My best friend Herbert had also found refuge from the vulgarities of society during his skillful absence from school.
In his second year of high school, he hacked the word "hack" into my world. He had not been in school for several months. The teacher told us Herbert was sick and had a computer addiction. But since, like most adults, she had an obsessive need always to pretend to understand what was going on, I wanted to find out why he came to school so infrequently. A computer was a small box that resembled the television set my parents refused to buy.
"If you look at the flicker box for more than two hours, you'll get addicted," my mother used to say.
I was worried.
He was a role model for me because he never went to school and could manage his life from home with the help of a computer. At that time, hardly anyone knew what a computer even was. In my few experiences, a computer was like a severely compulsive person who could fulfill his desires if he did everything right, unfortunately, not for me. I loved to run and frolic in the fresh air. It was inconceivable to me how anyone could stare at that box alone all day.
We arranged to spend the night at his place when his parents were away—our evening together got off to an ideal start. His mother had cooked us a huge pot of spaghetti because she had two days off in a row and had a day shift.
We were alone with Herbert's best friend, his computer.
We spent the whole evening talking and playing games on his Commodore 64. Herbert knew that I found it hard to stand being cooped up in a room for long periods, and preferred reading books or playing outside to staring at a screen. So after a few harmless jump-and-run games, he chose Strip Poker as my first, as he put it, "real" computer game to get me interested in his screen and adult themes. Briefly explained, a woman strips if you have the right cards—a game of chance for sex and money. I didn't know what it was about yet, but the concept seemed like an ingenious simplification of the complexities of adult life. I had never seen adult life packaged so succinctly in a game. I had already experienced the highlight of the evening. To lighten things up, there was a game in between called "Bubble Bobble," where you had to run through a maze and eat as much as you could as fast as you could without getting caught. As is often the case, Herrmann was one step ahead of me. When he noticed that I was receptive again, he abruptly asked me:
"Do you want to know what else the grown-ups are playing?
I have a game that will change your life. Do you want to play war games?"
"War games? I don't see why!", I replied jokingly.
"Then you'd have a choice. The adults have already started. We're caught up in their game.
If we want a choice, you'll have to play along and hack the game!"
Herbert smiled like the devil's advocate.
"Okay, you've convinced me. Let's get 'hacked'! Where's my axe?" I teased him back, and he laughed.
"Hacking and 'hacking' are not quite the same thing. The axe is my computer, but the computer is much more. My computer is a little electronic workshop where I can build all the tools I need.
There are different tools to hack almost anything in the world. I can show you the rest."
"Okay.", I replied curtly.
"War Games was unlike any game I had played before. Mostly, we played against the US and the Soviet Union because, as a small nuclear power, there was hardly any chance to win this game, at least apparently.
Only once, through successful propaganda wars, I could appear to win with China briefly. At least for a while, it looked like I was winning. It was a legendary game. Unfortunately, even in that game, the world went down in a mushroom cloud, and the screen froze.
The very goal of the game, to put the other players in such a hopeless position through propaganda and economic warfare that you could eliminate them without being destroyed yourself, was simply impossible.
Although we played from midnight until the wee hours of the morning, each time the game ended, we saw more and more mushroom clouds light up until the image and the world map covered by glaring clouds gave way to a black screen. "Game Over" could be read in garish letters each time, accompanied by dramatic electronic music.
We wanted to find out if there was any way humanity could survive this nuclear war game. That said, No. The adults had lost their minds.
Let's assume that propaganda, economic war, armament, and war games escalate. In this case, a nuclear counterforce is always driven to desperation by this process and uses nuclear weapons.
Nothing is left to lose when you see that almost everything is lost. Anything is possible, but only until everything is gone.
The adults' games are obviously out of control, but why?
The sun had risen, and we were still playing "War Games." Flashing red dots lit up the map of the earth. The US and Russia were bombing each other. We were the global players. We forged strategies and talked about the end of the world. Herbert kept emphasizing that today's digital world emerged from "cybernetics."
I didn't understand that word. He opened the computer and began to explain machines to me and how these machines control the "war games."
"These computers were invented by engineers trying to make the world controllable: Cyberneticists!"
He gave me the computer manual to read. It was completely incomprehensible. To help me, he opened a second computer box and explained even more parts. He could even connect his computer to the phone!
But his explanations consisted mostly of confusing terms and bizarre arrangements.
The hardware was built on an organization of masters and slaves! Successful communication was when the slaves obeyed the masters! It was as if the adults had locked slavery into a machine, so they had their slaves who only had to obey them!
Besides, it was beyond me how they could accomplish such a thing with electricity and wire. How had the ghost gotten into the machine?
