Hacking tractors – deeper than code
|Me hacking a tractor (Eberswalde, 2017)|
A couple of weeks ago I stumbled across a news article on “hacking tractors”. Full of excitement, I took a big sip of my Matcha Latte and delved into the world of muddy hardware and open software. I was led by a burning desire for exploration and a couple of questions when analyzing different media articles on the phenomenon of tractors as potential sites of openness: What happens at the junction of physical traction and digital access? How can I understand this phenomenon as a digital site for the construction of agricultural realities? How do the articles merge ideas of agriculture and openness? How do they modify and transform what people think of these issues? And how does hacking tractors relate to a “bigger picture” of agriculture? In this blogpost, I report on my major finding, that the media coverage mainly (re-)interprets openness in a reductionist way. This reductionism becomes apparent through a comparison with openness, as understood in the early Free Software movement around “the last true hacker” Richard Stallman. In the media articles on hacking tractors, I argue, openness is transformed from an issue of accessibility, change and creation into an issue of mere access. The seemingly empowering phenomenon of hacking tractors turns out to be an implicit reproduction of structural oppression in agriculture.