s Dictionary, which have been collected and published by the hacker community since the late 1950s.

20. See Stan Veit, Stan Veit’s History of the Personal Computer (Asheville, North Carolina: WorldComm, 1993), 39, and Theodor H. Nelson, The Home Compute Revolution (South Bend, Ind.: T. Nelson, 1977), 49.