Finally, in his parents' living room, Herbert picked up the Encyclopedia Britannica: "A control theory for complex systems that allows the controller to adapt its behavior over time" (Britannica, Cybernetics) - aha.
Adults were constantly inventing control theories for what they wanted. They call it education. They always wanted everything immediately, preferably with as few adjustments as possible.
In my experience in school, they were often overwhelmed with simple questions. As inflexible as they were, it amazed me how they could invent computers.
The Greek word "cybernetikos = good to steer" explains that these machines steer themselves. They are virtually their kybernétes = helmsmen. That is why the cybernetic missiles of cybernetics can find their target independently. Why adults do this is not said.
In the history of humankind, there were more and more wars, which ended with two world wars and the possible atomic annihilation of mankind. "The adult theories of control are obviously out of control."
Herbert looked at me conspiratorially. "They turned history into a war story and got lost in war games. I'm studying the adults to hack us out of this madness."
With those words, he pressed a button, and a dial tone sounded out of nowhere.
"Who can he be calling at this hour?" I thought to myself.
The phone rang. A red light flashed. The melody of our bubble-bobble game followed the white noise. Herbert grinned. "I programmed it myself!"
The right light flashed. Green numbers and letters scrolled across the screen.
"I cracked the adults' codes. The adults are lost in numbers games!"
Excitedly, he pointed at the screen.
"This is what a bank looks like on the inside. Lists, charts, programs, and ultimately, it's all about numbers! The adults are addicted to numbers. "I hacked into their game!"
A life for a set of numbers.
There is nothing behind it but a game of numbers and names. My eyes were glued to the green screen for a long time. The bank on the computer was like a class book in school. Everyone was a name and a number on a list. Positive entries were good, but negative ones were to be avoided.
As an adult, I was locked in at home, staring at a box to ensure the numbers stayed in place and my name was on the right list.
It was amazing what you could do with a computer. A bank account or the extinction of humanity were all possible with a click.
Fortunately, Herbert and I and very few nerds knew about it. We would be doomed if adults used such devices to control us kids.
To calm our tempers, we played Bubble Bobble again. "There must be some other way to play!"
I kept tripping on the sidewalk on the way home to the streetcar stop. The morning sun was too bright, and my view of the ground kept getting blurred by afterimages of the green neon colors of the computer screen. In my mind's eye, I could still see the two of us staring at the screen all night. I walked past a group of hooligans. The white noise of the modem echoed again, and my mind drifted further into the past.
It's interesting that, on the one hand, we dismiss the life of love as illusory, even when we don't try it. On the other hand, we still recognize punishment and violence as solvents even though we experience their failure every day.
You live in a monstrous world. If you adapt to it, you become a monster.
If you don't adapt, you will be eaten by monsters.
After the Macy Conferences, the superpowers began to conquer the world by relying on engineering cybernetics, which became the most important scientific and technological movement between the 1950s and the late 1970s. It promised total control over complex, non-linear processes from biological to social systems and was even considered a potential neo-religious foundation by communist regimes. (Krieg, 2005) Its game plan was that humans, involved in their particular tasks and games, could be steered like ants within a unified cultural environment. Society could be steered like a trivial machine determined by only two feedbacks: the desire to play and the desire to win (Herbert Simon, in Weizenbaum 1976, p. 260).
While writing my summary of the current world situation on the occasion of the Mahatma Gandhi Year for the "150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi" of the World Harmony Association (GHA - Global Harmony Association), it occurred to me for the first time that my accident had not only intensified the symptoms of my autistic disability but also caused my high giftedness to return and change. Eighty-two authors from 25 countries, including four Nobel laureates and three descendants of Mahatma Gandhi, had co-written the Gandhica World Peace Petition. I had been chosen as one of the four lead authors and editors because my article "Hack or Die: How We Navigate the Post-Digital Future" (Pawlik 2019a, translation added) summed up the urgency of the instantaneous world situation and what would ensure our survival.
The experience of dying, and my painful failings to recover from the related accident, both had sharpened my sense of what was vital. When we first encountered computers and cybernetics as teenagers, we still thought scientists would run the world because intelligence and expertise were the most important things to us. At that time, we could not imagine how chaotic the adult world was. I did not realize that science and the world were structured differently until I met Heinz von Foerster:
Science is not like that: Wisdom and truth and all that stuff, yes, but politics, prejudice, power, so stuff, etc., etc., in which it zigzags, zags back and forth, brilliant ideas are suppressed, stupid ideas are promoted. It's really like life itself. Has nothing to do with a monolithic wisdom coming out of the laboratories of clever men. It has nothing to do with it! It has to do with personalities. It has to do with ideas that are understood. Most ideas are not understood at all." (Foerster 1996: 54:58 min)