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Learn language 2.0

Speaking in code, buzzing up and more ways to prepare for the hacked word

This is part of a series of articles about creative online subversion, #HackYourFuture, on Dazed Digital. A different guest-editor will discuss a different discipline everyday. This piece is part of James Bridle's comment on new writing online.


You read it on reddit before it even happened. You loled, liked it, tweeted it, embedded it on Tumblr, pinned it, made a demotivational meme and disseminated it to the masses. What was it again? Who cares! Language is changing faster than ever and there’s no point sadfacing, throwing your arms up to the cloud and screaming “TMI world! TMI!” because it isn’t listening. The world in 2013 speaks in spikes, hurrays in hits and gets its kicks from telling you that sadly, anything less than 1,000 followers does not a person make. 

While things are ramping up with particular speed right now, language has never stood still. People living in the 18th century used the word “buxom” to describe a healthily proportioned dude, for instance. Every linguistic pioneer from Chaucer to RiFF RAFF has understood the importance of riding the crest of semantic change, without sentimental attachment to the old ways. Which is exactly what is explained, with all the wit and precision that we’ve come to expect from David Shields, in his latest book, How Literature Saved My Life

In it Shields proposes some far-out ideas about the future of language, singling out one author in particular whose work captures the spirit of the age; novelist, poet and editor Ander Monson. His debut novel, Other Electricities, was big news in 2005, and its accompanying website remains one of the web’s seminal literary works. To the right, Monson offers some words on reclaiming the way we speak.


Hacking’s a walk in the park these days. Thanks to copy-and-paste code, those hip-to-the-beat bot networks are as easy to join as your local gym, right? Well not quite. To link with a denial-of-service attack on the Bank of America you’ll need at least a basic understanding of computer language. Which is where Codecademy comes in: a Coding for Dummies that is free and accessible to anyone with a high-speed internet connection.

At Codecademy ( you can learn JavaScript, HTML, CSS, PHP, Python, Ruby and loads of other things you’ve never heard of, through easy steps broken down into exercises. One hour, for instance, takes you from computer novice to master of strings, Boolean data types, comparison operators and variables. It’s patronising as hell of course, written in the same tone as your school French textbook only with nameless robots taking the place of Jean-Baptiste the croissant purveyor; and when it invites you to “converse” with said robots by sending system commands that ask for their preferred sandwich-flavour, you do feel a bit ridiculous. Nevertheless, the odd anecdote is proffered to help you through, such as the story of US Admiral Grace Hopper, who popularised the word “debugging” when her associates discovered a moth stuck in a relay that had to be removed to make the system work.

Oh, and you get badges, a bit like in the Scouts – and as with the Scouts, you do question how any of this will actually equip you to face a real-world situation. But it might be worth it, if only to understand why your card won’t work when you’re out of funds and how that tweet got filtered into a feed that saw it sandwiched between Lil B and Stephen Fry.


The future writer’s job is to hack into any available space, to test the limits of the system, to think about the variables and how best to use the near infinity of data to assemble something beautiful, something provocative, something true. Are writers going to be marginalised? We already have been. We always have been. We need to inhabit the margin, to be on the edge of a culture, a place, a world, a story. It’s the best vantage point to see it – make it – come alive.

To write is to hack, to repurpose a thing, to end-around, to short-circuit language, image. Hacks surround us. The world is made of them, of ingenuities, of technical responses to particular problems. Which is to say the world is made up of designs, technologies repurposed in any given instance to solve a problem they do not know they are meant to solve until they solve it. It is an exploration; it serves the function of art, treading out in darker waters, living off their motion. 

The world moves infinitely. Art stops it for a moment. The essay stops it for a moment. This caesura is a temporary thing, but necessary. It acknowledges trajectory and infinity but holds it for a second then releases. You know the photographic trope where the city’s streets are illuminated with the headlight trails of cars, their past motion and present location represented as trails and curls? Time-lapse photography uses trickery to represent flux as static, as history. Beauty occurs in isolation, from a distance. When we pause our livestreamed bootleg films and admire the frozen shot, the sweat drip, lip curl, the flex in a ninja sword, the expression of a betrayed face, now we’re essaying. Now we’re making meaning. 

