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Glitches. Hacks. Hoaxes. Each of these prompt us to consider the ways in which the technologies around us are not as they seem. Such realizations can put us on edge in a world where we take digitized aspects of our lives for granted.

A “glitch” (a word that likely originated from the German and Yiddish word glitschen, meaning “slip” or “error”[1]) is a hiccup in any technological system. Glitches can encompass all types and severities of abnormalities, from a screen freezing momentarily, to a mass deletion of data. The unpredictability of glitches often contributes to their spookiness, leaving users wondering whether the event is a random occurrence or a larger problem in a system. Glitches in visually oriented platforms, such as TVs and video games, quickly become spooky. We attribute meaning to whatever new form they take. The Sims, for example, in its attempts to mimic mundane aspects of everyday life, prompts hilarity and horror when glitches disrupt the game’s depiction of normalcy. Glitches in Google Earth and Google Street View can be even more jarring because these images are supposed to closely capture and represent the real world. Abnormalities in user-uploaded 360-degree “Photo Spheres” on Google Earth even inspired artist Kyle Matthew F. Williams to capture and compile a collection of these glitches on a Tumblr [2].

Glitches catch us by surprise; hacking, on the other hand, seeks to intentionally understand, expose, or exploit the technologies that influence us. “Hack,” “hacker,” and “hacking” have many definitions, but seem to first be tied to tinkering with at MIT in the 1960s, where a “hacker” was someone who slacked off on schoolwork but had an obsessively passionate hobby [3]. While some hacks wreak havoc, hackers’ intentions are not necessarily malicious; curiosity or efficiency are often the driving factors behind exploring the inner workings of technology. Hackers may also view attempting unlawful cyberattacks as ethical breaches intended for the good of the public.

The variation in what constitutes hacking means there is also variation on when hacking becomes spooky: an understanding of the mechanisms or intentions behind technology through clever hacks might take the mystery out of them, thus eroding perceived spookiness. Alternatively, hacks may heighten apprehension regarding malicious intent and the vulnerability of the everyday technologies we unthinkingly trust. This section explores the spooky sides of glitching and hacking, and their influence in our lives.

  1. Ben Zimmer (2013) “The Hidden History of ‘Glitch’” Visual Thesaurus, Nov 4, 2013.
  4. Eric Raymond (2000) 'A brief history of hackerdom.'

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