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Talking Germany

Blog with Peter Craven

An encounter with Constanze Kurz, who has a lot of computers

Or: Lucky if you know a nerdKurz_Maske1
Who are they? How do they tick? Are they on our side? Or are they enemies of society? Are they a community? Or are they driven individuals. Certainly, it would seem, they are very often compulsive and addictive personalities. And investigations appear to show that they yearn for recognition, influence and power. One thing they hate for sure is boredom. Most of them are men. But not all. Like Constanze Kurz, my latest guest on Talking Germany. In case you hadn’t guessed: she’s a hacker.
Kurz_PeterMaske“I have a lot of computers,” she tells me. “And seven smart phones.” Seven? “Oh yes, it’s important to understand how they work. I like taking them apart. It’s a hobby.” Constanze is, by the way, also a spokeswoman for the Germany-based Chaos Computer Club – one of the most influential hacker associations in the world. The club has been around since 1981 and, I discover, there are now veteran hackers: grey-haired oldies, who, Constanze tells me, can still keep up with the kids.
Kurz_Studio1How does she like being called a nerd? “No problem. Of course I’m a nerd! And I’ll tell you what: we live in times where you can count yourself very lucky if you know a nerd or two.” So, how weird are hackers? “Well,” says Constanze, “no doubt about it – there’s definitely a high Asperger’s quota. People who can communicate better with their computer than with their friends. People who don’t sleep, don’t go out. Who are on their computers sixteen hours a day.” What about Constanze herself? “Well, I try to act normal when my family are around, not spending hours on the computer and all that.” To give her a measure of how old-fashioned I am, I confess that I actually wrote postcards on my last holiday. “You know what most hackers would say to that? Do they still have stamps? Do they still have post offices?”
Kurz_Studio2More questions: are hackers vigilantes for justice? Or cyber criminals, breaking all the rules and all the passwords? Or the potential elite forces in upcoming cyber wars? And what about the invasion of our privacy by intelligence services? Or the massive inroads being made into our privacy by digital corporations? Constanze, the committed hacktivist, is optimistic: “In the long run,” she says, “people won’t allow themselves to be dominated by the system.” I hope she’s right.


October 6, 2014