The history of literature is the history of experimental literature. Thank God. It is – or it mirrors and prefigures – the history of hacking. Of geographic exploration. Of body-modification projects. Of medical innovation. Of Star Trek mythologies, weird half-breeds of text and image (hello William Blake, hello A Humument, hello future app-space oddity) and other devious inventions. Of the human urge to push against, to fill in blanks, to see what else is there behind what already exists. Who here simply wants to accomplish what has occurred before?


James Murphy once remarked that “the kids are coming up from behind.” That immortal adage is even more applicable to coding than it was to the digital flotsam and jetsam that programming creates. With programming literacy continuing to swell, we spoke to Nico Sell, co-founder of DefCon Kids, a camp for hackers aged eight to 16 that runs in parallel with the massive “white hat” hacking festival DefCon. She schooled us with some lessons for the next generation of coders.

Learn to love being a white-hat hacker.
Think of innovative ways to make, break and use anything to create a better world. Hacking is the most important skill-set for the future of the world. There are good and bad hackers. We teach kids to be good hackers.

Cut your hacker teeth on lockpicking.
Lockpicking is the first hacking skill kids pick up, because it’s tangible. Last year we had a four-year-old girl learning how to pick locks! Kids learn hardware soldering skills and use ‘sniffers’ that intercept traffic passing over a digital network.

Learn hacking from software superstars.
This year kids can meet General Keith B Alexander, head of the National Security Agency (NSA) and US Cyber Command, and Cory Doctorow is talking about hacking your school’s network.

Know your hacker history.
Kids can play with the Enigma machine – used by the Germans for secure communication during World War II. When the Allies cracked the code it helped turn the tide of the war.

Hack hard, play hard.
Kids get to design and print their own toys with MakerBot. They hack rollercoasters and the power grid with a cellphone. Then there’s the Hacker’s Track & Field championships: Social Engineering Capture the Flag, Spot the Fed, The Lockpicking Race and Chris Hoff’s NSA Crypto Challenge.

Hack your way to active digital citizenship.
Know the law. The Electronic Frontier Foundation teaches our attendees the importance of fighting for your right to hack. 

Text Stephen Fortune


Ben Mirov: Hider Roser (Octopus Books)

Poetry of contemporary dissonance and information overload. Fellow poet Dan Magers describes Mirov’s work as “dispatches from an emotional robot.”

Nicole Walker: Quench Your Thirst with Salt (Zone 3 Press)
Ander Monson’s must-read of 2013, this winner of Zone 3’s creative non-fiction prize is about growing up in the environs of Salt Lake City, a place where “subduing the landscape is as practiced as subduing the people who live there.” 

Eric LeMay: “Losing the Lottery” 
This essay, published in Monson’s journal DIAGRAM last year, is a laugh-out-loud interactive web-narrative centred on the absurdity of playing the lottery.

Jason Bredle: Carnival (University of Akron Press)
Bredle’s poetry infiltrates the web in many forms: via YouTube shorts, lists on and through his own website, He also publishes collections; his latest, Carnival, is our favourite so far.

Tender Journal
An experimental web-journal made and containing work exclusively by women. The Twittersphere has already expressed its excitement. Launching this June at


Alternatively, if sitting through a computer-based course from the confines of your bedroom doesn’t get you fired up, there’s always the Bright Eyes DIY kit by Technology Will Save Us. Learn to code and get to look like Kanye circa 2007 in one fell swoop by building the LED shutter shades from scratch and programming them to flash in response to anything from the sound of your voice to every time someone adds you on LinkedIn. 

This is part of a series of articles about creative online subversion, #HackYourFuture, on Dazed Digital. A different guest-editor will discuss a different discipline everyday. This piece is part of James Bridle's comment on new writing online.